A disturbing study was just conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Affairs, and the Salzberg Academy on Media & Global Change. Known as “The Word Unplugged,” it involved monitoring college students for 24 hours while they went without media for a full day. The results were a bit scary, and revealing about what young generations value in these digital times.
The students reacted the same way anyone with an addiction might act—with anxiety, cravings, and even symptoms of withdrawal. They saw their media as an actual physical extension of themselves, and they also revealed that they never had to search for news, as the news came to them via their different media outlets.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the study is that it wasn’t solely centered around American college students, but students in ten different countries around the world, including China, Chile, Uganda, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom. Most of the students reported that they could not imagine life without their devices—though they’ve only been around for a decade or less. When they had to go without their media for 24 hours, they felt like a part of their own selves was missing.
Something is very wrong here. Humans aren’t cyborgs; we are meant to physically connect and engage within our present time, not use our cell phones or laptops to connect with the world all day. Sure, it’s nice to have the convenience, or to use them for work or homework, but do you really have to text throughout the entire day, photograph every moment of your day and put it on Facebook, and Tweet what you had for lunch?
Parents can do a lot to combat this at an early age, such as limiting digital time, not buying children cell phones until they are old enough to actually need them (such as driving age), and doing family activities together instead of letting kids skulk off to their screens every day after school. It seems as if people have forgotten how it feels to have real relationships, and instead are using their digital devices to make and keep friends.
Do you use your Twitter feed, homepage, or other digital resource to instantly keep abreast of the news rather than searching for anything that’s happening? If so, try going a day without it and see what you learn about instead. Try searching for topics instead of letting them fall into your lap.
Do you feel as if your devices are an extension of your own self? If so, you may want to try cutting back, just to see if it affects you. If you experience strong cravings, irritability, anxiety, or any other classic symptoms of withdrawal, you might want to consider cutting back for good. Too much of anything isn’t healthy for anyone, and that includes cell phone use.
Above all else, why not spend a little more time in nature away from these devices before we forget what it is—and before it’s gone?