DISCONNECTED: A day without media

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DISCONNECTED: A day without media

By Amanda Gage

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

KU students spent 24 hours disconnected from media.

“This year for Ramadan I fasted. No food or beverage of any kind other than water between sun up and sun down. It was, without a doubt, one of the hardest things I have ever done. The media fast was harder.”

-Kirsten Stelsad, freshman from Overland Park

“I pulled out a notebook and started writing. After about an hour I started feeling this awkward pain in my chest, but I ignored it. I figured maybe I was just hungry. I kept writing, but as I was rounding out hour two my heart started to race and I started sweating. I was really confused, but this time I couldn’t ignore it. I was having a hard time breathing, and that’s when I realized I was having an anxiety attack. My life is so dependent on media that I was legitimately having an anxiety attack after only two hours without it.”

-Grace Stanfield, freshman from Manhattan, Kansas

For our generation, the thought of going without the constant media accessibility that we grew up with is frightening. As young kids, we were consumed by Super Nintendo and CD-ROM computer games. By the time we were 10, we graduated to the PlayStation and by junior high most of us had cell phones. In high school we updated to smart phones and a laptop was a necessity before we went to college.

These students’ opinions are proof that our generation is consumed with all the different technologies and media that is at our fingertips. And as there are benefits of constant connectedness, media and Internet experts also believe there are disadvantages. It’s difficult to project whether these disadvantages will affect our social or mental capabilities in the future.

The assignment in the course Media and Society at KU required students to go without all kinds of media for 24 hours: cell phones, Internet, books, television and print media. Students didn’t lose points or receive a failing grade if they ended up indulging in media because the assignment just asked them to blog about their day. Barbara Barnett, associate dean of the journalism school and the Media and Society professor, assigned the media fast.

Barnett says that students received full credit if they blogged about their day, 70 percent if they skated through it or a zero if they didn’t complete the assignment. Barnett says a trend among students was language associated with addiction.

Students blogged, “My day phoneless, computerless and musicless almost made me feel handicapped. I felt naked without using any type of media.”

“Media is like the air I breathe; it’s just a part of the natural flow of my life.”

“I have come to realize that five minutes without checking a text message is like the end of the world.”

KU students’ responses to the media fast mirrored responses from students at the University of Maryland, where in spring 2010, students in a journalism class were asked to spend an entire day without media and blog about it. The fast included cell phones, iPods, television, car radio, magazines, newspapers and computers.

The compiled blog posts from the students at the University of Maryland was equivalent to a 400-page book. The feedback the journalism lecturer and teaching assistants received inspired them and shed light on the impact media has on our generation.

Jessica Roberts, Ph.D. candidate and lecturer at the University of Maryland, says the responses from students surprised them. “What we were most impressed by was the hugely emotional reactions that people had,” Roberts says. “It was the isolation and loneliness and incredible emotional reactions that were remarkable to all of us.”

Many students also reported that they felt panicked because they lost the connectedness that they were so used to having at their fingertips and many of the students did fail to abstain from media, Roberts says.

At KU, Barnett says most of her students failed as well. She expected it because media is what we know. “You grew up with it,” Barnett says. “For you it’s the norm, and for my generation it’s a novelty. It’s a big factor, and it was always essential for you all.”

Our generation’s progression with technology has become intertwined in our everyday lives and it’s natural to crave social connectivity, according to technology researchers such as Nicholas Carr.

Carr, technology writer from Boulder, Co. and author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brain, says that people today are so drawn to technology for a number of reasons. He says that we have a social need to engage and communicate with others and that we feel social pressure to know what everyone is saying all the time. Carr explains how there’s clear evidence that our brains are wired to find new information.

“There are brain studies that show that when we find a new piece of information, dopamine releases which is a chemical that encourages us to do things over and over again. We get pleasure from finding new information,” Carr says.

The need to access information and to stay connected benefits people by expanding knowledge and increasing social activity. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center from Los Altos, Calif., says that the benefits of media are huge.

“You have access to people, information and resources far beyond geographical and temporal constraint,” Rutledge says. “You are no longer just a recipient of information. You can pass it along, you can choose it and create it.”

The knowledge and connectivity we can gain from media seem limitless, but experts debate the question of whether media affects us negatively. Rutledge says the disadvantage of media is when people aren’t media-literate. They don’t take the time to understand the implications of media and they don’t think critically about information sources. “I think people need to be trained about the implications of technology,” Rutledge says.

She says that because information is essentially unlimited on the Internet, people need to be educated about how to use it and be unbiased in order to receive the full benefits that media offers. “It’s a downside when people haven’t learned to be good digital citizens because there aren’t differences in communications where you have such a broad platform like you do on the Internet,” Rutledge says.

The Internet is becoming more and more personalized depending on what we search and it’s remembering that information to market to us and to help us filter through the Internet to what it thinks we want to see. This allows people to see information on the Internet through a minimal spectrum, shielding us from all of the other information that’s out there.

In Gunnar Garfors blog, “The Major Minor Details on Media, Technology and Travel,” he says that the Internet’s personalization can be a bad thing in many settings. “People buy or watch certain newspapers and TV programs based on their preferences,” Garfors, CEO of Norwegian Mobile TV Corporation, says. “But two persons buying the same paper will at least be presented the same information in the same manner and in the same order. With the Internet, this is no longer necessarily the case.”

Another disadvantage of constant connectivity and so many forms of media is multi-tasking. It was found in a 2009 Stanford study that people who frequently divert their attention between different information on the Internet can’t control their memory or pay attention as well as people who zero in on one task at a time. The Stanford researchers are still studying whether regular multi-taskers are born with an inability to concentrate or if they continue to shorten their attention span by willingly taking in a lot of information, but they do believe that the multi-taskers’ brains aren’t working as well as they could.

Media and Society freshman Grace Stanfield admits that she constantly has multiple Internet windows open on her laptop and she frequently shifts her attention back and forth between them. “I think it’s feeding this ADHD-like personality so many people our age are starting to demonstrate,” Stanfield says. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to focus on more than one thing for any extended period of time.”

Carr, the technology writer from Boulder, Co., also believes that multi-tasking isn’t good for our brains. Carr says that when we jump from one website or medium to another, we can’t fully absorb all of the information we take in and grasp its entire meaning. He says that multitasking is beginning to narrow our definition of the ideal intellectual life because of the way we process information.

“I think that people are getting accustomed to getting distracted and being interrupted all the time,” Carr says. “As we train ourselves to constantly shift focus, we become less-capable of meditated, deeper forms of thinking. In some ways we’re broadening certain aspects of thinking, but we’re also becoming superficial.”

While media obsession presents possible disadvantages, there isn’t enough research yet to determine the outcome of our generation’s close relationship with media. Without a doubt, media has become embedded in our generation’s everyday lives and will be in future generations; there’s no turning back.

After reflecting on her experiences and struggles during the completion of the KU Media and Society assignment, Kirsten Stelsad knew why the challenge was so hard to overcome.

“The truth of the matter is, I tried to live in a technological world without any technology,” Stelsad says. “If everyone around me is as equally submerged in media as I am, when I try to pull myself out, it’s harder than I could’ve imagined.”

What is the media device you use the most and how much time does it consume of yours each day?

“My computer. I spend about two or three hours on it each day.”Julia Miggins, senior from Tulsa, Okla.

“My iPhone. I spend probably about eight hours daily on it. My friends say it’s excessive.” Nathon Miller, junior from Wichita.

“I use my phone the most. I have all of my emails linked to it, so it makes it easy to keep up with what I need without having to lug around my laptop.” Aaron Elston, senior from Mulvane

“My iPhone. I spend about two or three hours on it.” Josh Kozberg, senior from Minneapolis, Minn.

“The media device I use the most would be my cell phone, since I have the iPhone it holds all of my music, a lot of my pictures and different applications. I use my phone to check Facebook and Twitter in my classes when I’m bored. I have my phone with me probably 24 hours of the day, but only use it probably 8 to 10 hours of the day.” Katie Wells, sophomore from Overland Park.