Bar chart (above) of distress expressed by students attending universities in participating countries. The numbers represent relative weights for each country. Click on chart to go to full graphic comparing all emotions.


  1. It’s fair to say that the students, en masse, HATED going without media: There’s a famous children’s book published in the United States with the title: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. That just about describes how students felt going through 24 hours without media. Here are just a few of the top key words students used to characterize how they felt about the experiment: Anguish. Annoyed. Disheartened. Difficult/Hard. Hated it. Horrible. Stressed/Stressful. Suffered. Terrible. Torture.

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  2. And can we talk about my anxiety? This is what a lot of the student reports boiled down to: I’m frustrated. I’m stressed. I’m annoyed. I’m anxious. I’m a little freaked. Please, someone? I just need to connect. I mean right now. Really. RIGHT NOW. For so many students who had grown up with non-stop access to media, leaving their mobile phones (and other  media) in a literal drawer for a day was at best an exercise in frustration and at worst gave rise to low levels of panic.  As one Hong Kong-based student simply noted:  “I am a person with a great need of security.”

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  3. Depressed, too. For some students, the little annoyances of a life without media led to irritation. For others, the lack of access to media led to loneliness and anxiety. And for still others the time away from media triggered feeling “blue” and apparent symptoms of depression. “In fact, the whole process of being without media is more than a test,” said one student based in China, “it’s also like a training of suffering from loneliness, depression and worry.”

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“I didn’t use my cell phone all night. It was a difficult day… a horrible day. After this, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT MEDIA! I need my social webs, my cell phone, my Mac, my mp3 always!” — Chile

It’s the worst: Students frequently described the experience as horrible, difficult or hard. They described feelings of frustration, and commented on how even their mood was affected.

  • Uganda: “The 24 hours I spent without using any media created a gap in my life. I missed communicating to my friends through daily social networks and they also felt like there was a problem with me.”
  • Slovakia: My mood was very bad because I felt tired and lonely without my Facebook friends and my favorite music.”
  • USA: “The lack of media had me in a terrible mood all day. I was anxious and annoyed at pretty much everything. Trivial things that usually didn’t bother me that much drove me insane.”
  • UK: “At half past seven I decided it’s time for drastic action to get through the last eleven and a half hours. I decide that its time to turn to alcohol. Within two hours of drinking with my flat mates I am heroically intoxicated, and singing although I’m told its more like shouting. 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. “
  • Slovakia: As I expected, this day was quite a torture.”
  • Hong Kong: “To me, no internet = no life.”

“Five hours in and my typically relaxed Sunday has had the adverse effect. Raised heart rate, increased anxiety. I’m panicking not knowing what is going on in not just the outside world but also my world. My friends, my family, my life.” — UK

Anxiety: A common reaction was anxiety — students wrote that they felt anxious not knowing what was going on with friends and family or the outside world, and not being able to contact others. As one U.S.-based student simply noted: “I depend so heavily on my phone to relieve any sort of social anxiety.”

  • USA: 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.
  • Mexico: “I felt psychological effects like I was feeling incomplete [without] my cell phone and that I could not live or doing anything without it.
  • Argentina: I felt anxious, not finding a way to fill the time, but to continue with the reading of a book I had begun the previous day. [This did] not quench the anxiety I had, and I felt disconnected from the people with whom I usually deal.”
  • Chile: I got really anguished and anxious. These effects increased when I was alone or not busy.
  • UK: “I’m naturally a worrier and I sincerely didn’t realize how badly I used the computer, the television, music to block out that worrying.
  • Lebanon: ” When I left AUB I got anxious because I was driving without a phone. I started to worry more about accidents and what I would do if something happened.”
  • China: I was anxious, irritable, and felt insecure.”

“Normally I always come home and watch TV, I see a show, turn on the computer and go to the Blackberry Messenger. As I could not do any of that I really panicked.” — Mexico

A very bad, very blue day: The difficulty and stress of living their lives without the tools and stimulus to which they have become accustomed had an emotional effect on students. They felt sad and lonely.  Images of death came to mind.  With no electronic presence via their media platforms, quite a few students felt they had no “real” presence in the world either.

  • China: The whole day for me is in the blue mood. I always feel the lack of something which I totally can’t touch and can only feel.”
  • United Kingdom: “I was edgy and irritated for most of the day and couldn’t even listen to my music to calm me down. I tried to preoccupy myself with written work and a trip into town — but all I wanted to do was pick up my phone and become a part of the human race again.
  • China: “After this experiment I found that without media nobody would know if I disappeared. To the world, my existence could not be confirmed. What a terrible thing!
  • Mexico: “I felt the urgent need to tell my acquaintances that I would not have my cell phone or be connected to the Internet for a whole day. I felt a strange anxiety, I felt like if I would not tell them, something terrible would happen and nobody would be able to communicate with me. The anxiety continued for the rest of the day and various scenarios came to my head, from kidnappings to extra-terrestrial invasions, all emphasized by the fact that my loved ones could not get in touch with me.”
  • Argentina: But I must admit it was hard not to know anything from anyone and for no one to know anything about me, even people who lived close to me, and sometimes I felt ‘dead’ and that without this type of communication it is impossible to stay in touch.”
  • Slovakia: “It was very difficult for me. I felt sad, lonely and depressed.”

NB: True clinical depression is a mood disorder. The researchers of this Unplugged study are not health care professionals trained in the diagnosis and characteristics of depression or addiction, and this study was not intended to assess students’ mental or physical well-being. The researchers do note, however, that many students employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression when self-reporting their reactions to going unplugged for 24 hours, and that many students also reported both mental and physical symptoms of distress.

Quotes in the grid and elsewhere on this page may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.