Students lonely, frustrated after a day unplugged

Students in five continents participate in a media experiment called "Unplugged," in which they report on what it feels like to spend a day without cell phones, the Internet, music, and TV.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

Bare. Fidgety. Lonely. Plagued by the deafening silence. The clock ticking ever so slowly. Singing songs in the shower to give the impression of listening to music.

These are just some of the observations made over the past week by first-year students participating in the global media experiment "Unplugged" at Bournemouth University in the U.K. No, they were not held in solitary confinement for weeks on end, nor were they coming down from drugs. They were simply offline--for a single day.

"Unplugged" is a research project at schools across five continents--North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa--investigating young adults' relationships with electronic media--from the Internet and cell phones to TV and music. (Bournemouth is the only participating school in the U.K.)

Students complete questionnaires and record journal-like reflections on their day without digital devices. For the U.K. students there is now, somewhat ironically, a blog where said reflections live. Over the weekend, multimedia journalism student Joseph Kent reported:

I remained at home for the rest of the evening, where I swapped surfing the Web for reading a book, but the lack of YouTube, Facebook, and Skype gnawed at my brain. When midnight arrived, I was back on the computer in a dash. Never had the Internet been so sweet.

With September 18 having been recently hailed No Device Day, we might expect September 19 to be the sweetest of all, and the other 363 days to involve some hazy digital high.

Earlier this year, a pilot study in Maryland revealed that many students reported symptoms similar to drug and alcohol withdrawal. Bournemouth professor Roman Gerodimos, who is leading the Unplugged program in the U.K., says: "The words 'addiction' and 'dependence' kept recurring in their narratives. They felt they lost connection with friends and family, even those living nearby, but also thought that the study was an eye-opener as it gave them the opportunity to reflect on the extent to which the media is part of their lives."

The ongoing project was launched during the 4th Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change this past summer and is coordinated by Professor Susan Moeller of the University of Maryland.