Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Maybe the Borg got started this way...

This unsettling report about a project in a college for students to give up media (phones, computers, etc.) for a whole 24 HOURS.  While you might expect some sense of mild isolation, it was far more profound.

This new study conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) asked 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park to abstain from using all media for 24 hours.  After their 24 hours of abstinence, the students were then asked to blog on private class websites about their experiences: to report their successes and admit to any failures.  The 200 students wrote over 110,000 words: in aggregate, about the same number of words as a 400-page novel.

  1. 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.”
    (for more, click HERE)
  2. 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.”
    (for more, click HERE)
  3. Students show no significant loyalty to a news program, news personality or even news platform.  Students have only a casual relationship to the originators of news, and in fact don’t make fine distinctions between news and more personal information. They get news in a disaggregated way, often via friends.
    “Although I will admit I do not actively keep up with breaking news every day I do get a lot of information on a daily basis through social networking, text messaging, and websites such as Gmail, where it does have headlines on the homepage. It is very important to me to have some sense of what is going on in the world on a daily basis, but I also focus in on issues that I do care about, and I keep up with that particular issues progress. For example, the Equal Rights campaign, or local and global environmental organizations, whose progress I follow via Twitter, Facebook or their websites.”
    (for more, click HERE)
  4. 18-21 year old college students are constantly texting and on Facebook—with calling and email distant seconds as ways of staying in touch, especially with friends.
    Said one student,”Texting and Facebook allow me to make plans to meet up and act socially, whereas without these two devices I had no easy way of making plans unless I happened to run into the person I wanted to do something with.”
    (for more, click HERE)
  5. Students could live without their TVs and the newspaper, but they can’t survive without their iPods.
    “It was really hard for me to go without listening to my iPod during the day because it’s kind of my way to zone out of everything and everyone when I walk to class. It gets my mind right. Listening to music before I go to class or take an exam is my way of getting amped up like a football player before a game. It sounds weird but music really helps to set my mood or fix my mood and without it I had to rely on other people to keep me in a good mood,” said one student.
    (for more, click HERE)
[Apologies for a near-complete excerpting of this post, but please follow the links to the real material]

First, I think it is important to allow for the rhetoric of that particular age.  "Worst experience of my life" means something different at 19 than 79, for example. But even so, I think the introduction of constant contact and internal group referencing could pose some stark challenges for institutions of our culture.

If friendships are bounded not so much by geography, but Facebook hits, then what does "local" mean in the sense of community? If we can eliminate the need to for satisfying personal interaction at work because we get it all via technology, how do business leaders foster a sense of teamwork? For that matter, what does "alone" mean now?

I can testify to the addiction to online information, less to the power of personal connectivity such as constant texting. But it is a similar experience to closed religious communities such as the Amish, who create a bubble that excludes much while intensifying interpersonal links internally?

I'm not sure of any of these questions, but I now realize I have seen this phenomenon at work.  For once, such cultural developments have ample opportunity to replicate in rural life, since cell phones are ubiquitous and finally coverage is at least adequate for this type of connectivity.

While technology may contribute to the decline of physical community, it may also allow a remarkable new replacement, with its own powers and faults.

[Thanks, Vicki]

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