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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 04/28/2010

Social media addiction: Worse than you think

By Valerie Strauss

So 200 University of Maryland students agreed to go without social media for 24 hours--no cell phones or computers--and their reaction was akin to drug withdrawal.
My colleague Jenna Johnson wrote about the experiment, called “24 Hours: Unplugged” and reported that blogs written by students sounded desperate: “In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious....”

And I think I sound desperate when I go a little while without a bite of chocolate!

The study was conducted by the university’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda, and not surprisingly, found that young people feel completely bereft without access to media that allows them to listen to music on their iPods, text on phones and talk on Facebook via some type of computer.

Of course they did. Anybody accustomed to using something all the day feels a loss when it is gone.

I don’t know if these students are clinically addicted or not, but anybody who remembers enjoying life before the cell phone was invented may find some of the students' blog posts disturbing because they reveal thinking that is markedly narrow, unimaginative and too often historically obtuse.

For example:

“I am constantly on my phone. On average I probably send a text message every minute or so. I am ashamed that I couldn’t go without my phone for 24 hours, but communicating with people is one of the most prominent things in my life.”

A text message every minute or so? Let’s say the student was exaggerating, and he/she really sends a text message every five minutes or so. Is there nothing more interesting this person can find to do in life?

Here’s a doozy:

“My attempt at the gym without the ear pieces in my iPhone wasn’t the same; doing cardio listening to yourself breathe really drains your stamina.”

Don't you just hate hearing yourself breathe? I can't even remember how people used to exercise before, you know, in the old days, before we could block out the sound of inhaling and exhaling.

Here’s what another student wrote:

“I do believe that the iPod touch is the greatest thing ever invented, having thousands of applications which allow me to check my email, check the weather, play games, and listen to my 16 gigabytes of music, half of which have probably never been played. It is genius, it fits in my pocket, and if there was one thing other than not playing guitar that was going to make this assignment impossible, it was not having my iPod on me.”

I guess among some young folks, the IPod touch has taken the place of fire, the wheel and sliced bread as the greatest inventions ever.

Here’s another:

“Facebook I might be able to do without, but my cell phone is important to me. It creates a link to constant communication and safety. What happens when I need immediate contact with someone, if there is an emergency?”

I might understand a first-grader saying he/she doesn’t know what to do in an emergency, but a college student?

And perhaps the saddest one:

“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.”

Actually, what is unbearable is seeing just how shallow some college students make themselves out to be.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 28, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  College Life, Research, Technology, University of Maryland  | Tags:  University of Maryland, kids addicted to technology, kids addicted to video, research, social media, social media experiment, technology  
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Valerie, please write a rebuttal to the deranged Jay Matthews. Please!

Posted by: peteyamama1 | April 28, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, please write a rebuttal to the deranged Jay Matthews piece about Michelle Rhee and private funding. Please!

Posted by: peteyamama1 | April 28, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I hope that some of the students who took part in this experiment will give themselves the opportunity to "unplug" occasionally and then pick up a book, or listen to live music and give it their undivided attention to learn what a pleasure it can be to fully experience reading or listening, that focusing on one particular activity can be rewarding in and of itself.

Posted by: sanderling5 | April 28, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I discussed this with my students today. Some denied they are addicted to texting. Everyone agreed that their friends were all addicted. Coincidentally, I just posted on this topic at

The worse thing I face with texting is that no argument between teens with cell phones is ever over. Students walk into the building angry over those disputes and they just get worse all day.

But fundamentally, there must be an important craving for a place in society or families that must be satisfied if we are going to address this mess. It would also help to read Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose and Travels in Hyperreality to put technology in a historical and philosophical perpective because to look unflinchingly at this texting phenomenom is frightening.

Posted by: johnt4853 | April 28, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I am currently deployed with the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan ( ) and we have created a our own social media site so our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines can Blog, facebook, and Tweet about their experiences. Check out our unit social media site and let me know what you think. You can also comment on our blogs, tweet to us and become a fan of our facebook fans page. here's our site-

Semper Fi,

Posted by: gregorytbreazile | April 29, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

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