Press coverage… and your thoughts

  • How do you use media?
  • Have you ever gone unplugged?
  • What was it like?

Leave a comment below on your own experiences.

You might be interested, as well, in looking at how others have covered this study.  Click on the news outlets below to see just some of the attention this study has received around the world:


22 thoughts on “Press coverage… and your thoughts

  1. They are not clinically addicted. They are dependent. There is no such thing as Internet addiction anymore than there is toaster or refrigerator addiction. These are not substances.

    The West is now dependent on Internet and media appliances, which will mimic addiction, but in reality is not. We have technologically evolved to where there is no turning back without symptoms indicative of dependency.

  2. Leslie

    I am too addicted to my phone to go without it. I always have it on me, always answer right away to a call or text. It was absolutely horrible going without my phone for the 24 hours without media. I couldn’t talk to my boyfriend, who is someone I talk to every day. We have a long distance relationship so we make up for it on the phone, and its surprising how much one day without a phone can impact my relationship. It made me very appreciative of technology. I constantly found myself wondering what it would be like if I lived back in the days when they didn’t have phones or computer.
    My car rides also were not the same without the radio, and not being able to listen to it made me realize how much I like driving for the simple reason that I get to listen to the radio.

  3. here’s an essay i just wrote on the same subject for my writing course:

    When was the last time you checked your email or the latest news on your favorite social networking site? If upon reading this you immediately thought that it was not recently enough, you are definitely not alone. Today’s fast-paced society calls for an equally accelerated medium to exchange information, and the Internet now serves this function in a multitude of ways through increasingly convenient websites that can deliver news, recent updates from friends, and results to queries in milliseconds. However, the reception of this technology is mixed. Many welcome the expeditious innovation, but others have their apprehensions regarding the radical changes in our lives that the Internet induces. One such individual who is apprehensive about the outrageous overindulgence in Internet usage is Nicholas Carr (2008), author of the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Carr argues that everyone’s constant use of this universal medium is literally changing the way people think, and studies have indeed confirmed that different parts of the brain are at work when surfing the web as compared to reading a book. However, I feel that although the use of the Internet is definitely changing the way we think, it is for neither better nor worse because change does not necessarily constitute a problem, and my personal observations on the matter do not suggest any prominent threat from the technologically intensive lifestyle that I so banally live.

    The idea that the Internet is physically modifying the neural networks of brains around the world is fairly young, but many scientists have already run a considerable amount of analyses validating this claim–a fact which could perhaps be ironically attributed to the Internet’s rapid distribution of experiment results. Journalist John Harris (2010) was one such recipient of data collected from an experiment performed by Dr. Gary Small at UCLA and two other psychiatrists in 2008; the experiment involved measuring the change in brain activity between new and seasoned Internet users, and the results showed that after roughly 5 days, “in images of both sets of brains, the pattern of blobs representing mental activity was virtually identical.” Dr. Small and his colleagues do confirm that there is an impact made on a human brain when it spends even short amounts of time on the Internet, but the potential consequences of this theory are still vastly unexplored. Many scientists accept this idea that Internet use develops certain neurological habits that are different from those developed through the use of traditional communication technology and social media, but the matter of whether these changes are good or bad is still largely unsettled. Editorial Director for Robert Roy Britt (2009) read the very same psychiatric study as Harris and addressed whether he thought the results were positive or negative in saying, “thanks to computers and MS Word, [I] can edit as [I] go along. I grew up learning to do an outline on paper before writing any essay or story, a habit that was reinforced in journalism school. I rarely do so anymore . . . . Good or bad? I’m not sure.” Just as Brit states, the Internet state of mind (which has been universally described as having shallow, sporadic reading habits, matched with a short attention span and tendencies to multitask) offers alternative ways to draw in information but whether it is propitious or inauspicious is a matter of opinion. Having a near-infinite source of both information and distraction can either be highly beneficial or highly cumbersome, but this factor depends almost entirely on who is using it.

    In order to tackle this question of whether or not society needs to worry about the physical repercussions of its digital addiction, I enacted a personal experiment by depriving myself of my technological stimulants for a full twenty-four hours and recording my reactions. Like most people, I am definitely guilty of overindulgence in communication technology and social media; oftentimes I find myself checking Facebook and sending text messages to my friends when I need to be focusing on only one task such as writing an essay. In the day-long span I went without my routine electronic analeptic, I experienced frequent fits of restlessness, boredom, and anxiousness. I felt much less productive and very distant without some kind of new information constantly in front of me. I found myself frequently asking people the time in order to keep a constant check on the slow passing of the day, and I felt a strong urge to email my friends back home who I could not otherwise reach. But at the end of the day I faced myself with a question: “could I go on living like this if it had to be this way every day?” And thankfully, I answered “yes.” In as many ways as I found myself inconvenienced by the lack of news being instantaneously flashed at my face, there were still ways in which my cyber-abstinence was convenient. Whatever social interaction I missed out on with friends online I made up for with personal interaction between other friends, and the fun that I could have had playing videogames was instead yielded through a bike ride. In the same respect, living life the way it once was (doing things one at a time and examining intricate details thoroughly) would probably have a similar tradeoff. One could anticipate that doing things one at a time would be an inconvenience when multiple projects need to be done, and that only using paper sources for news would give readers a much more narrow understanding of the headlines going on around the world. With these kinds of compromises at play, it is not easy to say that one pattern of thought is necessarily “better” than the other, but rather that both are separate options.

    I would be tough to find very many people who would not openly admit to having an addiction to technology. And given the substantial evidence in favor of such an addiction causing a neurological change in people, it would also be difficult to deny that there are physical changes taking place in people’s brains due to it. However, in spite of this scientifically validated issue, there does not seem to be much worry about. From my own experiences–and those of many others with similar mindsets to myself–I can say that the change in thought caused by more than a decade of ample Internet usage is it at worst an inconvenience. Scientists are still conducting experiments addressing this question today, but as of right now, it still appears as if the mental changes the Internet is implanting in us is not making us stupider or more distrait, it is merely making us think differently.

    works cited is available if you need it.

  4. John Alden

    I recently returned from an 8-day wilderness camping experience, in which I spent the entire time at least 50 miles off the grid, with no electricity or communications. We had no electronic devices with us at all. From the very minute it started, the experience was delicious.

    I have to say that I think the degree of dependence on various forms of electronic media is a learned behavior, and it is highly generational. At age 45, I simply have never been an early adopter of new devices or media. I have never owned a personal music player (all the way back to the Sony Walkman), although I love music. I have tried Facebook and found it vapid. Instead, I talk on the phone whenever I want to, and send emails whenever I need to. I almost never text. Playing video games makes me jittery, short-tempered and frustrated — the exact opposite response from the one my teenaged son describes. In short, I choose the media I am comfortable with and ignore the rest. It works for me.

    I think we are in a world in which various people use the Internet and other electronic media in different ways. At one extreme are people who use it compulsively (to a point where it detracts from other aspects of life). There is another (large, apparently) group that now sees online communication as a needed and welcome social outlet that fulfills them emotionally. There are others (I include myself here) that view the Internet and electronic media in an entirely utilitarian way — I get all kinds of information, buy things, send emails, watch movies if I want to, etc. And we have to remember, there are still many others who cannot or do not go online or use computers, either because they lack access or do not have the computer skills to get beyond the first password.

    The question is whether, in our atomized approaches to media, we risk talking past each other, or in a way living separate types of lives. I don’t know, really, and in the end, I confess, I am not sure I care. Life on Facebook will have to simply go on without me. You’ll find me sitting in a couch, reading a book — that is, until they stop making those, in which case you’ll have to pry the last one out of my cold, dead hands.

  5. Amy Kraemer

    Haven’t we all had some form of social technology at one point in history? It is how we use it that is important. The radio, the television, the telephone all help us stay in touch with our larger environment. Technology changes and populations grow and so does the use of technology.

    The problem could be that humans are using technology to communicate in lieu of face to face interactions and I don’t know if the research is in on that claim or not. I do see teens texting etc… but I also see them hanging out together playing sports, studying etc…

    I agree that the term addiction is not the most constructive way to think about all this but must say that while looking for a ipod app to download for my son the other day one category is actually called “highly addictive” I think there are aspects of addictive behaviors but again I don’t think we can have really instructive dialogue using inflammatory terms.

    I am 50+ live out in a very rural area where high speed i-net connectivity is not available for the majority of the population. I have a satellite and use the public library for high speed connectivity. I have a 9 year old son who has recently discovered the ipod and does act like an addict. He wants it first thing when he wakes up in the morning etc… Luckily I am still able to mediate his technology exposure.

    This need to be constantly connected and feeling of utter loneliness and detachment expressed by some of the students is hard for me to understand and makes me feel sad. I admit that at times when I am heavily involved in a project that requires the computer tool, I have a hard time letting go. I think though that it is the project I have a hard time detaching from not the computer (tool) I do take a computer with me when I travel but usually find that I don’t have time to use it or will use it for directions and some vital travel related info. I spontaneously go for several days without the computer, and I am usually conscious of this but it doesn’t produce anxiety or feelings of isolation.
    Living out in the middle of nowhere I spend a lot of time alone and sometimes days at a time and I too need distractions but I read or take a walk or garden, all of which most people might think are more healthy than texting friends or reading the news on the internet. But to each his own.
    Isn’t an addiction a state of mind that prevents you from being a fully functioning responsible person?

    My son goes to a small private school set in the woods, with farming, lots
    of outdoor activities etc… and I was just speaking to the principal about the schools lack of use of internet resources especially regarding information seeking. The school feels that students get enough media at home and don’t need it at school. I think the key here is to differentiate between different uses of media. The internet is a necessary tool for information seeking and learning about the greater world. The real power is that the internet allows us all to have a voice. What we need to teach is the importance of that voice and how to make best use of our abilities to share opinions, experiences, knowledge etc… Young children need to learn how to use the internet tool. It is possible that young people are using technology that is age appropriate, ie texting friends, staying on top of new music etc… and that as their lives change so will their use of technology? At any rate, This study has been informative but I must say it probably reinforces most of our worst fears regarding children and technology. We need to identify problems and then figure out how to solve them. Is the way young people use technology a problem? for whom, says whom? Again, there is a responsible and constructive response to this that is teaching how to be empowered by use of technology not pushed around and brainwashed by it.

  6. Mary

    I have actually tried this experiment: during class, place cell phone (still turned on) on my desk, a few feet away from students. The results were amazing – staring at the phone (student would definitely have heard it ring) continuously; hand tapping and moving; furtive looks around the room and back to the desk – afraid phone would disappear. We analyzed the sitiuation and many students said that they could not understand the withdrawal pains other than they felt disconnected from others [remember that the phone was on and anyone would hear it ring or vibrate]. Eventually we associated this need to someone who cannot stop a twitch, or involuntary eye spasms, or eye blinking. Scary but harmless according to 16 year olds. However they also noted that if they accidently left the phone at home (truly rare), they continued on their merry way – out of sight out of mind situation; yet if a friend had his phone out, they’d recall their emptiness and then think about it.

  7. Donna

    As a parent of teens I can attest to this preoccupation (note I did not say addiction) with media, and suspect the net effect is a mixed bag. My kids are restricted on their media use although we have relaxed it some as they have gotten older as long as their grades stay up. But when i see them in a group interacting it’s almost as if the lot of them have ADD as they can barely finish a sentence without checking for or replying to a text and a dead battery on an Ipod is a national emergency. I don’t think plugged in is all bad, but times when they are unplugged and not constantly surfing the web, checking messages, etc and totally focusing on their current environment/people/event I think are important in becoming a balanced person. It seems from this study that the reality of being connected IN PERSON is lost on these kids.

  8. dman

    Had the people conducting the study visited the University of Maryland Hillel, they would have found a group of people who do without media for one day every week. The student body of the University of Maryland at College Park includes one of the largest groups of Orthodox Jewish students outside of the exclusively Orthodox institutions. Most Orthodox Jews (other than doctors on call and other emergency personnel) do not use telephones, computers, radios, TV, etc., during the Sabbath, which lasts from shortly before sundown on Friday until shortly after sundown on Saturday. I am on my computer all day at work and a good part of my off work hours as well. I find the break, well, restful.

  9. Janet McMullen

    For several years, I have offered extra credit in my Mass Com Theory and Media Ethics courses for no TV/Video for 7 days. Students are required to keep a journal and turn it in. I have seen some of the same comments, but this is a great way to update the assignment. I plan to try this with my summer sections of these courses. My students were in shock at how dependent they were on television and video sources. I can only imagine their reactions if they have to go completely cold turkey! Sounds like fun!

  10. Hannah

    I was very intrigued by this study because over the past seven weeks, I have participated in a similar media fast for my theology class as an experiment to lower anxiety. Mind you, what sweetened the deal was 5% extra credit, but by the end, the extra credit was perk. What was interesting was that it actually worked. My anxiety plummeted about half way through. The first week and a half was terrible though, so I definitely understand this feeling. However, as time went by, I began to fill my time with other things. I too studied more, related more, slept more, and became less anxious. Over three miles an hour is a comfortable walking pace for me usually, but during the fast I learned to slow down. I picked flowers. I smelled them. I spoke with my friends in person. I make collages and art. I became a lot better at playing guitar. I was ahead assignment wise in all of my classes. It was incredible. I was astonished and revitalized.

    The restrictions were basically the same for our fast, but adjusted because of the great length of time. What worried the most at the start was the restriction of music. Only live music was permitted. Now, take into consideration that I am the most passionate person I think I have ever met when it comes to music. But, I survived. My guitar, Bokken (Japanese for “wooden sword”) became my best friend. I learned a lot of new songs, which was awesome. Reading was fair game, which was nice. School email could be checked once a day for 15 minutes, and phone conversations could occur for 5 minutes or less. At first, this was terrifying, but like I said, I basically picked up a different kind of lifestyle. I learned more about myself. Because of the quiet time, I had the opportunity to do some self-examining. I learned that I care about what others think too much and that media in excess causes anxiety rather than reduces it. I learned that I have the power to be more independent that I think I do. I learned how impatient I am with others and that I am an angrier person than I wish to admit.

    I ended this fast on Tuesday, so I am fresh off the boat. I’ve only been on Facebook twice since for less than 5 minutes each time, by choice. I actually don’t even really care about Facebook anymore, if you can believe it. I honestly do not care. I care more now about becoming a better “musician” and gaining wisdom through online readings, rather than “liking” someone’s status or “becoming a fan” of this or that. I found the meaning of life when living without media: love others and follow your passion and happiness will come out of the blue.

    My challenge to you would fast from media for a day, like this study and go all the way, or fast for a longer period of time and be more lenient with the restrictions. The first days are always the longest and the worst, but sooner than you think, you will change for the better. In the end, you will gain by abstaining. Challenge yourself. Let go of your laziness and leave your comfort zone. It’s time to begin again. Begin again by letting go.

    1. Susan Moeller

      This is a fascinating accounting of your experience! I wonder how closely your classmates’ experiences tracked with your own. We too, on this study, had students who even in 24 hours learned to stop and enjoy smelling the flowers (literally!).

      I hope you can keep some of that joy for living life with you–whether or not you keep your media usage down to a very low level.

  11. David

    Reinforces what we old folks have noticed. Not much connection between actual humans but the media link is alive. I have often watched in wonder as a couple obviously on a date spent the time looking at their phones but not talking to each other. I suppose it is a safe relationship. No one sees you cry.

  12. Great study! I teach journalism at Rowan University and was just talking with my students the other day about how their addictions to media are chipping away at their concentration and ability to focus. They gave me all the same reasons as the participants in your study for why they need/want to use their phones and computers constantly.
    Good job. Thanks for the information.
    –Kathryn Quigley, M.A. Journalism UMD 2000

  13. Tikva Wake

    I’m likely considered extinct, but I don’t use social media to stay connected. I still prefer live interaction with my friends and family. My husband and I travel frequently and we go days without touching email, phones, etc. I feel sorry for people who have such an incredible dependency on technology to feel content and highly suggest meditation, yoga, camping, hiking–any number of activities that would force them to disconnect with the world and connect with their inner selves.

  14. SavareseMedia

    I will read this entire report but it will take me days as I need to be either emailing, checking my social web connections or keeping up with the news as it happens. What does that tell you?

  15. I´m a heavy user tons of hours on social media sites.

    Have gone unplugged for a weekend or a couple of days, and although one would think it´s terrible it allows you to pick up on other aspects of you life, it´s interesting.

  16. Susan Moeller

    I think this would be an interesting study to try with teens. I would expect some differences, as teens’ time isn’t yet their “own” yet, as it is with most college students.

  17. Debra Fales

    Very interesting!! As someone who works on a daily basis with teens i have often wondered how they would feel without any media connection!!

  18. I appreciate your study very much–actually, I haven’t read it closely yet (this time of the semester isn’t conducive to careful reflection, unfortunately), but my quick perusal makes me very eager to dig in when my grading is done.

    I’d like to say, however, that I almost didn’t read the study at all because of the way it was promoted on the UM Newsdesk site (which is the link that a colleague emailed to me: The headline “Students Addicted to Social Media” screamed “alarmist fearmongering” to me, like so many of the most mindless, our-children-are-scary-aliens, hand-wringing, media effects travesties.

    I’m wondering if it might be time to re-think or even retire the addiction metaphor for media use. The term is now employed with no clear distinctions in reference to everything from substances to hobbies–from cocaine to sugar donuts, and from adultery to heavy betting. It’s a devil word, “addiction,” signifying disease and a(n almost) complete loss of agency; maybe it could even be a self-fulfilling prophecy so that those who claim the metaphor jettison the responsibility for making self-disciplined decisions.

    Anyway, just a thought. As is so often the case, the actual study is far less dominated by scary effects talk than the journalistic piece that announced the study. How can serious academics and social scientists retain more control of their own meanings in news coverage of their work?

    1. Susan Moeller

      Thanks for this… Really thoughtful observation that rings true for me, since I have had the same reaction to the spin on others’ studies.

      Perhaps once you have time to take a look at the study, you’ll be interested in replicating it at your own school, and can judge what similarities and differences among student reactions there might be.

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