- Digitally dependent: After participating in the world Unplugged experiment, said one student in Hong Kong, “I found out how severely I was addicted to communication platforms. Simply speaking, I cannot live without them.”
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- To live in Hong Kong is to be immersed in media: Students reported that they couldn’t avoid media – and in fact they wrote that had become so habituated to its presence that they had become oblivious. Said one student: “This experiment made me realize that I couldn’t live without media, but not because of the importance of media to me, but because media is pervasive in my life. During the experiment, I have to keep cautious to the media, thinking about what kind of media I would encounter next, and tried to take measures to stay away from it. Therefore, I found that in my daily life, I have taken media for granted and even don’t realize they are media.”
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- Social networks tie people across great distances, as well as within urban areas: City life can be lonely and scary. Students noted that connecting via Facebook, MSN, QQ, RenRen and Weibo helped them feel more comfortable and secure.
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“We feel comfortable only when surrounded by media. Isn’t it strange? Maybe we are ADDICTED to media already.”
Dependent & ‘addicted’: Most of the students in Hong Kong reported that they have been wired for years. The fast-paced city, the need to constantly be in public, the challenges of connecting to others in a complex environment meant that students couldn’t imagine how else they could be other than wired. Mused one student: “I think the reason why we cannot live without media is that it’s informative and information gives us a sense of safety.”
- “I was not surprised that I felt uncomfortable and troubled when I was unplugged. It is because I have realized for a few years I have been enormously dependent on media.”
- “At 3:00, I cannot help using my mobile phone to see if any person has contacted me and check email and have a look at my regularly go-to social websites — such as QQ, Facebook and RenRen. I only used it about 10 minutes but I felt much more relaxed and happier.”
- “The first thing I did when I woke up was to push the power button and start surfing the Internet. Somehow I think I am just too addicted to the Internet. However, I just can’t resist.”
- “Once you enter the internet life, you can do whatever you want to: play games/chat with friends/receive information/news. To a certain extent I agree that this is actually our second life. One can even sit, motionless, and spend the whole day interacting with the computer. You can skip your meals, skip the sleeping time and you can even give up your real life identity to get indulged in the Internet world.”
- “Because I became so addicted, I have less time for my studies and face-to-face meetings with my friends.”
- “I appreciate those who can live without digital media. They can really feel their life. They do not just face the computer or another digital devices every day. They can have real interaction with other people.”
Surrounded by media in the city: Students reported that the problem with going unplugged in Hong Kong wasn’t just that it was hard to resist the lure of mobile phones, the Internet, mp3 players and the like. The problem was that in the hectic urban environment there seemed little way to avoid media.
- “What I can say about this failed experimental experience is that it is unavoidable to come into contact with media in the contemporary world, particularly in cities like Hong Kong.”
- “When I was on the metro, I had nothing to do but to stare at other people using their phones.”
- “When I traveled on the bus, everyone around me was talking on the phone, watching TV news, listening to music and so on. It made me feel like people nowadays are afraid of being isolated and feeling lonely.”
- “Without the radio yesterday, I had to sleep in the car to find relief from boredom; I kind of had lost interest in life.”
“I feel so uncomfortable and insecure living without a mobile phone. It is already a necessity all human beings rely on.”
Less media, more loss: Most students reported that they relied on their phones and the Internet to maintain their relationships with others. City life in Hong Kong can be lonely, students noted; one is constantly surrounded by strangers. The way to cope is via social networks.
- “I felt very stressed, bored and like I’m isolated from society and my friends. I kept imagining what they are doing and writing in Facebook and wondering what they are chatting on MSN. I had a strong urge to connect with them.”
- “I felt so lonely that I could not really stand it and I could not sleep well during the night without sharing or connecting with others.”
- “I cannot live without my mobile phone especially when I am lonely or needy.”
Strangers in the city can also pose threats: How do you interact comfortably with strangers? Some students noted that they struggled to carry on conversations face-to-face, rather than anonymously via their cells. Other students wrote that they felt more secure with their mobile phones switched on; the handhelds gave them the ability to report their status and location to their families.
- “I found myself nervous when talking to strangers. I couldn’t speak as fluently as on the phone, and I seemed always to put on strange facial expressions.”
- “I am a person with a great need of security, so after I left my mobile phone at the dorm, I couldn’t stop worrying whether there would be someone calling me, even though I had told my family and close friends about the experiment the day before, and I also changed my status in Facebook to ‘In unplugged experiment without media.’”
- “I switched off my mobile phone. At the beginning, I felt like something is missing. I felt uncomfortable first. I was worried about what will happened in a case of an emergency and no one can call me. I kept taking out my phone and wanted to switch it on.”
- “If I do not use my mobile phone… I may feel unsafe because I can’t know the status of my parents. It also makes me unsafe because I can’t call for help when I am in danger.”
- “The worst thing of my day was not being able to let my mom know about my current location and status.”
“I feel life is so boring without music. I missed so much my iPod that I usually listen to day and night.”
It just sounds too good: Music is everywhere in Hong Kong – in the shops, in buses, on the street. Students noted that it was impossible to avoid. But others complained that it wasn’t so much that they couldn’t avoid the noise and music that surrounded them, as the loss of their own music that bothered them when they had to go unplugged. Students reported that they missed being able to use their music for entertainment, to regulate their moods, and to just simply shut themselves off from the world.
- “I must admit that I did not escape from one media situation with music though. That was the music in the fashion boutiques.”
- “Since our trip included… a tour coach, consequently I was ‘forced’ to listen to music… Our dearest coach driver decided to turn on the radio and fill the air with the local DJs’ voices.”
- “I could hear more sounds around me when I was walking on the street, because I wasn’t listening to the music from my iPod. However, without listening to my favorite music the whole day really made me feel depressed.”
- “Being accompanied by others is important to me while being disconnect from all media. When I am alone, I usually prefer loud music that shuts the world out.”
In theory, unplugging sounds like a good idea: One could hear birds chirping, for starters. And as one student in Hong Kong thoughtfully wrote: “I agree that media has made communication or life in general more convenient in most occasions, but the constant beeping of mobile phones can bring much stress. I have never stopped wondering why people have to know what their friends are doing at this particular minute, if not second. In my opinion, asocial relationship does not take root because of the amount of information about each other one possesses; face-to-face communication is always more efficient and effective. Nothing, not a Facebook status or a mini blog, expresses ourselves better than the way we speak and we behave.”
- “If there are no Internet, no newspapers or magazines, no TV, no mobile phones, no iPod, no music, no movies, no Facebook, Playstation, video games, what will happen? Imagine the days without media… the only sound you can hear is your mum talking to you, or you can hear birds singing…. It may be a good chance for you to get closer with your friends or lovers, contact them face to face instead of saying hi or leaving a comment on Facebook. Today, people’s so-called ‘communication’ is only communication with a computer.”
But the reality, the students based in Hong Kong concluded, is that life without media would just be too hard. As another student succinctly noted: “Life without media is so inconvenient.”
- “I answered a phone call from one of my final paper partners. We discussed some detail of the paper and I told her I could not chat online with her today, neither could I revise the paper with her. Basically, I already broke the rule by talking to her on the phone. She seemed surprised and said she would never join a project like this because she cannot imagine a day without media.”
Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.