“Okay, so I broke once. But in my defense it was just an email to another student to get notes for a class.” — USA


  1. Email skews older – and is for ‘work’: Most students use Facebook and texting (and secondarily voice calls), to communicate with friends. Students use email to connect to their professors and their jobs. Email’s greater formality, and more flexible space for writing copy or attaching documents, has come to fit a ‘work’ need better than students’ 24/7 on-demand ‘social’ needs.

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  2. Email remains in the rotation of communication options: The number of emails students send daily may be dwarfed by the number of texts they send or the posts put up on Facebook, but for many students email is running in the background of their computers and phones.  Students reported that they were often simultaneously on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and/or other chat and IM or SMS systems, together with email.  The voice of AOL pinging in with “You’ve got mail,” may seem a quaint anachronism, but many students get beeped when a new email comes in.  Students remain eager to “get mail” and worried about how swamped they’ll be with messages if they neglect their account for a day or more.

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Emails are less for casual use than for communicating in a work environment: Students expressed their worry that while they were ‘unplugged,’ they would miss important and necessary information or would not be able to submit assignments to professors and work supervisors. Facebook and texting were the ways to catch up with most friends; email was the way students communicated with their “professional” circle of associates.

  • China: “In the evening, I can’t avoid to use the computer. Because we had to finish our homework via the computer and send it to the monitor or the teacher.”
  • Lebanon: I also had to postpone sending emails to my supervisor concerning a workshop I attended.”
  • Slovakia: “I did not miss the Internet that much. I only wanted to check my e-mails and Facebook, but fortunately, I did not have many important things to do. If I did, I do not have a clue how I would do it without the Internet and e-mails. I need it for sending homework or for learning scripts, downloading necessary documents…”
  • Mexico: “[Going unplugged] cost me a lot of work since I work as a freelancer in multimedia design and my way to close deals is through Internet and cell phone. For this reason, I have to pay attention to my e-mail account, which is how I send and receive information about projects.”

Email is habitual; it’s a way of getting important (if not breaking) information: Regardless of which home country they were from, students reported on their habit of checking their email right when they wake up and then regularly throughout the day for updates in information.  Although students may check their email accounts often – and may have alerts set on their computers to notify them when a new message comes in – email is less for breaking news, than for information.  The brevity and speed of Twitter and chat/IM make those platforms more amenable to occasions when students want rapid back-and-forth conversation.

  • USA: As soon as I woke up, I reached for my laptop to check my email and caught myself.”
  • Slovakia: My first step always leads to my lap-top, because I always turn on a radio and listen to a morning show online, check my emails, weather, news and statuses that were uploaded while I was asleep. I hate not knowing what was going on while I was asleep.”

“As I logged out of Gmail and Facebook, closed out Firefox, and shut my laptop, I actually experienced a pang of nausea.” — USA

  • UK: It was frustrating not being able to check email or Facebook to find out whether anybody had contacted me or for me to contact them to keep me entertained.”
  • Lebanon: I like to respond to emails quickly, I like to be updated on the latest news; I like to see how friends and family are doing and what they are up to. Normally I don’t need the Internet to stay in touch with friends and family, but ever since I moved to Lebanon to study for 6 months, the Internet has been a lifesaver in a way.”
  • Slovakia: “Computer is my tool, e-mail is my permanent form of communication.”

“I was longing to look at my email. I was imagining it being crowded with emails and I was starting to make up excuses for me to check it ‘just this once’…” — USA

Subconscious email lapse: Americans, especially, lapsed and ended up checking their emails – although quite a few argued that they had done so by unconscious habit.

  • USA: I subconsciously accessed my email and Facebook because I do it everyday to stay connected, but I turned it off after realizing my project goal.”
  • USA: “I broke the ‘no-media’ rule. I was immediately tempted to open my laptop and check my email. Since we were given the exemption to use media for class I surely did.”
  • USA: I must admit that I found myself opening a new tab and going on Facebook or checking my Gmail. These small almost-lapses tell me that I am more dependent on technology and media than I thought.”

Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.