Going Unplugged

Could you go “unplugged” for 24 hours? College students from schools around the world recently tried it, and more than half of them failed.

“Unplugged” refers to turning off all technological devices – going without cell phone, Internet, iPod – not using media of any kind. Students who tried it recently were taking part in the “Going 24 Hours Without Media” study, conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, in partnership with the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change. The study consisted of 1,000 college students from 10 countries, including the United States. Students were asked to unplug their lives for 24 hours, and then complete a survey (online, of course) about themselves,  how they use media, and how this challenge worked or didn’t work for them. It turns out, the students didn’t do very well without media. More than 50% failed to remain unplugged for 24 hours, and relapsed back into using technology after a few hours.

Addicted to Media

We shouldn’t be surprised. We live in a world full of media, and our young people have been raised in it. We are also are a society of addicts. We can become addicted not only to drugs and alcohol, but to processes like eating, shopping, and the Internet. Our teens and college students walk around with their heads down, in a constant texting motion. If they aren’t texting, they are talking on the phone. We don’t even cringe anymore when we see two teens walking side by side, both talking on their cell phones to other people. Students rely heavily on Facebook to keep up with the latest news with friends, email connects them to professors and employers, and their knowledge of current events comes from flashes of news on the sides of Internet pages. No wonder these students feel they can’t live without media.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Not only were students tempted to use their cell phones and computers, but being unplugged actually affected their mood and their outlook. Students reported feeling lonely and depressed, and showed symptoms of distress. Others likened it to drug addiction. Cravings and feelings of withdrawal were common, as if they were physically dependent on media. “Students talked about how scary it was, how addicted they were,” said Susan Moeller, the professor of media who led the project. “They expected the frustration. But they didn’t expect to have the psychological effects, to be lonely, to be panicked, the anxiety, literally heart palpitations.” (1)

Weaning Off Media

Some students did see some positives in the unplugged challenge. It made them realize their huge reliance on media and the way it distracts them in everyday tasks. In addition, some students discovered that face-to-face contact with others is important, and it is something that they don’t usually use because of their instant communication through media.

Technological advances have brought our society to amazing new levels. We can do so much and possess so much information because of our cell phones and computers. But when we psychologically can’t function without our technology, we need to consider unplugging occasionally to get back to the important things in life. 


(1) Tech addiction symptoms rife among students

Like a Drug, the Internet Is Addicting

Students worldwide share mobile addiction

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