1. Using media

I want to be connected (to people, to music, to entertainment, to news) NOW

Digital media provide “instant gratification” for students.  But of all the media technologies, most students felt most bereft without their cell phones use cell phones not only to call friends and family, but to text others at nearly any time of day. They use their phones to text and tweet and Facebook during lectures, while walking around campus, and whenever they need to coordinate with friends.

  • “Basic things like text messages usually plan out my days but without a phone, the only people I really saw were the people who live in my building or people I accidentally ran into.”
  • “Not having a cell phone created a logistical problem. It was manageable for one day, but I cannot see how life would be possible without one… the most important aspect of a cell phone seems to be being able to meet up with people…. it is problematic having to make up specific times and places to meet up with people: most of us are very accustomed to our flexible by-the-whim lives.”
  • “To me, media is a way to connect to people in ways I never do on a day to day basis. With classes, location, and other commitments it’s hard to meet with friends and have a conversation. Instant messaging, SMS, and Facebook are all ways to make those connections with convenience, and even a heightened sense of openness. I believe that people are more honest about how they really feel through these media sources because they are not subject to nonverbal signals like in face to face communication.”

Tuned In 24/7:  I can’t live without my iPod

Today’s students have a soundtrack to their lives; they are always plugged in; they listen to music all day.  Not having music when they walked to class, when they exercised, or when they studied dramatically disconcerted many students. There was an up-side, however, several students noted:  their lack of music actually forced them to have conversations with people they did not know.

  • “The hardest part of the 24 hours was not listening to music.”
  • “Walking to and from class was not as relaxing as it usually is for me because I love just walking, thinking about things, and listening to my music.”
  • “I like listening to music while I study because I like the background noise. If it’s too quiet, sometimes it’s hard for me to focus.”
  • I do believe that the iPod touch is the greatest thing ever invented, having thousands of applications which allow me to check my email, check the weather, play games, and listen to my 16 gigabytes of music, half of which have probably never been played. It is genius, it fits in my pocket, and if there was one thing other than not playing guitar that was going to make this assignment impossible, it was not having my iPod on me.”
  • “My attempt at the gym without the ear pieces in my iPhone wasn’t the same; doing cardio listening to yourself breath really drains your stamina.”

Cellphones:  This generation’s Swiss Army Knife

Students’ primary multipurpose media tool is the cellphone:  especially for calling and texting, but also for email and playing games.  Without it, students repeatedly pointed out, they not only couldn’t communicate, they literally couldn’t operate in the world as they had become accustomed.

  • I really wanted to call home to speak to my mother.”

  • “Facebook I might be able to do without, but my cell phone is important to me. It creates a link to constant communication and safety. What happens when I need immediate contact with someone, if there is an emergency?

  • “I just got a Droid last month and am very attached to it as I am constantly sending and receiving emails, checking Facebook and playing different games or using applications. Our cell phones have become such a large part of our lives, it is the one thing I always have with me at all times.
  • I literally had to have my friend hide my phone so I wouldn’t check it by accident.”
  • It becomes a normal task to look at my phone every few minutes, yes minutes.”
  • “I am constantly on my phone. On average I probably send a text message every minute or so. I am ashamed that I couldn’t go without my phone for 24 hours, but communicating with people is one of the most prominent things in my life.”

If I’m online, I’m on Facebook (or some other networking site)

Students noted how much they use Facebook to alleviate boredom. While students did mention that they used the Internet for completing class assignments, many said that what they missed about not accessing the Internet was keeping track of their social networking.

  • It is almost second nature to check my Facebook or email; it was very hard for my mind to tell my body not to go on the Internet.
  • “I knew that the hardest aspect of ridding myself of media though, would be not checking Facebook or my emails, so I went ahead and deactivated my Facebook account in advance. It’s pathetic to think that I knew I had to delete my Facebook in order to prevent myself from checking it for one day.”
  • “I began to compare my amount of media usage to that of my friends. I realized that I don’t usually check or update Facebook or Twitter like a lot of my friends that have Blackberrys or iPhones. I did however realize that as soon as I get home from class it has become a natural instinct to grab my computer (not to do school work which is the sole reason my parents got me my computer!) but to check my email, Gmail, umd account mail, Facebook account, Twitter account, Skype, AIM, and ELMS: that’s six websites and four social networking sites. This in itself is a wake-up call! I was so surprised to think that I probably spend at least 1-2 hours on these sites alone BEFORE I even make it to attempting my homework and then continue checking these websites while doing my school work.”

OK, if I had to, I could give up my television set

Students had an easier time disconnecting from television. While students did say they watch television, many missed their computers and the Internet more, which they used not only to surf the Web and send e-mails, but because they used their computers essentially as a TV: to watch various videos.

  • “Not watching TV was probably the easiest media source to not use. The computer was not as easy but not the most difficult. Giving up my cell phone was the most difficult.”

Hey, do you have the time?  (I don’t have my cell phone.)

What came as a surprise to many students was how the assignment played havoc with their sense of time.  First, without a cell phone, students who had no watch were late for meetings and classes.  And second, without the distraction of media, time seemed to crawl for many.

  • “I had to set my alarm clock for the first time this year because I usually use my phone.”
  • “Interestingly, not having a way to tell time became one of the biggest stresses of this experiment. I tried to rely on clocks in campus buildings …and it became apparent that many buildings are not made for people without watches/phones. Consequently, I got to my first class 20 minutes early, ate lunch very quickly so I wouldn’t get to my next class late (again I was early), and was 15 minutes late meeting up with my boyfriend later in the day. Lesson: I really need a watch in case my cell dies.”
  • The absence of media made life feel a little slower.”
  • The day seemed so much longer and it felt like we were trying to fill it up with things to do as opposed to running out of time to do all of the things we wanted to do.”

Writing by hand is so last-century (and so slow)

Some other students also mentioned just the plain inconvenience of going without laptops and cell phones.

  • I had to take notes by hand which was difficult for the particular speed in which my professor lectures.”
  • “I found it harder to keep up with the teacher because I am so use to typing my notes very quickly on my computer, and now I had to handwrite the notes for the lecture.”
  • The convenience of these tools is incomparable. I can make plans for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday within ten minutes worth of phone calls or texts. Without my phone, I’d have to be making plans months in advance through letters.”