Students can’t cope without media

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World Unplugged Study finds under 25s are addicted to media

Unplugging my internet cable feels like turning off a life support system.

Students around the world report that they are 'addicted' to media, describing in vivid terms their cravings, their anxieties and their depression when they have to abstain.

“Unplugging my internet cable feels like turning off a life support system,” said Bournemouth University (BU) first year Adam Fisher.

"My dependence on media is absolutely sickening," said a student from Lebanon.

"I felt like there was a problem with me," wrote a student from Uganda.

Undergraduates from the Media School at Bournemouth University (BU) were the only students in the UK to take part in the study, going 24 hours without media and monitoring the effects. The findings were released (link to website http://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com/ ) by the International Centre for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland.

Dr Roman Gerodimos who led ‘Unplugged’ in the UK says: "These findings have profound implications not only for journalists or educators, but also for social scientists at large. The extent of the similarities in the students' responses reveal a common media culture that cuts across geographical, economic and political boundaries."

The study, concludes that most students, whether in developed or developing countries, are strikingly similar in how they use media - and how 'addicted' they are to it. If you are under 25, it doesn't matter if you live in the U.S. or Chile or China, Slovakia, Mexico or Lebanon: you not only can't imagine life without your cell phone, laptop and mp3 player, you can't function without them.

"Perhaps naively, we assumed that we would find substantial differences among the students who took part in this study," noted project director Susan D. Moeller, a journalism and public policy professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the director of ICMPA. "After all, our partner universities come from very different regions - Chile, Slovakia and Hong Kong, for example - and from countries with great disparities in economic development, culture and political governance - for instance, Uganda, Lebanon and mainland China.

"But it quickly became apparent from looking at the student demographics and the students' narrative comments," said Moeller, "that all the student-responders in this study are digital natives. It was then that we realized that digital natives have no passports: if we had covered up the place name of a student's comment we would have had no idea of the student's nationality."

Results

1)    Most students from all countries failed to go the full 24 hours without media, and they all used virtually the same words to describe their reactions, including: Fretful, Confused, Anxious, Irritable, Insecure, Nervous, Restless, Crazy, Addicted, Panicked, Jealous, Angry, Lonely, Dependent, Depressed, Jittery and Paranoid.

2)    Students are blind-sided by how much media have come to dominate their lives. They had thought of media as just a convenience; a way to communicate with friends and get news. After going without media, they came to recognize that they literally construct their identities through media. Going unplugged, therefore, was like losing part of themselves.

3)    No matter where they live, students no longer search for news; the news finds them. They inhale, almost unconsciously, the news that is served up on the sidebar of their email account, that is on friends' Facebook walls, that comes through on Twitter and via chat. News to students means ‘anything-that-just-happened’.

4)    In their reporting of their media habits, most students in the "Unplugged" study didn't discriminate between news that The New York Times, the BBC or Al Jazeera might cover, and news that might only appear in a friend's Facebook status update. Indeed, very few students mentioned any legacy or online news outlets by name.

Shaping the future

Dr Gerodimos said: “The overall aim of the experiment is to benefit learning and teaching strategies and make us more sensitive to young people’s needs for socialisation. The results will inform the way we develop technologies and media applications for young people.”

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