Electronic Addiction

By Steve Byers

Hand on computer mouseThere’s been a lot of discussion lately about teachers asking students to go 24 hours without media. Linda Menck and I did this for a freshman honors seminar last fall, and the results were both interesting and intriguing.  A third of the students didn’t make it a whole day; one saying she gave up after a couple of hours because “Facebook called my name and I had to sign on.” Another said he “did not think that I was dependent on my cell phone, computer or Internet at all. I was in for a big surprise.”

More intriguing were some of the observations of those who stuck it out. Their comments reveal how interwoven electronics are with student life at Marquette. “My life revolves around my electronic gadgets.” “This assignment was one of the most difficult I have ever had. . . . When there was downtime, it was hard to think of something to do.” “It seemed like everywhere I looked, someone was on the computer or talking on a phone.” “I heard my book bag buzz [with text messages] every other minute or so. I broke down and asked my roommate to check my phone. What isn’t cheating . . . right?” “It’s actually kind of sad how helpless I felt knowing that I couldn’t use my phone.”

Students reported getting more homework done—and “my first laundry of the year”—and some questioned the amount of time they are spending on social media.  “It makes me wonder how much more I might know myself if I just took a couple of days to sit by myself and read a book or write a story or just to think.” But my favorite reaction was a young man who had neglected to tell anyone what he was doing. “When I didn’t respond to any of my mom’s texts, she became extremely worried.”  After he didn’t answer the phone, she called his roommate, convinced something bad had happened. All in all, the experiment showed, as one student put it, technology and media “play a huge role in our lives. It has become practically a necessity, since everyone is ‘connected’ almost all the time.”

Steve Byers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication.

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