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"I Was Itching Like a Crackhead": Study Finds College Students Addicted to Media

Students across the globe can't function without media for even 24 hours without experiencing addiction-like withdrawal symptoms.



What do college students in China, Chile, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Uganda have in common? According to a new global study by the University of Maryland's International Center for Media & the Public Affairs (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, they're all addicted to media. That might not seem like news—after all, there's a reason the term "CrackBerry" came into being—but just how severely students are addicted is startling, and has real implications for our schools where Skyping, blogging, learning-via-gaming technology is increasingly the norm.

Researchers asked 1,000 students at a dozen universities in ten countries on five continents to abstain from any kind of media consumption—no TV, no smartphone games, no Twitter or Facebook, and no instant messaging—for 24 hours, and then write about how they felt. A majority confessed that they actually couldn't complete the challenge. Even a few hours without access to media made American students feel, "like an addict," and like they were "going crazy. One even wrote, "I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone." (CrackBerry, indeed!)


Their peers across the globe in China were equally miserable. One wrote, "I sat in my bed and stared blankly. I had nothing to do." Still another from the U.K. admitted, "Media is my drug; without it I was lost. I am an addict. How could I survive 24 hours without it?" A student from Uganda reflected that without media, "I felt so lonely."

Like other similar experiments where students were asked to give up technology for a set period of time, without media, the students eventually began spending more time with friends and family and reverted back to simpler pleasures. One Mexican student wrote, "I interacted with my parents more than the usual. I fully heard what they said to me without being distracted with my BlackBerry. I helped to cook and even to wash the dishes."

These college students were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They didn't grow up with ubiquitous one-to-one school laptop programs, downloadable education apps for mobile phones and e-books instead of traditional textbooks—and they're uber addicted. What's going to happen to this current generation of media saturated kids when they get to college?

Photo (cc) by Cloned Milkmen on Flickr

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