3. Media dependency

First off, using media is a habit.

Students are swimming in an ocean of media, but are often oblivious to their use of the technology all around them they so take it for granted.  It’s not only that they are used to listening to music, going online, watching TV, texting and calling friends, it’s that the act of doing those things has become invisible — it has come to be an extension of their selves.

  • “While I was driving to my friend’s house, I accidentally turned on the radio.”
  • “After dinner I kind of instinctively opened Safari and started browsing the web.”
  • “A few hours later, I brushed my teeth, came back to my room, opened my laptop, and got on Facebook. I was on the computer for a good ten minutes before I realized what I was doing.”
  • “Once I got back from the gym I turned on the T.V. and laid down to watch. It didn’t even dawn on me that I was breaking the rules until I turned it off to sleep and then realized what I did while I was in bed.  It is just natural for me to turn on the T.V. I have been doing it since I was about 5.”
  • “I wish I didn’t cheat with the assignment by checking my email and phone, but the anxiety was insane. I had no clue how connected I was with my friends and the world at all times. I never realized how much I text messaged my friends or checked Perez Hilton until I couldn’t.”

This Wordle gives a snapshot of some of the top terms that the students used to describe how it felt going “Cold Turkey” with media:

Wordle is a data visualization tool that generates "word clouds" from text provided by the user. The clouds make larger those words that appear more frequently in the source text.

Then there was this weird “Phantom Ringing” phenomenon.

Many students observed that their phones “feel like a part of me” — which for a surprising number resulted in hallucinations that their cells were in their pockets or were turned on, even when they weren’t.  The disturbing “ringxiety” alerted students that they were “so dependent on these inanimate objects.”

  • “I thought I would feel my jacket vibrate (usually where I put my phone) and twice I would look for my phone and realize I left it at my apartment.”
  • “When sitting in the library reading my textbook, I actually did hear some vibrations in my head and would think my phone was vibrating next to me.”
  • I felt Phantom vibrations all throughout the day, especially in my very boring Monday lectures.”
  • “With full knowledge that my phone was off and tucked away, I reached into my pocket at least 30 times to pull out a vibrating phone that wasn’t there.”
  • I definitely felt some psychological effects, such as hearing my cell phone ring even though it was off or typing on a pretend keyboard without realizing it.
  • “I could swear I heard my phone’s sound for when I had a message (which was impossible because the phone itself was turned off). The experience of ‘phantom ringing’ was a little disturbing — it really enforced my dependence on my phone. I still had four hours to go.”

It’s true.  I failed.  But I needed to talk to my mom…

Baby boomers went to college and entire semesters could slip away without a phone call or a letter exchanged between parent and child.  Not so today.  Both men and women reported that one of key functions of their cell phones was to call home.  On occasion the phone call home was to report in after a trip away, but for many students, calling or texting a parent (especially a mother) multiple times a day is not just routine, but valued.

  • I slipped up and called my mother.”
  • Near the end of my 24 hours I did have to call my mom and let her know that I got back to school safely because she tends to worry.”
  • “The only exceptions I made were to use my laptop to take notes in class (never connected to the UMD wifi) and to pick up calls only from my mother or father.”
  • If I hadn’t told my parents I was conducting this experiment, I am sure they would have tried calling me 1,000 times and they probably would have filed a missing persons report.”

I failed.  I just missed connecting with people.  (Hmmm… what does it mean that my connections happen over cell and text?)

Over and over again students commented that they absolutely needed the phone to have on-demand, 24/7 contact with family and friends.  The “inability” for the students to get in touch — and the inability of the students’ friends and family to get in touch back — greatly distressed them all.  Some cited the need for that connection in case of an emergency, some mentioned a need to be a caretaker, others simply needed the technological and psychological tether.

  • “I have grown up in a community where I was constantly surrounded by a need to stay connected. Whether that is through television, cell phones or whatever. The reliance is kind of disturbing, but in the modern American environment it is a necessity to have constant connection in order to survive.”
  • My roommate woke up feeling too sick to go to her classes and my phone was her only link to me throughout the day if she needed something.”
  • “I finally convinced myself to call my sister in case something terrible had happened. Everything was fine, and I realized after the phone call, that I just simply needed a form of contact with another human being.”

I failed.  I just couldn’t stand it.

Quite a few students justified their failure by referencing what they came to see was a kind of addiction.

  • “My reasons for giving in was that I am a sport junkie, so I have to be up to date with sports.”
  • “I broke my streak by checking into ESPN.com. I couldn’t stand going an entire day without getting my sports fix.”
  • I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”
  • I felt like a complete addict on withdrawal mode, once I gave in, I went all out and felt connected to the world again.”
  • “In retrospect I lasted a solid 12 hours but once sleep was taken out of the equation of counting towards the 24 hours I only lasted 4 hours.”

OK, so I’m reliant on media… and why is that a bad thing?

Students acknowledged that their inability to go without media was eye-opening.  But many said that they didn’t mind being so dependent — on balance they enjoyed their reliance on cell phones, the Internet, iPods and other technologies.

  • While I was upset that I wasn’t able to go these twenty-four hours, this truly made me realize how reliant not only society is on media/technology, but how reliant I am. I do not even think about it; it has become so natural to me. I am constantly checking my computer, my phone, the TV, etc. all day, and at this point it doesn’t even occur to me.”
  • So yes I’m a failure, I love my phone and I don’t want to live in a world without technology. Our society is so technology dependent that I wouldn’t want to ask anyone to live without it for 24 hours.”
  • “I feel that my life is way happier when I have access to media.
  • “I took out an old project that I have been working on since before this past winter break — I finished knitting a scarf I planned on giving my mother a few months earlier. I’m glad I am able to knit, or else I would have had literally nothing to do. By the time the clock read 11:55 pm, I was getting so antsy; all I could do was stare at it until it hit 12. You better believe that once it hit 12, I was in my office reconnecting myself to the internet. After that I flung my desk drawer open and grabbed my beloved phone. I missed 20 emails and 3 text messages (from coworkers who wanted me to pick up a shift)…. Before I finally fell asleep around 1:00 am, I felt a sense of relief that I was finally back in the loop.”