United Kingdom

Bar chart (above) of emotions expressed by students attending university in the United Kingdom. Click on chart to go to full graphic comparing all countries.

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. Craving media: Students in the UK wrote that they couldn’t manage 24 hours without media: It felt like going ‘cold turkey,’ many reported. “The only feeling I can relate it to giving up my phone and Twitter is that of giving up smoking,” said one student. “When I gave up smoking and I saw others smoking, I felt as though I was missing out on something. During the 24 hours of the experience I actually craved having my phone, and routinely checked my pockets for it every 5 minutes.”

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  2. Separation anxiety: Students reported that going unplugged left them uneasy and anxious. “I’m panicking not knowing what is going on in not just the outside world but also my world,” said one student. “My friends, my family, my life.”

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  3. Out of touch with world news: More than students in other countries, those based in the UK reported that they really missed keeping up with national and global events. The fast-paced cycle of news, students wrote, meant that 24 hours away from the BBC and other outlets felt like an eternity.

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A long, long day: For students in the United Kingdom, a day without media was largely stressful, isolating – and educational. Participants in this project wrote about experiencing withdrawal symptoms and being constantly fidgety. They were sure their friends and family had important messages waiting for them — even if it turned out that most of the missed communications were banal. They stared at their phones (which were turned off) and came to the realization that they were lost without the ability to go online on-demand. While some students felt liberated during their media-free day, far more felt a great sense of relief shortly after the 24-hour blackout came to an end.


“Emptiness. Emptiness overwhelms me. I have been awake all but 20 minutes, washed and dressed and now breakfast prepared. I am sitting staring at the kitchen wall. No paper, no radio to accompany me. I admit I feel lonely, disconnected – and I realize just how awful my cooking is.”


‘I’m an addict': Students reported that there was nothing to do without media. They tried writing letters. Re-reading a book that never was a favorite. Aimlessly wandering into rooms. But students felt trapped in routines that they saw as utterly boring.

  • “I am an addict. I don’t need alcohol, cocaine or any other derailing form of social depravity; I just need my drug. I had this somewhat hideous realization at about 7pm on the Sunday 24th October. I paced, I pondered the meaning of life and then I panicked. How could I survive 24 hours without it? How could I go on? Okay, maybe I’m being slightly overzealous, not once did I consider suicide; however, I was experiencing some ridiculous withdrawal symptoms. Media is my drug; without it I was lost.”
  • “Technically speaking, I failed the unplugged challenge two hours after I had started. I lasted 90 minutes. I managed to busy myself up until 4 but all my housemates were out at this point and I had nothing to do at all – nothing that didn’t involve the computer so I ended up switching it on and feeling like a failure. I did manage to avoid the internet for the best part by doing some work, but already feeling like a let-down, I quickly checked my blog and Facebook and made sure I didn’t update anything so that no one would know I’d been on it..”
  • “I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. Going down to the kitchen to pointlessly look in the cupboards became regular routine, as did getting a drink.”
  • I got through three quarters of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ before remembering that I had read it before and didn’t like it. That’s how unfocused I was.”
  • “To fill the hours I tried to be productive…I washed and dried laundry. I wrote a postcard to a family friend. I walked home from Talbot Campus just to waste time. It was a challenge to stay away from any form of media. I was becoming bored very quickly.”
  • “I drag myself to my bedroom, and just sit there no longer singing just swaying. Staring at the blank face of my television. Wondering if it would really be so bad to turn it on, just put in a DVD. Surely if the DVD is made before 1998 it doesn’t count as media? I resist, partly owing to true British determination mainly owing to the fact that in my state I wouldn’t be able to navigate the DVD into its tray. So I spend the last few hours in a deep alcohol-induced slumber, dreaming of seeing the green light blinking to life on my Playstation and hearing the whirrr of my laptop starting up.”


All alone — an unsettling feeling: In their dorms, in their apartments and in their classes, students reported they felt an oppressive sense of isolation.

  • “Five hours in and my typically relaxed Sunday has had the adverse effect. Raised heart rate, increased anxiety .”
  • “As the day progressed, I became slightly uneasy as I began to wonder if I was missing out on anything through having my phone switched off and not being able to check e-mails or Facebook.”
  • I found the experience quite isolating, due to the fact that I could not sit in our communal living area because my flatmates were watching television in there together, as well as playing music.”
  • Without the television on I was ready in twenty minutes and I felt grumpy. I didn’t feel ready for the day. I felt like I’d forgotten something. I thought it was nice that for once I sat at the dining table, but I’m entirely unconvinced that eating in the proper place was worth feeling groggy and unsettled.”

“I was trying to justify my urges to connect again. ‘What if someone needs to get hold of me? What if something’s happened?!’ This was the thought that ruined it for me.”


The world goes on without them: Even though students were unable to check their text messages, update their Facebook pages and follow their friends on Twitter, everyone else in their lives could do all of the above, stoking a fear among students that they were being left behind.

  • One of the biggest obstacles was feeling out of the loop, as the media is used to be kept ‘in the know.'”
  • “For most of the 24 hours, the overwhelming feeling that I had was of boredom, as well as a strange feeling of missing out; missing out on all the sports news and all football results and highlights that are typically one of the favorite parts of my weekend.”
  • My feelings by the latter part of the day were quite anxious – I felt like I was being annoying to my housemates as I was just pottering about seeing what they were up to.”
  • Around 3 p.m. I really started to panic that maybe one of my lecturers had left an important message on my BU, or if my boss or the doctor or the dentist or anyone of authority had contacted me in any way.”

  • “I like distractions. I like to be able to find out information at the click of a button. I like the fact that I can get in touch with people instantly. How anyone ever coped without the technology we have now baffles me.”


Missing instant gratification: Students commonly wrote that they needed to scratch an itch during their 24 hours without media — the itch being checking their phones or typing a question into a search engine for quick information.

  • “In the first few hours I felt withdrawal symptoms such as frustration. I have become so used to being able to instantly go onto the web whenever I pleased that to have the ability stripped away was a massive change.”
  • I almost experienced withdrawal symptoms as I saw other people using their mobile phones; it brought about emotions of loneliness as usually I would rely on my phone to prevent boredom and to communicate with friends. About halfway through the experiment I lapsed and used my phone to call my boyfriend as I felt fed up and I am used to communicating with him daily.”
  • It’s like some kind of disorder, an addiction. I became bulimic with my media; I starved myself for a full 15 hours and then had a full on binge. Emails, texts, BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Facebook… I felt like there was no turning back now, it was pointless. I am addicted, I know it, I am not ashamed.”
  • I spent every waking second thinking about texting my friends, aching to go on Facebook, needing to check my e-mails and watch the latest TV shows online. It was that typical thought of not being able to have it made me want it more.”

“Switching my phone off was rather bizarre. It felt like I was literally cutting myself off from civilization.”


A lifeline turned off: By far the most missed device was the cell phone, which has become not only a telephone but a mini-computer and messaging device.

  • It was hard not to instinctively reach for my phone, which I had to turn off because throughout the day I knew I would reach for my phone and pick it up.”
  • My iPhone was the hardest item for me to resist. I use my phone for so much. I play games, listen to music, check Facebook, e-mail, weather, finances and of course call and text. I had to turn off my phone because I knew if I heard a message come through it would be too much temptation and I would look.”
  • It was very strange not to have my phone constantly connected to my hand. I already missed hearing it ring. I found myself staring at it a lot even though it was turned off.”

Disconnected from world affairs: The news cycle moves effectively every minute nowadays, and students responded that they felt completely out of the loop with world news after just 24 hours of being away.

  • “Globally, I was unaware of what was going on. I had no idea what was happening in the news, and even now, I find it hard to catch up on the news for that day.”
  • “I check most big newspapers and local papers back in Norway, online editions several times a day, and it felt weird not to be able to do that for 24 hours.”
  • “Having a smartphone means I am also used to regularly checking internet sites such as BBC News, Facebook and Twitter. Without these, I felt a little out of touch with the world and craved to know what was going on not only in worldwide news, but with my friends’ everyday thoughts and experiences, posted in statuses, tweets and blog posts daily.”

Caving in: As with students across the countries, British students commonly reported lapsing during their media-free period and not being able to make it the full 24 hours.

  • “The challenge got harder when my boyfriend tried to contact me (he was traveling up from Plymouth to see me in the evening) and he needed directions. I felt obliged to pick up! This was the first time I broke the rules of the challenge. After getting into contact with him, I started to long for the use of ‘Skype’ and ‘Facebook’ to stay connected with my friends and family at home.”
  • At about 10 p.m. I caved in. I’d spoken to my mum everyday by phone or Skype since being away at university and not having a phone call made me feel so disconnected from the world.”
  • “Unfortunately I had to use Skype, because I was having some family problems. And then everything failed. I decided that if I already cheat by going on Skype, then I will just quickly check my Facebook. And then I put some music on. Luckily it was not for long – for about 20 minutes.”

“We all meet up, get some drinks and belated breakfasts and head on our way through the woods, free from all technology, media and technological distractions. We all comment on how pleasant it is just to talk to others, for the time, away from the stress and general hustle-and-bustle of everyday university life.”


Dreams of detachment: Students described feeling a sense of triumph upon finishing their 24-hour blackout. Some of them even wished they had the ability to force themselves to “turn off” from time to time.

  • “This showed me how reliant I am on even the smallest forms of media, and how drastically different my whole life would be if I was away from it. However, the next morning when I woke up, I reflected on these feelings, and thought about how much more enjoyable and less stressful society would be if we were not all so attached to it.”
  • I felt a sense of superiority, triumph even that for one day, at least, I was not a slave to technology and the media; that I would not have to live in fear of checking MyBU every few hours in case I missed something. I found a quiet pleasure in being ‘uncontactable.'”
  • It made me wish I had grown up in a time without media’s influence, and that the only way of communicating would be to go out and see people, and have a face-to-face conversation, or a landline telephone call, or to receive letters from people you hardly see anymore. All these are now replaced by emotionless emails, Facebook messages or a quick text.”

Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.