A Day Without Media

April 28, 2010 by Thad McIlroy

Does this lede catch your attention (posted April 22nd):

What is is like to go without media? What if you had to give up your cell phone, iPod, television, car radio, magazines, newspapers and computer (i.e. no texting, no Facebook or IM-ing)?

Could you do it?  Is it even possible?

Well, not really, if you are an American college student today.

According to a new ICMPA (International Center for Media & the Public Agenda) study, most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world.

According to the post on the study’s methodology:

A class of 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park, undertook an assignment that asked them to go media-free for 24 hours.

Students had to go media-free for a full day (or had to try to go media-free), but they were allowed to pick which 24 hours in a nine-day period, from February 24-March 4, 2010.  By coincidence that period saw several major news events, including the earthquake in Chile on February 27, and the close of the Vancouver Olympics on February 28…

(The) study began with this assignment to students:
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THE ASSIGNMENT:  This week your assignment is to find a 24-hour period during which you can pledge to give up all use of media: no Internet, no newspapers or magazines, no TV, no cell phones, no iPod, no music or movies, etc. And definitely no Facebook. Although you may need to use the Internet for homework or work, try to pick a time when you can go without using it. This should be an interesting experience for you and examining your own dependencies, so really try to give yourself a chance to do the whole 24 hours.

You will write a post about your experiences. Feel free to do some outside research on the effects of Internet or cell phone dependence and share those links with your fellow students.

If you do NOT make it the full 24 hours, be honest about it. How long did you make it? What happened? What do you think it means about you?

More detail follows on how the study was executed and the results evaluated. After the introduction an entry offers several conclusions, some broad, some specific:

The major conclusion of this study is that the portability of all that media stuff has changed students’ relationship not just to news and information, but to family and friends — it has, in other words, caused them to make different and distinctive social, and arguably moral, decisions.

…they cared about what was going on among their friends and families; they cared about what was going on in their community; they even cared about what was going on in the world at large. But most of all they cared about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet.

…teens and young adults today place an unprecedented priority on cultivating an almost minute-to-minute connection with friends and family.  And the ICMPA study shows that much of that energy is going towards cultivating a digital relationship with people who could be met face-to-face – but oftentimes the digital relationship is the preferred form of contact:  it’s fast and it’s controllable.

…students get their news and information in a disaggregated way, often through friends texting via cell phone, or Facebooking, emailing and IM-ing via their laptops.  Students are aware of different media platforms, but students have only a casual relationship to actual news outlets. In fact students rarely make fine distinctions between information that is “news” and information that is “personal.”

…Students also made it clear that socializing and the flow of information were inextricably intertwined.  When the earthquake in Chile struck, most students didn’t learn about it from newspapers or the evening news. They found out about it first through contacts on social networks sites, and that information propelled them to visit mainstream news sites…Information that is not delivered quickly is deemed as obsolete as the delivery method.

The conclusions wrap up with specific recommendations for universities, developers of media technologies and for journalists.

Perhaps the most intriguing entry explores why most failed to make it through an entire 24-hour span without succumbing to the lure of media.

Fascinating and well-presented, I think the big takeaway is that our often-disparaged youth have not abandoned their connections to the “real” world. Instead they have re-evaluated their priorities and are maximizing all available technology to connect more deeply than any preceding generation.

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