Failure


Bar chart (above) expressing how often students reported failure or difficulty in going without media. Click on bar graph to go to the full chart.

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. Media have become a ‘human necessity’: Almost every student across the globe grumbled about the difficulty of the unplugged assignment. A clear majority in every country admitted outright failure of their efforts to go unplugged, and students in China, Lebanon, Slovakia and Uganda particularly struggled. The failure rate didn’t appear to have anything to do with the relative affluence of the country, or students’ personal access to a range of devices and technologies. What the reports documented was how essential AND pervasive digital technologies have become both for students individually and for the societies in which they work and play.

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“Maybe in the modern times, the media is just something like water for a majority of people that they cannot live without this necessity.” — China


  1. HAL 9000 : “I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it.” Students failed because media are no longer external actors that deliver news and information; they are the circuitry of this generation’s increasingly bionic make-up. For students to unplug from media, was comparable in effect to telling the computer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey to shut himself down.

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  2. There’s no escape:  media are ubiquitious: In addition students failed because they reported that as they go through their lives – no matter where in the world they were writing from – they are swimming in a sea of media. The only way to avoid the omnipresent media, the students in all countries noted, would be to sequester themselves away from the world.

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“Personally I could not manage more than a few hours without being connected to some kind of means of communication. When one is off on holiday it just seems ‘buenisimo’ to me, but it becomes frustrating and it is essential for college or work use.” — Argentina


Not even for a day: It is perhaps to their credit that any students reported complete success.  A sizable percentage of the total number of students did try, in good faith, to make it through a full day and night without using media.

Some almost made it through the 24 hours. Others failed soon after they began when they used their cell phones as alarm clocks. Students failed in a variety of ways, including checking their phones, playing music, using their computers, and watching TV.

  • China: “Finally, even though I resisted the lure of media for 22 hours – not my original idea – I surrendered.”
  • USA: At this point I had a complete breakdown; I opened up my laptop, put on my iPod, and checked my cell phone, all within a matter of about 30 seconds.”
  • Uganda: “Even on my way to school I was tempted to stand and at least have a glimpse of what was happening in the dailies.  By halfway through the day I felt I could not handle it any more and I was even tempted to call someone on my phone. The minute I unlocked it there were six messages. At first I wanted to read them but then I switched if off and I gave it to a friend to use till the next day.”
  • UK: I lasted little more than another half an hour before I gave in to the flashing light on the side of my phone and the unread messages on my email and Facebook.”


“In front of a person who really has strong willpower and is firm enough, nothing is impossible, including going 24 hours without media.

[So why did we fail?] We need to look not only into the role that media play in our life and how they affect us, but also to indirectly inquire into people’s energy of self-control and our psychological quality – and then size up the whole society’s universal and special psychology….

I deeply feel that our life has changed from a media-less situation to a new situation where media are an absolutely necessary part of our life.” — China


Yielding to temptation: Students distinguished between voluntary failure in moments of weakness or temptation, and inadvertent lapses that stemmed from habit. Some became so frustrated with the experiment that they voluntarily chose to use media. Many also described needing to use media for school, work, family emergencies, or safety issues.

  • Mexico: “In my experience with this exercise – the truth –the first thing I felt was desperation the second I started to carry it out. Sincerely, I only lasted 2 hours.”
  • Lebanon: I couldn’t not listen to music, I listened to almost 40 seconds of a song and then I was ‘satisfied’.”
  • USA: “At first I was going to try and work out without my iPod, but after two minutes on the treadmill I gave up and grabbed my iPod.”
  • Slovakia: “I quickly ran to bathroom, took my shower and got ready to go to sleep, but when I got back, there was my favorite tv show on. And to be honest I couldn’t help it.  I broke the promise again..”
  • UK: “I did not go the full 24 hours without media – I used my phone as an alarm clock on Friday morning. I didn’t trust myself to wake up for a 10 am lecture naturally and could not think of another way to make an alarm – the only other one I own is on an iPod dock!”

“At that point my sister invited me over to the TV; a good movie was on and she felt like watching it. Needless to say, I joined her shortly after. I lasted about 5 hours without media.” — Chile



The accidental failure: Other students caught themselves using media without having made a conscious decision to do so.  Routine or habit led them to answer their phone, listen to the car radio, turn on the TV when they got home, or open their laptop and start checking Facebook before they realized what they were doing. In other cases, they found they simply couldn’t avoid the presence of ubiquitous media in their lives.

  • Lebanon: I automatically opened my laptop to check my mail. I had realized that my 24 hours of going unplugged failed at this point.”
  • Mexico: “I must confess that I woke up and turned on the television that day without taking notice of this, but after a few minutes I remembered this experiment and turned off the TV.”
  • UK: “After dinner I logged into my computer with the intent of doing some work. I however, as if by reflex found myself browsing the news feed on ‘Facebook’, I was shocked at how easily I messed up, I logged-in almost unconsciously and without any real desire to.”
  • Slovakia: “And I must admit that I answered the first phone call of the day. It was done totally automatically. I didn’t even realize what I am doing only after the end of the call I realized I wasn’t supposed to do it.
  • Argentina: This was not for lack of will, but caused by external factors. Six hours after starting, I went to a home where they had turned on the radio, eight hours later, when walking in the street, I was exposed to advertising on public roads, and finally, ten hours later, I inadvertently read a graphic medium.”
  • Hong Kong: “I found that it is really difficult for me to escape from media. Even though I stayed at home, there are televisions, computers, telephones, as well as loads of newspaper and magazines.”

“Kiosks on the street are displaying newspapers with the latest headlines, TV screens are installed inside metro stations and music is played in every supermarket. The only chance to avoid media completely is to lock yourself into your room or travel to some remote place.” — China


Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.