USA: Boredom

“Trying to live without media is like trying to live without seeing.”

Students felt at a literal loss.  They felt isolated.  They felt anxious: It wasn’t just that students at school in the United States reported that they had become dependent on 24/7 access to media – to connect with friends and family, to entertain themselves, to collect the news and information they needed to work and get around – it was that many of them literally didn’t know what to do with themselves when they went unplugged.

“I truly feel sorry for the Amish. I cannot even express how bored and out of touch with society I felt.”

Complete & utter boredom: Without a phone in their hands, the Internet a click away, or music on demand, most students felt life was exceedingly dull. Time just crawled by. “Without my smart-phone, I felt 30 minutes as 3 hours,” noted one student. And many students reported that going without music was devastating – “I was angry to be deprived of music for a day,” wrote another student.

  • “Everything took so much longer because it turns out I depend on music to keep my mind from wandering; music keeps me focused, like my ADD medication, and I had neither.”

More problematically, many students admitted to a failure of imagination to come up with any other activity to replace their time with media. They reported a lack of desire to do anything, and a surprising number reported that they were reduced to cleaning, doing laundry or even just staring at the wall.

  • “It was during I would say hour 11 or 12 that I felt the psychological effects of this experiment. I was literally thinking, ‘What else can I do but sit?‘”
  • “I could have gone outside and got involved in something, but the thought didn’t even occur to me, which might speak for my generation’s dependency on the media. Instead of realizing I could go be active outdoors, I’d rather sit in my room and mope that I couldn’t log onto Facebook or watch T.V.
  • “I was itching to go on my computer to check Facebook and read the gossip about the games from Sunday. Instead I had to occupy my time with things I normally wouldn’t have done without my parents asking.”
  • “I assumed it would be easy to distract myself for most of the day and then get really drunk at night. I ended up just sitting on my bed staring at the wall instead.”
  • “I started early Sunday morning and then figured I may as well sleep longer because I couldn’t use my phone or anything else to talk to other people. 

Finally I woke up again, frankly because I felt a little pathetic lying in bed thinking there was nothing better to do without media.”

Without the option to multi-task, doing just one task is onerous: Overall, students reported that they were so used to managing their must-do work (class, exercise, driving) by rewarding themselves with Facebook, texting and music, that even in the midst of other activities, they were not only crushingly bored, they were unwilling to actually complete the other activity.

  • I found myself very bored in class as Facebook, via my phone, or texting usually keeps me occupied during boring lectures.”
  • Without my iPod, exercising became much more of a chore than normal to the point that I cut my morning run in half out of sheer boredom.”
  • It was hard for me to stay awake while driving because I was so bored.”

Students missed their cell phones most of all: Cell phones have a broad range of functions and tools – and are portable in addition. Those factors by themselves have made them students’ most essential media technology. As one student summarized: “I use my cell phone for just about everything. I use it as my alarm clock in the morning, instead of getting a watch I just look at my phone to see what time it is, and now I don’t even check my e-mail on my to computer anymore because it just goes right to my phone. So when I had to go all day without using my phone, I felt, for a lack of better term, crippled.”

But students noted that their dependence on their portable cell phones was not just due to their entertainment value, but because they also see their phones as literal lifelines in times of emergency.  Men wanted their phones in case they had problems on the road, and women talked about feeling safer walking across a dark campus if they had their phones handy: “I also broke down Monday night on my way back from the gym,” said one student. “It was late and dark, and I called my friend while walking back to my dorm on south campus, just to feel safer.”  In fact several students reported emergencies – a family member in an accident, an attempted robbery – that made their having immediate access to their phones essential.

  • “I could go without internet, Facebook, the radio, even the TV if I really had to – but taking away my phone was pure torture.”
  • “I knew this was going to be hard for me but I didn’t realize that it would actually make me feel antsy and anxious without my phone. I can go without the internet and music for a little while, but without my phone I feel like I’m missing an integral part of my life that connects me to my family and friends.“
  • I depend on my phone so much it is scary. Without it, I feel disconnected and it makes me physically feel stressed.”
  • I suffered ‘withdrawals’ and even unconsciously reached out for a calculator which is slightly shaped like my phone to check my text messages.”
  • “I might have been fine if I had turned it off and put it somewhere out of sight, but as soon as I saw the little red blackberry light start blinking, I immediately became anxious and desperate to check my phone.”
  • I depend so heavily on my phone to relieve any sort of social anxiety.”