- Students in China reported that they feel literally caught in media’s web: Cell phones, the Internet, newspapers, games. Students discovered during their 24 hours without media that they “can’t live without any media,” as one student moaned. “In the material aspect, I can’t get much knowledge and benefits, and in the spiritual aspect, I feel very lonely in my soul.”
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- Chinese students are ultimately champions of what media can bring to their lives and to society: Student after student spoke about their generation’s utter dependency on media – especially the mobile phone – bluntly saying again and again: “We cannot live without it,” and mentioning the “troubles” it can bring because of people’s addiction to it. Yet, in the very next breath almost every student went on to say that “I realized that media really can do good for us if we use them correctly.”
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- For students in China, going without media is painful, but reflecting on the pain is a useful exercise: As a student at Chongqing University said: “We should be careful when we decide to develop a habit. It is necessary for us to judge whether the habit is good for us or not.“
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“As matter of fact, I’m quite addicted to the computer and the internet. In the wake of this experiment, I realized that media is spread like a web that binds me. Perhaps before I became aware of it, its threads took root in my muscles, blood, nerves and everywhere.”
Simply hooked: While students in other regions of the world compared their media habit to drug and alcohol addictions, students in China used more metaphorical descriptions to describe what seems to be a similar pattern of dependency and distress.
- “Though my body was free, the constraint of information made me seemed to be tied.”
- “I was the whole day in a blue mood. I always was missing something, something I couldn’t touch but only feel.”
- “This day is simply composed by struggle and suffering!”
- “Just one day, a short time, made me crazy. I found it unbelievable that I rely on the media so much.”
- “First I was confident that I would certainly accomplish the task. However, after 22 hours living without any media, I can say without exaggeration, I was almost freaking out.”
“I admit it’s quiet without media. And as time passes one question arises, how many people can bear the loneliness?”
‘Helpless on a deserted island': Students in China wrote poetically of their feelings about going unplugged. They conjured analogies to describe their feelings of loneliness and dislocation and to make vivid how much being connected to media mattered to them.
- “I felt 24 hours without access to media was really hard to bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about calling to someone, sending messages, listening to music, reading newspapers. I even thought I was isolated.”
- “I was alone in the street. I felt like a helpless man on a lonely deserted island in the big ocean.”
- “I feel that my inner heart is isolated from society.”
- “It seems that I was a deaf to the world, I couldn’t communicate with my friends, I couldn’t use my computer to have fun; life became so dull and so grey.”
- “Music is like the sunshine which is warm and mild in winter, and makes that season of ice and snow more endurable. Life accompanied by music is no longer emotionless and dry. Music can even recall my memories deeply buried in my heart and move me to tears. Music has become an indispensable part of my life, hence when [the experiment was over and] I could reclaim my mp3 player, I felt happy from the bottom of my heart.”
Ring, ring: As was true for their peers across the world, students in China most missed their mobile phones. Even given that, however, quite a few students were puzzled by the habits they had acquired because of all the “jobs” that their phones did for them.
- “Maybe I use my cell phone every 20 minutes. It’s just a habit. Sometime I use the cell to see what time it is. I don’t know why I have to do it.”
- “Without the cell phone I do want to read some newspapers. I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I felt so strange because usually I don’t like to read them, unless I had too much time or something big happened.”
- “I just like touching my cell phone with my hands, which made me feel full – so now [forced to give up my cell phone] I did not feel full, but a bit distraught. Forced to give up a habit, it was really painful.”
Students also were struck by how quickly mobile phones had become indispensable tools in their lives. Forced to leave their phones at home, students reported that whether they were going around town, sitting in a classroom, or even lying in bed, their cell phones were in their heads, if not in their hands.
- “I suddenly remembered that my mobile phone had been turned off and locked in the cabinet the night before. I felt strange suddenly, and a feeling of emptiness passed into my heart, a slight tension enveloped me. I felt like that I lost something important.”
- “I miss my cellphone so much. I felt the hours were so hard for me. I couldn’t listen to my teachers carefully. And when I stood somewhere alone, I just didn’t know how to behave myself.”
- “I got up at 2pm and went to accounting class. I usually always play with my mobile phone in class. But now I had to listen to the teacher carefully without my mobile phone. I felt jealous when I saw others playing with their phones.“
“During class, feeling bored, I want to take out my cell phone to go online, and watch the news, chat on QQ, but without my mobile phone I can’t do anything, only sit there.”
No end in sight: The media blackout seemed to change the perception of time. “I found time was going more and more slowly,” wrote one student, “and I felt upset.” A single day appeared to many as too long to handle without media. The perception of too much time on people’s hands unsettled some and created a sense of utter boredom for many. Others just took refuge in sleep.
- “When I have no access to the Internet, I feel confused and bored as if I have lost something. What’s worse, sometimes I could not concentrate on the other things.”
- “After 15 minutes without using media, my sole feeling about this can be expressed in one word: boring.”
- “Without media, I couldn’t do a lot, it seems that my whole life became more boring. When I was bored in class there are no magazines to dissipate my sorrows, no cell phone to go online. While walking or washing clothes, I needed a little music to add a little fun, but that wasn’t an option; when I felt the need to get today’s news, I couldn’t open computer.”
- “If I can’t play with my mobile phone, what can I do? It makes me very bored and not relaxed. Eventually, I don’t do anything but sleep.”
- “Maybe this is in itself a wake-up call! I was so surprised to think that I probably spend at least 15 hours a day on the computer.”
There are social costs, but the advantages of the connected life are innumerable: Perhaps more than students in any other country, those in China wrote about the progress that being wired could bring to individuals and society. Students wrote that the Unplugged experiment taught them about the need to manage the ubiquity of media so that it didn’t overwhelm the good and valued in their culture, but they wrote of their belief in the ultimate benefits it could bring.
- “Back ten years ago, mobile phones, computers are some pieces of luxury for us, since only a few people owned them. Today, mobile phones, computers have become an indispensable part of our lives.
- Without cell phones, we cannot keep in touch with each other and it is inconvenient for us. It will take less time for us to solve some problems with phones than without it; we cannot make sure whether our relatives have a nice life or not; we cannot look though the data which is important for us; we are totally in a society which is closed to outside world.”
- “With the development of technology and economics, the modern world is filled with all kinds of media everywhere. The more media we use, the more we know about the world. What media offer us is not only the information about the world but also the true convenience in our life.“
There is more out there: Perhaps more than students in any other country, those in China wrote about their ability to recapture their sense of self when they were freed from their ties to media. They noted the quiet joys they felt. Many wrote about enjoying nature, others mentioned taking up peaceful pursuits such as reading and writing, and still others observed that the time off from media allowed them time to think.
- “Although 24-hour no contact with media made me very uncomfortable, I started to reflect on my life. Do we live for the media, or for ourselves? We need to make the right choice.”
- “When I turned on my mobile phone, I received many short messages from my friends that say ‘Where are you?’ or ‘Why did you not reply to my short message?’ If I had received these messages before, I would have thought it was normal. But after a whole day without media, I feel the happiness of having friends… When we do something everyday, like listening to music or surfing the Internet, we ignore the power of it. But once we quit the habit suddenly, we may feel so uncomfortable, and even anxious. I drew a lesson from this fact – that we should be careful when we decide to develop a habit. It is necessary for us to judge whether the habit is good for us or not. Once the habit is developed, we will have great difficulty in changing it.”
- “Quiet and cozy, I found I was in a really good mood. I finally found some time to read books I have long been wanting to and write in my diary, and to knit some gloves for my mother.”
- “Without media, I could better focus on my own life: in class I can listen to the teacher’s explanation, because I no longer aimlessly surf on the Internet through my phone; in my spare time reading some professional books makes me feel quiet and peaceful; in the evening I go to bed on time, without my blind addiction to surfing or playing computer games.”
- “I had one of the most pleasant weekends. I looked at books and chatted with close friends. I really felt relaxed a lot.”
- “No one could disturb me. I could take a walk along the pathways in my school as much as I like. I could sit beside the lake shore to enjoy the lake and mountains. Bring a book. It couldn’t be better in my heart.”
Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.