111,109 words

It took 200 students 111,109 words to explain what it was like to go without media for a day.

That’s about 550 words per student — 250 more words than the assignment asked for.  It’s unusual for students to spend MORE time on an assignment than they need to.

What do the lengthy responses mean?  That the students had a lot to say — even though most failed to make through an entire 24-hour span without succumbing to the lure of media.

  • Some failed because they just didn’t know what to do with themselves without the stimulation of media.
  • Some failed because they needed to communicate to friends, family or professors and couldn’t find another way to do so other than by phone or text or email. (Students had been told, however, that they could use their computers to complete school work and that they could commandeer a friend to make a phone call for them, if need be.)
  • Some failed because they found that there was no place they could go on or off-campus where they wouldn’t be swimming in media: TVs blaring in the gym exercise rooms, video games being played by their suitemates, music piped into elevators heading up to their doctors’ offices.

Many students had been appalled when the assignment was announced.  They were skeptical about the purpose and even fearful about going without media for such a “long” period of time.  Many students admitted that they had had doubts from the beginning about their ability to complete the assignment — and those students who didn’t manage to go the entire twenty-four hours noted that they weren’t surprised by their failure to do so.

Most students had never known a time when they hadn’t had access to the convenience and on-demand power of media.  And most admitted that they hadn’t been entirely aware how distracted they were by all the technology in their pockets and backpacks.  Somewhat abashedly they wrote about getting more out of their classes because they weren’t texting or Facebooking through lectures. They wrote about getting their homework done faster without online distractions or the temptations of TV and video games. A few even noted that they believed that they would be getting a better grade on an assignment they completed during the 24-hour period as a result.

At the end of the assignment, many expressed both positive and negative emotions – simultaneously saying they felt freer and a little happy but also more disconnected and therefore more discontented.  A few found the experience stress-relieving, while others said they felt  more stressed.

  • “Overall, a day without media ends up making you feel very uninformed and lost….Not being able to use media also makes you realize how much you are missing and how much time you are wasting. Media has a trade-off between its usefulness and its ability to waste your time.