College students from 10 countries show stark similarities in how they use media of various forms — from the Internet to television to cell phones to music — according to The World Unplugged study, whose results were released this week.
The study, which took place in the from September to December of 2010, included nearly 1,000 college students from Argentina, Chile, China (mainland and Hong Kong), Lebanon, Mexico, Slovakia, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The study tasked the students to go 24 hours without using any type of media. At the end of this forced withdrawal from media, the students wrote blog posts describing how they handled the day disconnected. Researchers pored over the nearly half a million words in the students’ posts in order to complete The World Unplugged study.
The results, released this week, confirmed what these students’ parents probably already knew, that college students love and even crave media. While the study shied away from diagnosing a media addiction, some student comments stated it bluntly. One student from the United Kingdom wrote:
Media is my drug; without it I was lost. I am an addict. How could I survive 24 hours without it?
A student from the United States wrote:
I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not used my phone.
The study also found that media for many students, in particular their mobile phones, had become almost like another limb — like an arm or leg — something they could not do without. Deprived of their phones and other media tools, students found it harder to connect with friends (via Facebook), navigate to new areas (without the aid of a GPS or even MapQuest), and generally carry on with their lives. Some students even found it an alien task to attempt to read an analog clock.
On a darker side, researchers found a trend of loneliness and isolation among study participants. Without the ability to call or text friends or communicate via social networking sites, students soon felt as though they were alone. One student from Slovakia came to a somber conclusion:
We don’t know how to talk, to share our feelings with others in other ways that on Facebook or through a phone.
Despite the mental turmoil caused by the withdraw, students in the study found lifting the burden of media led to a greater appreciation of what they thought were mundane things, such as actually taking time to converse with friends face-to-face.
One United States student wrote about visiting with friends:
I was able to really see them, without any distractions, and we were able to revert to simple pleasures.
Two groups conducted the study — the International Center for Media and Public Affairs (ICMPA) at the University Disable rich-textof Maryland and the Salzburg Academy on Media and Social Change, which gathers college students and faculty from several continents and over a dozen universities in Salzburg, Austria for three weeks during the summer, to focus on understanding and promoting media. These groups confirmed with The World Unplugged study that, for college students around the world, media rules.