Social Media Withdrawal: What Happens When Kids Give Up Their Connections
This is an interesting post from the blog for Spotlight magazine. Spotlight showcases the projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative and covers the intersections of technology and learning. They do a good job of showing how digital media is being used in classrooms and programs around the world.
For this experiment, they asked 200 students at the University of Maryland to abstain from social media for 24 hours. Not surprisingly, they didn’t like it. Students, also not surprisingly, are more willing to forgo TV and the phone rather than Facebook. They use terms akin to addiction. But is it an addiction or generational shifts simply illustrating tools of the trade? How willing would a teenager from the 1980s be to give up using the phone for 24 hours?
I do like the way Spotlight pursues these questions, though. Less theoretical, more applied. 24 hours with no social media? That is a tough sell at slightly older demographics as well (ie mine).
The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) recently asked 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park to abstain from using all media for 24 hours—no internet, cell phones or (gasp!) Facebook. Most failed.
At the end of the experiment, students blogged about their experiences, and they were quite prolific. Here’s a Wordle visualization of the more than 110,000 words they wrote:
1. Students use literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media.
2. Students hate going without media. In their world, going without media means going without their friends and family.
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.
4. 18- to 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.
5. Students could live without their TVs and the newspaper, but they can’t survive without their iPods.
New York Times columnist Susan Dominus recently wrote about a similar 48-hour experiment involving middle-school students at Riverdale Country School.
School counselor K C Cohen came up with the idea to ask students to voluntarily abstain from instant messaging, chat, texts and Facebook (but they could partake in other media).
“Are they finding easy ways to avoid negotiating some of the normal social challenges of adolescence?” she wrote in an explanatory e-mail message that was sent to parents.
Reflecting on the experience of a sixth grader who admitted texting her mom 10 times on average during a school day, Dominus writes:
Boundaries between work and home have long since fallen, so maybe it should not be surprising that the same is true for school and home. But what middle school student 20 years ago would have voluntarily reached out to her mother 10 times between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.? If school had any universally agreed upon upside, it was that it gave a 12-year-old some much-needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection — space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world.
Plus: For more on social media withdrawal, check out Spotlight’s StudentSpeak web series, in which teens present how they use digital media and what happens when they go without it. In webisode 2, high school students Shani and Terrence try a whole day without Facebook.
And in webisode 5, below, George and James report back on the lessons they learned from trying to give up social media for one week.
StudentSpeak Webisode 5/ View more Spotlight videos