The Social Addiction

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you shut off your alarm clock? Is that alarm clock actually your cell phone and do you wake up to ringtones? Is the first face you see in the morning your profile picture? The hum and glow of the television as you look for news, weather, or music to get you ready for the day? The newspaper you scan for headlines while you order your morning coffee? For many of us, media is so ingrained in our lives today that we don’t even notice it, taking the infusions of information, music, video and social networking we receive as a necessity rather than entertainment.

In a study reported in Oct. 2010 by the BBC, undergraduate students from 12 universities around the world opted into an experiment that asked them to completely cut themselves off from all forms of media. Not just the Internet, but television, radio, newspapers and cell phones as well. The experiment, called “Unplugged,” was conducted in a partnership between the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Global Seminar’s Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. The experiment asked students to abstain from media for a full 24 hours and comment on going “unplugged.”

Students at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom described their media removal experience similar to that of quitting hard drugs or dieting, associating their feelings with symptoms of addiction. Throughout the 24 hours, they were asked to keep a journal and record how they were feeling. Despite being able to read books and use land line telephones, many students described feeling isolated, anxious and upset about missing what was happening without them. This withdrawal from media has since been deemed Information Deprivation Disorder.

Not everyone suffered from the media shut out. Some students recorded that they went for walks, met up with friends and fully enjoyed their time unplugged. One common acknowledgment was the lack of being able to listen to music made students the most uncomfortable, noting the silence as especially unnerving. Without the pulse of music flowing through their earbuds and stereo speakers, students noticed the tweeting and chirping of actual birds, rather than Twitter feeds and cell phone alerts. Students heard the sound of conversation, of life outside the digital world.

“The extent to which we are using some of this modern technology and new media is changing us,” said Dr. Gerodimos, lecturer of communications at Bournemouth University. “Perhaps everyone should try going without it for a day every year.”