My recent Social Media Blackout experiment left me feeling all pathetic and alone, but it turns out that I’m not (alone, anyway).
Last week, University of Maryland researchers found that college students who swore off social media and texting showed signs of withdrawal similar to what drug addicts experience after quitting cold turkey. Sound familiar? Here are some highlights from their “Day Without Media” experiment:
Students use literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media.
“Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer,” wrote one student. “By 2:00 pm. I began to feel the urgent need to check my email, and even thought of a million ideas of why I had to. I felt like a person on a deserted island…. I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”
Students hate going without media. In their world, going without media, means going without their friends and family.
“Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort,” wrote one student. “When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”
And here I thought I was going crazy; that my dependence on social media was a sign of some yet undiagnosed psychological problem. But if I’m nuts, then so are you. And so are America’s youth.
This week, New York’s Riverdale County School ran a two-day experiment similar to the Blackout, prohibiting middle school students from texting, IM-ing, and engaging in any kind of social media. As you might predict, the kids suffered varying levels of anxiety during the study. But they survived, and they were better for it.
Here’s an excerpt from “Encouraging the Text Generation to Rediscover Its Voice,” a New York Times article that references the experiment:
This text-free Sunday, the Riverdale students said, was unusually relaxing. They were shocked at how quickly they finished their homework, undistracted by an always-open video chat, or checking in on Facebook or responding to the hundred messages they typically get in a day. … “I had to look for things to do,” said [student] Zachary, who ended up watching a movie with his mother.
A movie? With his mother? Even for a young teen, this really shouldn’t be a last-resort activity. Family bonding should be commonplace.
When you have down time, your activities might include landscaping the yard. We did just that on Sunday.
This leads me to some of my own conclusions:
Since I ended my Blackout more than a week ago, I’ve found myself being more cautious about my social-media postings: links, photos, videos, status updates, private notes, private and public blog entries, etc. I find myself checking Facebook and Twitter a few times per day, but this is nothing compared to my previous almost constant use of these sites. I actually now set aside specific times for goofing off.
I’ve made good on my word to not use my iPhone in the car, except for important calls. (Remember that I’m the passenger, not the driver.) I can tell that this was probably my biggest vice, as I’ve seen more of this town in the past week than I have in an entire year of living here. I’m still ill about the time I wasted just waiting for pages to load.
I no longer feel a constant, nagging compulsion to check my favorite sites “simply because” the opportunity exists. Why pick up my smart phone when I can grab a book, spend more time with my husband or go for another run with the puppy? Why debate politics through my fingers with friends-of-friends when I can have rousing, in-person conversations with people I actually know?
Over the past week, I’ve found myself filled with creative energy. I’ve become even more productive at work, and have ended up with a lot more down time. (That I was so productive before the blackout still baffles me.)
We used some of this down time to landscape the yard this weekend (see image above right). I also try to use the time to read up on corporate policies for renovations, management and modifications, so now I’m not just thinking weeks ahead, but months. I hope that this will translate into greater career success.
Finally, I feel, for lack of a better term, more… alive. Life becomes very two-dimensional and gray when you’ve got your faced shoved into a computer screen all day. Any time away from the technology translates into reconnecting with people, animals, trees, society, and good old-fashioned mortal existence.
I will always be the News-Geek, the multimedia nerd who loves to create, to teach, and to connect through all kinds of new media. But even geeks need moderation. And for once, I’m ok with that.