United States of America


Bar chart (above) of emotions expressed by students attending U. S. universities. Click on chart to go to full graphic comparing all countries.

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. I needed my electronic fix: Not just the terms that students used to describe their Unplugged experience, but the symptoms of distress they mentioned, sounded a lot like the way drug and alcohol addicts talk about the difficulties of going clean.  Said one student:  “Completing the without-media assignment without going completely insane was probably one of the most difficult tasks of my entire life.”

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  2. The most important connection is to friends & family: In their narrative accounts of their day without media, students wrote most about missing the on-demand back-and-forth exchanges with their friends.  Going without media made them feel so alone.  A surprising number of students also observed that they suddenly realized that their 24/7 use of media had masked how lonely as individuals they really were.

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  3. Media technologies are defining students’ sense of self: Students have become their own avatars – their 24/7 use and consumption of media has shaped them into beings not entirely of their own design.

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  4. Boredom:  A failure of imagination:  Again and again students from the US universities wrote of literally not knowing what to do with themselves without access to media.  How could they relax?  How could they entertain themselves during chores and exercise, for example?

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  5. Mom was right:  You are capable of being a better student if you just stopped with all the distractions: Wow.  Facebook, chat, email, Twitter, ESPN, and on and on all steal away a lot of time.  Going unplugged caused students to realize how productive they really could be if they focused.  And then some students discovered the Zen of going unplugged – “It was refreshing to walk in silence,” one student noted.  And said another:  “I could actually hear crickets chirping.”

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Language of dependency: US-based students used literally the same terms associated with drug and alcohol addictions to describe their reactions to going without media for 24 hours – as the ICMPA’s 24 Hours: Unplugged study in 2010 also documented.  Students at US universities used words such as: Fretful, Confused, Anxious, Irritable, Insecure, Nervous, Restless, Crazy, Addicted, Panicked, Strong Compulsion to Use, Angry, Suffered Withdrawals, Itching, Dependent, Depressed, Jittery, Paranoid.  They themselves made explicit connection to drug addictions.

  • “I ran to my room to grab my cell phone and before I could unlock it the time read 8:03. I had gone for a mere 8 minutes without media. It was at this point in time where I realized that I most likely have an addiction.”
  • “I realize that the term ‘crackberry’ may actually be true and I may be a victim of being addicted to these devices.”
  • “I realized that I was having hostile thoughts towards those students who were walking around texting. I was jealous of them and it literally felt like some sort of withdrawal.”
  • I needed my electronic ‘fix’ – this feeling made me realize how addicted I am to media.”
  • “I constantly text all day, so to abruptly try to stop for an entire day was like trying to wean off a hard drug.”
  • “I made it until about 8 pm, when Monday Night Football came on TV, and I just couldn’t resist… I felt like a drug addict, tweaking for a taste of information.”

“Sometimes I think I may be missing out on some of simple things in life because of the media – like spending quality, uninterrupted time with my family. But, in the end, I don’t think I would trade away media to get those small joys back.”


Symptoms of ‘withdrawal’: Students reported both mental and physical symptoms after they unplugged.  Students had expected to be irritated and frustrated, but they were taken aback by the level of stress, anxiety and sheer misery they experienced.

  • My anxiety had taken over me and I had caved in halfway through the day. I needed something to occupy myself, and my computer and phone were the only things to do so.”
  • “I didn’t bring my cell phone or iPod with me to class… I felt naked and weird without them.”
  • “I felt a strong compulsion, even a certain pulling, as if the certain devices (especially my phone and computer) were telling me to check my texts, check my e-mail, respond to a call, or go on Facebook.”
  • “After a while I missed holding my cell phone so much that I actually left my battery in my bag and held my phone in my hand. It is almost like a comfort to hold and just know it was there.”
  • I turned to food and alcohol to help keep me away from my Blackberry.”
  • “Feeling detached from society I relied mostly on alcohol and drugs. Sorry but I want to be honest. Getting wasted helped pass the time but it led me to wonder what the f–k happened to my 24 hours? I felt like I didn’t get anything accomplished. I felt like I was just trying to wait something out, telling myself it would be over soon. I was stuck in a prison of non-communication.”
  • “The silence felt like misery.”
  • “I saw my own addiction to media because I went into absolute panic mode when I knew I could not use it to go on the Internet. “
  • “Thus, this goes to show we become helpless without media and go into shock when we do not have it.”


“I use media as a substitute for human connections.”


Missing friends and family: Going without media for many students meant sacrificing their connections to the world. “I honestly felt so out of touch with the world,” noted one student, that “I kept thinking if something were to happen, I would be the last to know. It left me with an uneasy feeling the entire time of the assignment.”

But it was the loss of connection to other people that most commented upon.  The simple equation of one student?  “No Facebook. No ESPN. No news. No listening to my iPod on my way to class. No texting my friends. No keeping in contact with my mom. No social life.

Perhaps most devastating, however, was that going without media exposed many students to the realization that they were essentially lonely individuals.

  • It was a huge inconvenience to not be able to text my friends the second I thought of something important to tell them.”
  • I hate living through the world without sharing it with my friends through photographs, pix messages, and film.”
  • Going throughout the day feels good without technology only if there is someone willing to accompany you.”
  • “I came to realize that during my time alone and without media, I felt extremely alone and isolated. When I am not spending time in class, I tend to spend my days alone, and media, rather than people, serve to fill this void.
  • “I depend on my phone entirely too much. It’s my source of entertainment when I’m bored and even my way out of awkward situations. Embarrassingly I even use it when I’m alone, so I don’t feel so alone.
  • I felt disconnected from the rest of the world, even though I was walking in a crowd of hundreds of people.”

No surprise.  Most students failed: Most students reported that they didn’t make it through the entire 24-hours – some admitted they had thought about cheating and lying about it.  But with no academic sanctions for failure, there were few reasons for students not to be honest about their lapses.  As one student candidly said:  “Let me just start out by saying that I failed. I knew I would. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

  • I cracked and had to look at my Blackberry. Once I lapsed, I couldn’t stop.”
  • “I lasted until 7 pm. I went 16 hours without media; 11 ½ of those hours I spent sleeping. I guess I failed.”
  • I only lasted about 6 hours without media and 2 out of those 6 hours I was sleeping.”
  • “After my lab, I cracked. I went back to my dorm and instinctively turned on my phone. I made it for about 7 hours, which I thought was extremely impressive for myself.”

To fail is human: Those students who reported failing often mentioned their utter inability to engage on a human level.  Some reminisced about their carefree childhood days unplugged, but noted they couldn’t figure out how they could adapt to a media-free world today.  Quite a few wondered how their parents’ generation managed their lives pre-cell phones and the Internet.

  • Without my phone, laptop, or iPod, I couldn’t distract myself and the only other sounds I heard came from other human beings.”
  • I realized now that I don’t want to be a slave to my phone and I think it’s pathetic how much I rely on it for simple things like walking to class or standing in line waiting. I definitely would like to try and lessen my dependence on my phone – but I don’t know how successful I will be.”
  • Take a second and allow yourself to reminisce about the good old days, i.e. the nineties, when you likely spent far much more time outside running through the sprinklers and building snowmen.”
  • “For me however going without technology and the media for a day is pure torture and makes my day more stressful than relaxed. How my parents did anything back when they were my age without cell phones or Facebook really puzzles me.”
  • “After experiencing this dreadful 24-hours…I could not even begin to imagine the world if it was media-free.”


“It seems like the only possible thing that I could be missing due to overuse of media is truly knowing myself for who I am.”


Out of touch – with oneself: Students again and again reported that being forced to go without media made them aware of the extent of the relationship they had with the media they consume and the technologies they use.  People are not a replacement for technology, they noted, but many observed that media technologies had come to define their sense of self.

  • My laptop literally has my life stored in it.”
  • “For me, media is not just a convenience, it is literally a part of my life.”
  • I felt very inferior without my phone, and I had to catch myself and think: does my phone really have this kind of impact on me?”
  • I’m literally being swallowed by the media.”

Quotes may have been edited to normalize spelling and grammar.