We’ve all been there — sitting on the train overhearing another passenger’s call, dining with a friend and her BlackBerry, watching the Super Bowl with friends who are more engaged with their mobile devices than the game itself or the company surrounding them.
Media is inescapable it seems, especially now that it fits in the palms of our hands.
But could this constant connectivity to the world through technology be preventing us from actually connecting with our friends and community?
In a University of Maryland, College Park, study, 200 journalism students went without media for 24 hours. They couldn’t watch TV, read a newspaper or flip through a magazine. Accessing Facebook and social media, email and the Web were no-nos. Phones were turned off. Radios and iPods went mute.
Or, that was the intent, at least.
Media is ingrained in college students’ daily lives
The students selected one 24-hour period within a nine-day window to disconnect, and the study found students’ use of media has become habit, ingrained in their daily lives. Students reported turning on the car radio, logging onto Facebook and turning on the television without realizing they were breaking their 24-hour no-media rule.
One student even admitted, “I wish I didn’t cheat with the assignment by checking my email and phone, but the anxiety was insane. I had no clue how connected I was with my friends and the world at all times. I never realized how much I text messaged my friends or checked Perez Hilton until I couldn’t.”
Mobile phone is a student’s lifeline
The University of Maryland study found students were most reliant on their cell phones. In addition to calling their friends and family, students reported they use their phones to email, check Facebook, play games and text at all hours. The cell phone was the center of their connection. For University of Maryland senior Gloria Johnston, her mobile phone is just that.
Without media, isolation and anxiety set in
Without access to their phones, the students involved in the University of Maryland study found themselves in “logistical nightmares,” unable to make plans via text message or Facebook.
“Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort,” wrote one student involved in the study. “When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life.”
The disconnect from friends, family and the world was a common trend reported by the students. Like those students, Johnston said she would feel “anxious” without access to her phone and media.
While Johnston would worry about missing something important, she was most anxious that her friends and family would not be able to contact her if she didn’t have her phone.
Increased connection to people and surroundings while unplugged
Although Johnston, like the students involved in the study reported feeling, would feel anxious being virtually disconnected, college student Jake Reilly developed deeper relationships with his friends, not their profile pages, once he unplugged from all social media, email and his mobile phone for 90 days.
Virtually unplugged, Reilly found other ways to communicate — like actually having face-to-face conversations and writing messages with sidewalk chalk.
In the University of Maryland study, students reported that they spent quality time with friends and on hobbies and coursework they usually neglected due to the distractions of Facebook and other media. Students also reported seeing more and talking more as they walked from class to class without iPod earbuds in, likely zoning out their environment to the beat of Lady Gaga or LMFAO.
Reilly’s experiment and the University of Maryland study both show we, especially people under 30, use today’s technology and media to connect with music, news, entertainment and other people. Yet, this also shows that when we are connecting via media, we are also disconnecting from our surroundings and face-to-face interactions.
Like Reilly noted, are we really connecting via media to our friends, or merely their Facebook profiles?