The experiment originally was supposed to last a week, but it was scaled back when the students protested. But even four days was too much — each of the students cheated, some more than others.
Which perhaps proves professor Mara Adelman's point: The art of alone time is increasingly lost in our hectic, frazzled, wired lives.
Adelman believes her new upper-level course "Restorative Solitude" is unique. It explores the importance of quiet time for clarity, creativity and spirituality, and touches on techniques ranging from long-distance running to meditation. It also explores the darker side of solitude: loneliness and isolation.
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Students spend time in each class trying such meditative techniques a slow walking and focusing in on breathing, and they complete projects examining various aspects of solitude. Seattle University, with its Jesuit underpinnings, offers a range of liberal-arts courses that attempt to mesh academics with spirituality and well-being.
Before attempting Adelman's media diet, students kept a log of their consumption. On a typical Thursday, junior Blaire Babcock, 21, found she checked her e-mail five different times, turned on the TV three times, checked her phone messages twice, browsed Facebook.com once, and once listened to her radio while jogging.
"After reviewing my media log I noticed that I compulsively check my e-mail and phone messages for a fear that I will miss something. I found that I become anxious before I check my e-mail," she wrote in a course paper. "I turn on the TV as soon as I am up or return home. I enjoy the background noise but I rarely give it my full attention. I'm often multitasking."
The diet came as a revelation to Babcock and the other students.
"The silence was deafening," said junior Cheryl Lee, 20. "You have to get comfortable with just listening to yourself and your thoughts because there's nothing to keep you distracted."
Lee and the other students said they felt better able to concentrate and discovered they had more free time to spend reading and doing homework.
Lee also found one unexpected benefit. Because her CD player didn't start blasting the moment she turned the key in her 2005 Toyota Corolla, for the first time she noticed an unusual rattling noise in the engine: "like there's marbles inside a box and someone's shaking the box." She is planning to consult a mechanic.
Lee said her undoing came with her cellphone, which she switched to vibrate and mostly left at home, but which she couldn't face turning off altogether.
"There's some things that need to still be communicated via the cellphone," she said.
Cecile Andrews, a guest lecturer and author of the book "Slow is Beautiful," told the class recently that it seems people across the U.S. have ratcheted up the pace of their already crazy-busy lives.
"It's a bizarre way to live," Andrews said. "It just doesn't work."
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org