Friday, September 10, 2010

"Day Without Media" not worth living?

A former newsroom coworker just spotted this gem of a public notice in New Mexico — and naturally captured the image with her cell phone camera and posted it on her FaceBook page.

It brings to mind a fascinating study my husband, Dan Close, recently conducted with his classes at Wichita State University's Elliott School of Communication. Asking digital natives to give up their cell phones, videogames, laptops, iPods, TVs, etc., etc., for just 12 hours was asking more of them than most initially realized.

Students wrote about their experiences, and he presented the findings at a Popular Culture Association conference (in Albuquerque by coincidence). He called it A Day Without Media: Freaking Out Students Who Take Technology for Granted.”

Most, as the title indicates, described themselves as disconnected, lost, afraid, alienated, on edge, lonely, stressed, frustrated, silenced, withdrawn, clueless, irritable, antsy. . . you get the idea. “It was a weird experience,” said AB, “and that’s saying the least.” A few made good use of their new-found free time and tackled chores, enjoyed time with family or friends, or just felt blessed by the relative silence.

For the course I teach for the Elliott School, Comm 502 Public Information Writing, I opened the first night of class with a request that students turn off their cells and put them away — but conceded that if it proved too uncomfortable, they should at least put these distracting little devices out of sight and out of immediate reach for the 90 minutes we meet. It's not surprising that young adults are programmed to reach constantly for their phones; a recent Pew study indicates they typically send and receive 50 text messages a day.