College students can’t go long without checking their smartphones, laptops

Some campus technologists were alarmed by research released in April 2010 that raised questions about social media addiction among college students.

University of Maryland students who went 24 hours without TV, cell phones, MP3 players, and laptops reported symptoms one might expect from someone struggling with substance abuse, including an “unbearable” need for electronic communication, persistent anxiety, and a frantic “craving for some technology.”

The university’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) on April 21 released the findings of its study, “24 Hours: Unplugged,” which had 200 undergraduates go without access to any form of media for one day, even requiring study participants to leave their dormitory if a roommate was watching TV.

The students blogged about their technology detox afterward and compiled more than 100,000 words on the study’s website, roughly the length of a 400-page novel.

Responses varied from aggravation to frustration to isolation, which was especially keen for students without access to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, or the ability to send dozens of text messages throughout the day.

Carroll said prevalence of smartphones, laptops, and computer tablets like Apple’s iPad has made it abundantly clear that – on college campuses, at least – digital communication trumps the outmoded, outdated face-to-face model.

“It’s become our preferred method of interaction,” Carroll said. “You could be sitting across the table from the person in your life who you find most interesting, and most attractive, and love more than anyone else, and each of you will still be itching to check your phones to see if you’ve gotten a text, which is likely from someone far less interesting and important to you.”