What do you think happens when 200 college students unplug…totally? This isn’t a trick question or a funny joke. It is exactly what happened at the University of Maryland. The International Center for Media and Public Agenda conducted a study, “Twenty-four Hours Unplugged,” in which 200 students were required to quiet their cell phones, laptops, desktops, netbooks, Kindles, iPads, televisions, radios. No surfing, no chat, no email, no Twitter, no Facebook, no Mafia Wars.
Not surprisingly, the experiment didn’t go over well with the students. They got cranky. They blogged about it afterward. According to the website A Day Without Media, those 200 students went overboard in describing their experience. Each was asked to write 300 words on the experience (60,000 total) but they had a lot more to say, to the tune of 111, 109 words. Many of those words included the reasons why they did not complete the 24 hours. What? There were some who couldn’t go 24 hours without the tether?
Some of the sadder responses:
- I ONLY USE NEWSPAPERS TO CLEAN MY WINDOWS
- EMAIL IS THE ONLY KIND OF MAIL I’VE EVER SENT
- THERE ARE 11 TVS IN MY HOUSE
- MY TV IS ON 24 HRS A DAY
- I SENT OVER 7000 TEXTS LAST MONTH
These responses go to show you how much phones, computers and televisions have invaded our life, to the point of not knowing what to do when they are not available. (Hello, a hike anyone? Picnic at the beach? Visit the museum? Visit the folks?) Students complained of feeling isolated, became anxious and fidgety, almost like withdrawl from an addiction. Many had never driven or exercised without music. They couldn’t set up a date, organize a softball practice or even a study group without what many think of as their “lifelines.” They had no way of knowing what was going on in the world, no Google News, no sportcasters with the latest MLB or NHL scores, no recent Lindsay Lohan sightings.
There were, of course, some good excuses for breaking the silence: one student had 3 of his textbooks as e-books. No ebooks meant no studying, and no research project was going to keep him from doing his homework. But these were few and far between.
According to the ICPA, “The major conclusion of this study is that the portability of all that media stuff has changed students’ relationship not just to news and information, but to family and friends — it has, in other words, caused them to make different and distinctive social, and arguably moral, decisions.”
I don’t happen to think that this is just a teen or twenty-something phenomenon. I took a trip last weeken, just an overnight to my nieces’ volleyball tournament, without my laptop. It’s the first time in four years that I have traveled without it, and I have to admit that it was painful. My work requires I be tethered to a computer to monitor breaking news and do assignments. It has accompanied me to the mountains, the lake, the desert, and even Las Vegas. I don’t go a day without it. I even brought it to my nephew’s wedding earlier this month so that I could download the pictures I was taking. But when I left it at home last weekend, I felt bereft. I could not pull out my SD card and check the action photos I was taking, couldn’t live stream the event for my brother who was sitting at home waiting for updates, or check Yelp for a good restaurant. So I understand what they were going through.
I don’t consider it an addiction for myself, but for those who live and breathe IM and texting, play Farmville and Mafia Wars, watch every episode of Law & Order or every bout of MMA available, for those who never shut off their phone, shut down their computer, or turn off the TV, then the possibility of addiction does exist. So beware. Watch your kids for signs of overuse, and then take them out to play, to hike, to get an ice cream. Offer them alternatives to the electronic world.