Friday, January 14, 2011

24 hours without any media: a study led by International Center for Media and the Public Agenda

The University of Maryland's International Center for Media and the Public Agenda teamed with the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change to study the effects of a 24-hour hiatus on media. The study included students at 10 universities worldwide. The study asked students to go for a period of 24 hours without Internet, cell phone, e-mail, or any other form of media.

According to this study, most college students are not simply unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world. What were the study's top five highlights?

1) Students used literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media. Students stated "although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely." By 2 PM I began to feel the urgent need to check my e-mail, and even thought of a million ideas of why I had to check my e-mail. I felt like a person on a deserted island. I noticed physically, but I began to fidget, as if I were addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am."

2) Students had a profoundly negative reaction to going without their media. In their world, going without media  felt as if they were without friends and family. Students wrote "texting and instant messaging my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two ways of communicating, I felt alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable."

3) Students showed no significant loyalty to news programs, news personalities, or news platforms. Students have only casual relationships to the originators of news and, in fact, do not make distinctions between news and more personal information. They acquire news in a  "disaggregated" manner, often via their friends. Students wrote "although I will admit I do not actively keep up with breaking news everyday I do get a lot of information on a daily basis through social networking, text messaging, and websites such as Gmail, where it does have headlines on the homepage.

4) 18 to 21-year-old college students are constantly texting and on Facebook--with calling an e-mail a distant second as ways of staying in touch, especially with friends. Students wrote "texting and Facebook allow me to make plans to meet up and act socially, whereas without these two devices I had no easy way of making plans unless I happened to run into the person I wanted to do something with."

5) Students could live without television and newspapers, but said they could not survive without their iPods. Students wrote "it was really hard for me to go without listening to my iPod during the day because it's kind of my way to zone out of everything and everyone. It gets in my mind. Listening to music before I go to class to take an exam is my way of getting amped up like a football player before a game."

The advantages of unplugging?

Effectively all those who succeeded in their studying said that without the distraction of Facebook, text messages and videos they spent more time on their coursework.Students reported "my morning routine was completely different. I couldn't check my phone, e-mail, weather, or watch SportsCenter. My morning was not rushed. It was quiet and seemed slow. It was actually somewhat peaceful. Classes went better since I couldn't text or get on the Internet. I took better notes and was more focused."

Several students noted their surprise at how productive they were during this 24 hour hiatus. One student wrote "over my 24 hours without media, I finished an entire novel and started a second novel."

The study demonstrated that students who use laptops in class are generally multitasking. While keeping one year tuned to the professor, they are simultaneously checking e-mails, updating Facebook pages, and chatting with friends via instant messengers.

Although the assignment of being media free for 24 hours stunned most of the students, at the end many found a kind of equanimity with the outcome of their media free day. There were students who expressed feeling relaxed, care-free, peaceful, and serene.

Students wrote "this assignment allowed me to take a step back and reflect. I probably had more thinking time that day than any other day I spent at college. As the hiatus made both laptops and cell phones off limits in other classes, students said that without the temptation of their computers and cell phones they were able to accomplish more during class.

One student wrote "I found that I was able to pay more attention in class, instead of checking my BlackBerry constantly to see if I got any messages or e-mails, and not having my computer in class was less distracting since I was not tempted to check my Facebook page every second."

Multiple students observed that they unexpectedly became aware of aspects of their life which they had been oblivious to. Some students reflected on their media free period by saying they caught up with their priorities and spend more quality time with their loved ones.

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