Time Out, the Study Break Enforcer

As an LSU Student, I noticed that the majority of my procrastination directly relates to the amount of time spent on the internet through social media websites. I took the opportunity of having to create an art project for the class by creating something that would help with this problem. The main idea behind the project is to use the internet to stop students from using the internet as their main source of procrastination. As a result, the project will provide more social knowledge on how college students behave when trying to study. The project aims to show how easily students can be distracted from the diverse entertainment world of the internet when multiple signs keep reminding them that there is work to be done.

Time Out, the project, uses a toolbar and timer program to accomplish its goals. It starts off like a regular program that you click an icon to open. Once opened, you’re greeted with two windows: one that has a set of instructions and another that has a timer. The window with instructions reads,

“TIME OUT! The Study Break Enforcer. Tell the timer how long you want your study break to be and we will make sure you stay focused on your work afterwards! P.S. The program requires Google Chrome and the installing of the free I-AM-STUDYING add-on through the Google Chrome Store beforehand. The add-on will require input on sites to be blocked beforehand as well.”

If all of the measures have been taken regarding the P.S., then the student would change the value on the timer to however long they would like their study break to be. After pressing start, the timer will time down and the student it free to do whatever they would like during the break. When the timer is over, the window displays the message “Is it worth it to keep procrastinating? TIME TO GET BACK TO WORK.” At this time, any websites the students were on will then be blocked if they were added to the list beforehand. This happens automatically as the I-AM-STUDYING icon switches to “on” in the Google Chrome Toolbar. The students will continue studying after having their favorite sites blocked and can revisit these sites after they switch the I-AM-STUDYING icon back to off after clicking it and answering a simple math problem. Though I could not figure out how to incorporate it into Time Out, finishing the program would initiate a counter that would keep count on the amount of people using the program.

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Development started out just trying to make a timer in a “teach yourself” program called Hackety Hack. After wasting time trying to make one, I lucked onto a youtube video of someone creating a timer in a program called Visual Basic. Though I spent time making a timer, I realized that I still had not found a way to control blocking certain websites or how the timer would initiate such blocking. After much searching, I found the add-on I-AM-STUDYING on google Chrome that allowed me to block websites. Not being able to find how I could create my own I-AM-STUDYING add-on, I just decided to use it and give credit. After my classmates and peers could not give advice on the other pieces to be figured out, I went back to the list of tool’s arranged by Derick for the class. I began experimenting with the program called Automator but still could not find how it could start based on the timer. Downloading a program called TimeLeft gave me ample timers but none with the customizable time option to allow students to choose how long their breaks will be. Then I tried to create a timer through HTML with different coding options but I couldn’t create the customizable option. I then put together that I could use Automator to start the add-on if I could find someway to initiate an action after the timer ends. To my luck again, I found a timer called SnapTimer that does not require installation and allows the running of an application when the timer ends. So the program starts with an Automator program that opens SnapTimer and the instruction window. I customized the ending message through SnapTimer and saved it to start with the program every time. I set SnapTimer to run another Automator program when the timer runs out that turns on the I-AM-STUDYING add-on and it does the rest!

Time Out addresses the theoretical issues discussed in Howard Rheingold’s “Net Smart. How to Thrive Online.”1 Rheingold speaks on the dramatic changes social media has done to the way people pay attention. I agree with him when he says that, “Most people in the world recognize, at some level, that a massive shift is taking place in the way we direct, fail to direct, fragment, or time-share our attention in conversations, classrooms and while walking down the street.” He continues to give personal examples of how he has to finish an email or text before saying hello to his wife after she walks in the door or how his daughter can complete her homework assignments with six instant messaging windows open while talking on the phone. While this plethora of distractions may entertain the working world, they do nothing but harm to the average college student.

A student is supposed to use their full and undivided attention in their studies to effectively resuscitate knowledge. Though college life itself provides many distractions from campus involvement to football games, social media reigns as the master distractor due to its residency in the computer/ laptop interface. Taking notes in class, finding new assignments, checking grades, and even completing assignments can all occur through a computer. With the constant presence of social media, it is not uncommon to have these networks opened simultaneously with academic work in different windows on the computer screen. Cody Schirmers, a junior at St. Cloud State University said, “I would think all of this time spent on Facebook does in turn take away from studying. Those first 15 minutes spent checking my status, looking at other friends statuses and commenting on others photos probably could be spent reading over chapter notes or doing practice problems. But who really wants to do that.”6 This proves to be a common thought amongst students as a 2010 survey study of 219 undergraduate and graduate students concluded that Facebook users reported a lower mean grade point average and fewer hours studying per week on average than non-Facebook users.7 Time Out addresses this problem by cutting off access to these websites in attempts to help the college student focus and pay attention to the information at hand. The program can even go as far as being used to gain control over one’s attention. Rheingold says that, “One of the most critical things to know about mindfulness training is that even the smallest amount of attention is immeasurably more useful than none at all.”1 If students were cognizant of ways they can train their attention span, they could use the warning messages from Time Out to spark this “smallest amount of attention” Rheingold speaks of.

Rheingold continues to speak on the fact that the search engine has hurt the way someone can search for knowledge because most people do not know how to filter through search results for accurate information. While such is true, he would agree with me in claiming that search engines are a constant tool used to complete homework assignments for college students. Even though such a tool gives information fast and effortlessly, there is no way of determining if the information collected actually holds any real accuracy or value. Time Out could help fight this problem if the student’s frequented search engines were added to the block list before running the program. In such case, these search engines will not  be available to them during their time of study and they may be forced to use less deceitful forms of information such as textbooks or consulting a professor.

Rheingold then speaks on the amount of participation one can have with the internet. He clarifies that the average teenager cannot be just a passive media consumer because they actively participate in creating blogs, making dorm-room videos and constantly updating their multiple social media pages. This arises concern with Time Out because of the fact that it is an “optional” program. Because it requires the personal will to start the program, the average procrastinator may just not want to start the timer because they know it symbolizes that they will have to get back to work.

 One can only hope that they use the program but it could be enforced onto students if the program were supported by the university. LSU, for example, uses a site called Moodle 2 that every student on campus knows as the place to find all information regarding their college education. More importantly, the majority of teachers use Moodle 2 to distribute homework assignments. Teachers could use Time Out on Moodle 2 to not only ensure the works get done but to make sure the students do not use search engines to answer the questions. Even if Time Out were an option but placed on Moodle 2 next to the assignment, the program would still be more effective than if it stayed a separate program.

The fact that it would take Time Out to be adopted by a university for students to take it seriously leads to another theoretical issue of disembodiment from the digital world. N. Katherine Hayles speaks on such in her essay “Embodied Virtuality: Or, How to Put Bodies Back into the Picture.”5 In describing the interaction between human and computer, Hayles says, “Why do we want to leave this body behind?… The body is treated as a flawed and unwieldy vehicle, necessary in the early stages of evolution, but now become more trouble than it is worth.” Though written in 1996, it seems that Hayles already spoke on this effect of technology on humans that Rheingold speaks on. Her comment relates to the reason why Time Out can be considered such a helpful tool in today’s world. Social media’s effect on the human attention span has left us depending on technology to keep us in order. If the student mind and body were more actively focused, programs like Time Out would not even be necessary. But we depend on programs, smart phones and helpful, technological aids because the body has “become more trouble than it is worth.”

Time Out compares to a variety of other digital art projects. It compares the most to the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine launched in 2009 from the Netherlands.4 Suicide Machine is a website that allows someone to permanently sign out of a social network with the click of a button. A social media fiend simply types in their username and password for either Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn or Twitter and watch how the Machine de-friends each contact one-by-one and how it will not let you sign in again forever. Both Time Out and Suicide Machine allow someone to depend on a third party to restrict their access to social media websites on the notion that too much time is spent on them. Though Time Out wants to prolong social media interaction to help college students focus on their work, Suicide Machine boasts that there is a better life without social media altogether. Messages flash big on the website’s home screen such as: “Isn’t time really precious nowadays?” “Stop self procrastination,” and “You want your actual life back?” Time Out would not be necessary if universities would condemn their student populations to use the Suicide Machine. Though a far fetched dream, Time Out seems to be the college-friendly version.

Time Out also compares to the locative media works of Jenny Holzer. They consist of art involving public address emerging from the work of several artists in the 70’s. Holzer’s Abuse of Power located in Times Square during 1982 is a huge billboard viewed from pedestrians and drivers that reads, “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE.”2 A selection from her Survival Series displayed on LED signs reads “Spit all over someone with a mouthful of MILK if you want to find out something about their personality fast.”3 She attempts to get people thinking through such use of text. Abuse compares to Time Out in its use of the timer ending message to get the students to think. It reads, Hopefully the student will think deeper into the message and, as a result, end up not wanting to turn off the I-AM-STUDYING add-on too soon because they realize it is not worth it. Such a small move can have larger impacts if they begin to apply such thinking to other focus needing activities.

Throughout the advancement of the course, we have learned to analyze a piece of digital art on whether or not they are interactive, participatory, dynamic or customizable. In terms of Time Out, the program depends on the interactivity of the college students. Not only does it depend on the student being devoted enough to begin the timer, but it depends more on the student actually listening to the timer ending message and studying. It faults the purpose of the program if the student does not care about doing their homework, then ends the I-AM-STUDYING add-on without finishing their work, and proceeds to visit the problematic social media websites purposefully blocked in the first place. Time Out may be dynamic to the college students that identify with having procrastination problems but may not to others. Time Out is customizable only in the students choosing the timed length of their study break before the program begins. Participatory is the least relevant characteristic for Time Out in that it is only meant for one computer but can involve more people if perhaps it were used to coordinate the study break time span of a study group. This however would only block the websites of the student with the program running on their computer.

The main idea behind Time Out is to use the internet to stop students from using the internet as their main source of procrastination. The project aims to show how easily students can be distracted from the diverse entertainment world of the internet when multiple signs keep reminding them that there is work to be done. The main weaknesses in the project are that I cannot keep count of the amount of students using the program to provide statistical data and the fact that it remains “optional.” This aspect can be fixed with a university adopting the program in the future though. Time Out would be unnecessary altogether if social media sites had not damaged the attention span of the average college student.

Bibliography:

1. Howard Rheingold, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press, March 2012) 13-15

2. Jenny Holzer, “Abuse of Power” (Times Square, 1982)

3. Jenny Holzer, “Survival Series” (1983-85)

4. moddr_ & Fresco Gamba, “Web 2.0 Suicide Machine,” Accessed November 24, 2012 http://suicidemachine.org/

5. N. Katherine Hayles, “Embodied Virtuality: Or, How to Put Bodies Back into the Picture” in Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments, Moser and MacLoed, eds., MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, 1996, 1-28.

http://moodle2.lsu.edu/pluginfile.php/231283/mod_resource/content/1/Hayles-Embodied%20Virtuality.pdf

6. Nick Longworth, Internet use affects study habits, University Chronicle, 25 September 2011 http://www.universitychronicle.net/index.php/2011/09/25/web-study-habits/

7. Paul Kirschner & Aryn Karpinkski (2010). Facebook and academic performance. Computers in H

One response to “Time Out, the Study Break Enforcer

  1. This is a really cool idea. I’ve seen programs similar to this but it seems like you thought of everything and fully prevents the user from procrastinating. This is something I definitely could use.

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