“Analog Zones” encourage more face-to-face relationships and real-time experiences

“Analog Zones” encourage more face-to-face relationships and real-time experiences

Dec. 5, 2019

In an era where people are often tethered to cell phones and engaged in mindless scrolling on those devices, Bruce Guillaume ’76 is aiming to change those behaviors – starting on the Maryville College campus.

Guillaume is the founder and director of Mountain Challenge, a fitness and outdoor company located on the Maryville College campus since 1987 that is dedicated to “providing high quality, safe outdoor experiences designed to change the world for the better, one person at a time.” Guillaume is also an instructor in the College’s Health Sciences and Outdoor Studies Division.

In his research, Guillaume found that there is a correlation between screen time and increased reports of depression and suicide rates. Additionally, he found that the top ways people manage relationships include texting and talking on the phone, with fewer than 50 percent of people engaging in face-to-face contact.

“Did an increase in smart phone ownership cause this? No. Do I believe that there is a correlation there? Yes. Should we eliminate cell phones? No. Instead, be intentional about your screen time. When you’re on the phone, be on it. Otherwise, turn it off and put it away. Honor that screen time, just don’t do it all the time,” he said.

Guillaume is spreading the word campus-wide about “analog zones” or “analog times,” which encourage this intentional screen use. This means “phone monotasking” – scheduling phone time (with a beginning and an ending time) and using that time to give 100 percent attention to phone use. Otherwise, the best default position for a screen is the “off” position, he argues, and the devices should be put away – in a place that is not readily accessible. This includes at night, when cell phone notifications can disrupt sleep.

Mountain Challenge developed the concept of Fit. Green. Happy.®, which encourages people to be active and get outside; to care for the outdoors by advocating for nature and participating in green initiatives like campus recycling, energy conservation, and local food consumption; and to be happy – because the evidence says both fitness and the outdoors boost resiliency, focus, career effectiveness, and longevity (among other things), Fit. Green. Happy.® also fosters personal happiness. The concept is so unique that Mountain Challenge trademarked it, and Maryville College holds the only license to use the mark. It has since become a movement on campus.

“Fit. Green. Happy.® is the companion to everything we do. It’s embodied everywhere on campus. Analog zones are part of that,” he said. “The digital world is here to stay. Our idea of analog intends not to eliminate screens but to support intentional, deliberate and useful screen time. Accordingly, people should deliberately put screens away regularly and experience analog times. Face-to-face relationships and experiences in real time in the real world are nearly always important and good for humans.”

“Going analog” can include listening to music with friends; conversation with family, friends or professors; browsing in a store; preparing and sharing dinner; road trips; relaxing in a hammock; taking a walk in the woods; creating something with one’s hands; and engaging in prayer, meditation or mindfulness.

Guillaume has talked to many groups on campus – including faculty, staff and students – about the concept. It’s part of the College’s Great Smokies Experience summer program. He discusses it during faculty retreats and first-year student orientation. “Analog Zone” signs are posted on walls at Crawford House (Mountain Challenge’s headquarters), and analog times are encouraged during Mountain Challenge’s weekly Camp 4 activities. Gibson Hall – the Fit.Green.Happy.® residence hall on campus – promotes analog zones and has several designated areas. There are also designated areas in Sutton Science Center, and some faculty members assign analog times in their classrooms.

And analog zones are catching on. Amy Turpin ’20, Lea Mulligan ’21 and Becca Roberson ’22 are Mountain Challenge Fellows, so they have learned first-hand about analog zones and analog times from Guillaume.

“I think that analog zones matter now more than ever, because everything is online; a lot of our classes are online, and a lot of what we do involves technology,” said Roberson, a biology major from Trinity, Fla. “The world is moving away from face-to-face interaction, and it’s really important to get back to it, because it’s something that’s greatly beneficial to people. Analog zones are more of a way to step back and reconnect with the world around you.”

Turpin, a biology major from Charlotte, N.C., now uses a setting on her phone to monitor her usage. When she first started watching her phone usage, she was surprised to find that she was spending 12 hours per week on her phone – and that doesn’t include screen time on other devices, such as her computer or television.

“For me, it’s about being intentional about it and telling myself, ‘This is my time that I’m intentionally not picking up the phone. It’s going to be away in my pocket or my backpack, and I’m going to actually be talking to people and having that face-to-face interaction,’” Turpin said.

Mulligan, an outdoor studies & tourism and biology double major from Chattanooga, Tenn., said she, too, is now more conscious of analog zones and utilizes them regularly.

“As students, it’s so hard to get away from (technology and devices),” she said. “It’s nice to have spaces set aside to intentionally get away from that. It’s about engaging with people in the moment.”

As more members of the campus community observe “analog times,” Guillaume said he hopes the word spreads beyond the campus.

“The benefits of going analog? Much higher quality and happier screen experiences, as well as higher quality real life experiences AND a marked increase in personal happiness,” Guillaume said.

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”