'Students addicted to social media': Oh c'mon, this again?

Summary:A University of Maryland study suggests that students are addicted to online media and social networking. An argument against,

A study from the University of Maryland suggests that students are addicted to social media and networking, the Internet and mobile phones, showing similar symptoms to that of drug or alcohol dependency.

What utter tosh.

200 students were asked to give up all areas of media access for one day and afterwards, measured for symptoms of addiction through withdrawal, cravings and a struggle to function at usual capacity.

Just under half of these students had a smartphone, such as a BlackBerry or iPhone, capable of application enhancement. Also, students were stated to be able to live without television and print media but "can't survive without their iPod's", and the undergraduate students are "constantly texting and are on Facebook".

Now don't get me wrong. As a young academic and prominent iGeneration figure, I can not only see both sides of the research argument but also be in a relatively strong position to critically analyse research for flaws and issues; whilst respecting the findings as an academic outcome. If I'm honest, the methodology used is pretty rock solid, with only one yet crucial factor in that the results are interpreted by researchers through qualitative data collection and discourse analysis.

As Reuters points out, the American Psychiatric Association doesn't recognise "Internet addiction" as a disorder. I disagree with this, but addiction is difficult at best to pin point. It's almost as pointless as attempting to define specific, undisputed symptoms for autistic spectrum disorder.

Everybody shows different signs and symptoms of addiction. I should know; I was hooked on painkillers for a year and a half.

There is no denying certain parts of the research, in particular what was described by the students undergoing web withdrawal, including symptoms such as:

"In withdrawal, Frantically craving, Very anxious, Extremely antsy, Miserable, Jittery, Crazy.”

However, the interpretations of actions and reactions of students and Generation Y'ers by researchers outside the age scale, and part of the older Generation X, are just that: interpretations.

In the past I have flippantly written about addiction. Today in all seriousness, the term "addiction" is banded around without thought or conviction.

I defend to the highest possible level that today's youth are not addicted to social media and networking, the web and online media. We do spend far more time on Facebook and accessing the web for leisure use and socialising but that is part of the natural progression of tertiary, non-compulsory education socialisation.

Just because we may refer to technology as a means to an end does not negate the other non-technological knowledge we have. We as a generation are used to, in fact, brought up on technology thrust upon us by schools and home computing. Addiction becomes an issue when it has a negative effect on the individual or other people. Different routes are taken each time we socialise; a Facebook message versus a phone call for example, one may be more efficient but secondary and tertiary allowances are still there to fall back on to should other methods fail to yield a result.

The Generation Y and students generally should not be considered as "addicted" to the web. We still possess the ability to visit others in person and engage with them in a verbal and physical capacity.

Maybe we should concern ourselves with the younger Generation Z and their online activity and social tendencies. If the fate of future generations rests in their hands and they resort to "poking" each other on Facebook as a means of engaging of reproductive coitus, that's when we're screwed. Until then, can we drop the "addiction" non-issue?

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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