I came across an article on the Media Post Web site entitled “Yet Without Information, We Are Nothing” about a study done at the University of Maryland where 200 students were asked to abstain from all forms of media for a 24 hour period.
The students were then asked to share their experience on private class Web sites. All in all, the 200 students wrote more than 110,000 words or, as the article states, “…about the same number of words as a 400-page novel.” (However, if you break it down, the average student only wrote about 550, words or roughly half the number of words in the entire article.)
Susan Moeller, a journalism professor at the university and the director of the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (What is the public’s agenda anyway? Did I miss something?), noted that “We were surprised by how many students admitted that they were ‘incredibly addicted’ to media… but we noticed that what they wrote at length about was how they hated losing their personal connections. Going without media meant, in their world, going without their friends and family.”
The article then goes on to say that “The absence of information, the feeling of not being connected to the world, was among the things that caused the most anxiety in students as they sought to learn about the role of media in their lives by completing an assignment that asked them to spend a day without using media.
“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 (sic) tied to any single device or application or news outlet.” (Italics added.)
I’m not sure I would have used the term “cared.” Caring implies a deep concern for or an empathy with a person or a cause. I think the term that should have been used was “missed.” They missed what was going on in their community. They missed what was going on in the world at large. They missed the interaction with their friends and family, if only because they felt it would somehow reassure them that they were connected to others.
This connection to others is a basic human need. One that social media plays an important role in fulfilling. For those of you old enough, think “party line” on steroids. The emerging technologies are redefining a number of things. Social media has helped extend the definition of the “family” unit since now outsiders can often see what family members are discussing and feel as if they’re part of the family “conversation.” That can be both good and bad. But, again, it’s a connection.
I think the study was well intentioned, but I’m not really surprised by the results, which I feel were predictable. If you had asked me the result of a study of the reactions of college students to abstaining from any contact with media for a 24-hour period, I probably would have come up with a lot of the same conclusions.
I think a more relevant and better item for the “Public Agenda” would be a study of a cross section of the entire population sharing their stories about abstaining from all media forms for a 24-hour period. I’d expect the results from that would give us all a better insight into how to reach those of various ages.
— Dave Capano, Director of Media Services