Addicted to media

College students are “addicted to media,” concludes a University of Maryland study, 24 Hours: Unplugged. Asked to go a day without media and then write about the experience, students  described themselves as “in withdrawal, frantically craving, very anxious, extremely antsy, miserable, jittery, crazy.”

“We were surprised by how many students admitted that they were ‘incredibly addicted’ to media,” noted the project director Susan D. Moeller, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and the director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda which conducted the study.

Without text messaging, phone calling, instant messaging, email and Facebook, students felt they couldn’t connect with friends, even those living near by.

“Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort,” wrote one student. “When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”

Very few participants regularly read a newspaper, watch TV news, listen to radio news or check  mainstream media news sites online. They pick up news from secondary sources.


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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    That’s what some of the 21st-century-skill proponents simply don’t get: that kids don’t know how to turn these gadgets off. Many adults don’t, either. It’s not that we shouldn’t use this technology, it’s that we should be able to put it aside for certain things.

    This part of the article is interesting as well:

    “For most of the students reporting in the study, information of all kinds comes in an undifferentiated wave to them via social media. If a bit of information rises to a level of interest, the student will pursue it—but often by following the story via “unconventional” outlets, such through text messages, their email accounts, Facebook and Twitter.”

    This “undifferentiated wave” (if it is real) means that students fail to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, between people who know about something and people who don’t. Granted, they may make some of these distinctions informally, but it seems that the social media levels everything to opinions, “likes,” and updates.

    I see that on sites like Yahoo Answers. You look for an answer to a question, and instead you find opinions and votes on the opinions. Even where there should be a clear answer, opinions and votes are all you get.

    Some may say that’s all the more reason to teach children to distinguish among online sources. But unless they know how to piece together a long and complex argument, unless they are able to work in quiet with problems and ideas, they will gravitate toward the shorter writings, the things that answer their questions quickly, whether or not they are correct or come from a trusted source.

    I discuss some of this in my article in the Spring 2010 issue of American Educator.

  2. If the “media” wasn’t constantly telling people, esp. women, that the world’s a big scary place, maybe they wouldn’t need such constant comfort.

    In Elaine Dundy’s novel, The Dud Avocado, the young heroine is thrilled to be walking in Paris, and not a soul on earth knows exactly where she is. And it was written in 1958!

    Why can’t people learn to be alone?

  3. I did this with my students this year. I think the report of the study is misleading. Not ALL the students in the study suffered withdrawal symptoms. I did indeed have many students uncomfortable with leaving their social media behind for 24 hours. Some gave up almost immediately. I also had a number of students who found it no big deal at all. My casual observation now that I know these students much better is that the ones who found it impossible are highly social/emotionally needy — some with diagnosed psych issues and well documented substance abuse. The vast middle could do it, but didn’t like it. The final group didn’t care — they all wrote they were perfectly comfortable being alone.

  4. I hate the way the word “addict” has come to be used. Could it be they have the HABIT of use instead of an addiction? Habits can be hard, but usually not impossible, to change. Believe me, they’d would change their habits if a habit change was required of them. Addictions are a whole ‘nother situation.


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