The Internet and social media may be the equivalent of class A drugs for some. A new research study out of the University of Maryland has shown that students at least, suffer similar withdrawal symptoms to drug addicts.
Although small, the experiment carried out at Maryland was quite telling. 200 students agreed to give up all forms of media for 24 hours. So no Internet, no cellphone use, and therefore no communication or access to information electronically in any form. All digital social ties were cut.
The study, entitled 24 Hours: Unplugged has been carried out at the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA). It found that most of the students cannot function without access to media and communication online. This comment from one of the participating students is quite telling:
Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. 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.
Susan D. Moeller, director of the ICMPA commented:
We were surprised by how many students admitted that they were ‘incredibly addicted’ to media. But we noticed that what they wrote at length about was how they hated losing their personal connections. Going without media meant, in their world, going without their friends and family.
The students did complain about how boring it was go anywhere and do anything without being plugged into music on their MP3 players.. And many commented that it was almost impossible to avoid the TVs on in the background at all times in their friends’ rooms. But what they spoke about in the strongest terms was how their lack of access to text messaging, phone calling, instant messaging, email and Facebook, meant that they couldn’t connect with friends who lived close by, much less those far away.
After the 24 hours were up the students wrote on personal blogs about the experience. In total, they managed to write more than 110,000 words, most of which expressed symptoms of withdrawal including anxiety, isolation, and fidgeting. There was also a feeling of being cut off and “had less information than everyone else, whether it be news, class information, scores, or what happened on Family Guy.”
It’s clear that growing up today includes a concentration of gaining information from social media. Everyone uses the Internet, cellphones, and TV as if they are second nature. Communication is through e-mail, IM, and social networking. Take those away and it’s the equivalent of not being able to talk to your friends in-person, or go buy a magazine or newspaper from your local shop in a pre-Internet age.
The study also demonstrated some other interesting facts. A key one was students have general access to information online on a daily basis, but showed no loyalty to any one source. So if a big story broke about an earthquake a student would know about it, but would likely be unable to tell you where their information came from. That doesn’t bode well for newspapers attempting to establish a following online and associated revenue stream. People today really don’t care where the information comes from, and as much is garnered from social media as from websites that carry the news.
The question we need to ask is whether this is a form of addiction we need to deal with and break? The students are addicted to communicating with friends and keeping up-to-date with information. There’s nothing bad about that. It’s only if that goes too far and to the point where real-world relationships and duties are put second to being connected.
Could you go 24 hours without access to the Internet, your cellphone, or your friends online? I think I’d see it as a refreshing break, but any longer than a day and I’d probably suffer similar withdrawal symptoms.