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Texting, iPods, and Social Media: Are College Students Addicted?

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It’s almost hard to remember the days before Google and iPods. Checking my e-mail is the last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, and I feel a little lost if I accidentally forget my iPhone when I’m out because for some reason I feel compelled to let the world know where I’m eating dinner or what I’m buying at the store via Twitter. I even “talk” with my friends and relatives more on Facebook than I do in person. Am I addicted to technology, or is this just what the world has come to? The International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland tried to find out by having college students give up their TV, cell phones, MP3 players, and laptops for 24 hours.

The study, conducted from February 24th to March 4th, was called “24 Hours: Unplugged” and it followed a group of 200 students from the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism. The participants were all aged between 18 and 21 years old, and the group was supposed to abstain from all aspects of media for 24 hours, going as far as leaving their dorm if their roommate was watching television. After their 24 hour experience, the students were required to blog about their experiences.

As you may have guessed, many students gave in … and gave up before the 24 hours were over.

24 Hours: Unplugged … The Results

This survey is pretty new, and articles and blogs about its findings are already all over the internet. Susan D. Moeller, the journalism professor who conducted the study, said she was “struck by how the short media blackout personally and emotionally affected students.”

Now that the study’s conclusions have been published, I found its 5 main highlights rather amusing, even though I’m probably guilty of the behaviors myself.

1. Students use literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media.

2. Students hate going without media. In their world, going without media, means going without their friends and family.

3. Students show no significant loyalty to a news program, news personality or even news platform. Students have only a casual relationship to the originators of news, and in fact don’t make fine distinctions between news and more personal information. They get news in a disaggregated way, often via friends.

4. 18-21 year old college students are constantly texting and on Facebook—with calling and email distant seconds as ways of staying in touch, especially with friends.

5. Students could live without their TVs and the newspaper, but they can’t survive without their iPods.

Word clouds were created to illustrate the most commonly used terms from students’ blog posts written after their experience, and the top words used (difficult, distracted, bored, addicted, lonely) almost make me think that they were trying to give up heroin or cocaine, not a cell phone.

The students all said that they felt disconnected, anxious or worried that they were missing out on something by living for 24 hours without technological devices, but the following comments made me laugh as I think of how many students complain about how “busy” they are:

  • “On a psychological note, my brain periodically went crazy because I found at times that I was so bored I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
  • “On Friday, I had to walk to class and stare at everyone as I passed because I had nothing else to do.”
  • “I took the longest shower of my life and went to bed early on Sunday night.”

Looks Like Technology is Here to Stay for College Students

The results of this study seem to have writers and bloggers (people who are probably just as addicted to their own cell phones) aghast at how “addicted” college students have become to social media, but it looks as if technology is here to stay. While doing a bit of research to write my own blog on this topic, I also learned that the University of Maryland announced on April 26th that all 75 students enrolled in their new Digital Cultures and Creativity (DCC) living and learning program within the Honors College will be given an Apple iPad in fall 2010.

Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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