College students are 'addicted' to media, study says

Cut off from media for 24 hours, students said they were "in withdrawal," "frantically craving" and "jittery."

Describing their feelings during a 24-hour assignment in which they abstained from all media use, 200 Maryland college students used some of the same terms associated with drug addiction: In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Jittery. Crazy.

Released this week, a new study, "24 Hours: Unplugged," by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland, documents the students' attitudes during their "day without media." The conclusion: Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world.

"The students did complain about how boring it was go anywhere and do anything without being plugged into music on their MP3 players," said project director Susan D. Moeller, a Maryland professor and director of the center. "But what they spoke about in the strongest terms was how their lack of access to text messaging, phone calling, instant messaging, email and Facebook, meant that they couldn't connect with friends who lived close by, much less those far away."

One student wrote: "Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable."

The students chose which 24-hour period between Feb. 24 and March 4 they'd attempt to live without media. Depending on which day they chose, some students missed major breaking news events, including the Chilean earthquake (Feb. 27) and the finale of the Vancouver Olympics (Feb. 28).

And when they realized how cut off they were from news and information, the students "expressed tremendous anxiety," said Raymond McCaffrey, a Ph.D. student and former writer and editor at The Washington Post. "They care about what is going on among their friends and families and even in the world at large. But most of all they care about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet."

Background on the study participants:

  • Women outnumbered men, 55.9 percent to 44.1 percent
  • 75.6 percent self-identified as Caucasian/White
  • 44.1 percent reported that their parents or guardians earned more than $100,000
  • More than 80 percent were freshmen or sophomores
  • Their average age was 19.5
  • The students ranged in their areas of study
  • 43.3 percent reported having a smart phone

Image: Texting on a keyboard phone / Alton

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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