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Off the Internet for 24 Hours

What happens when you take 200 journalism students and cut them off from the Internet for 24 hours?

It’s something I might call “information anxiety,” because the students expressed a great deal of anxiety in the narratives they provided the researchers after the experiment was over (But I would be quick to add, I’d never consider this a ‘disorder’ — just a simple, predictable result of removing an important set of tools we’ve come to rely on from our everyday world).

“Students expressed tremendous anxiety about being cut-off from information,” observed Ph.D. student Raymond McCaffrey, a former writer and editor at The Washington Post, and a current researcher on the study.

“One student said he realized that he suddenly ‘had less information than everyone else, whether it be news, class information, scores, or what happened on Family Guy.”

“They care about what is going on among their friends and families and even in the world at large,” said McCaffrey.

The study demonstrated how reliant college students were on their technology and social media — texting, always-on Internet connections, iPods. Without these tools, some of the students felt helpless and anxious.

But why would the researchers expect any other result?

7 Comments to
Off the Internet for 24 Hours

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  1. I read this as intellectualizing how to justify avoiding calling this addiction or dependency. Face it, I meet people with regularity who reveal the signs of dependency when they cannot access the current technologies of phones, computers, ipods, etc. I am not looking for a specific DSM label for it, but it exists. So, what do we offer to those who struggle with dependency that is pathologic? Or, we continue to ignore this?

  2. Hi, I was just in a situation where I was deprived of the Internet for 11 days! Oh! how I loved my cell phone when I got it back!

    Information anxiety? I consider it confirmed!

  3. When we went to Bali for a weeks holiday recently, I lasted four whole days before I found an internet cafe to check my emails only to find out I had none of consequence. It gave me a new sense of non-importance in cyberspace.

    Freedom is living in mindfulness.

  4. “Addiction” in professional usage has a fairly rigorous definition. We don’t see that in this study – addiction. “Dependency” – meaning what? What if we took their cars away, or their books (they’re students, after all). Or – no food for 4 days.

    People too often aren’t thinking usefully about “dependency”. There’s a reason why we’re careful about using such terms in professional mental health. John G. is right on with his comments. “Alligators found in sewers!” is always more interesting than “No alligators found today…again.”

  5. I really believe that the “anxiety” these kids were experiencing was a form of withdrawal and by not addressing it as such, is setting a bad precedence. Being a reformed addict (painkillers and alcohol) and also having been addicted to online video games, I can attest to the addictive nature that the internet possess. Kids my age (I am 24) spend way too much time on the internet, which leads to a decrease in socialization and harms the potential for these kids to succeed in a future job.

    Further, calling it “information anxiety” is a misnomer. Most kids are not utilizing the internet for “information,” especially if they are using Facebook, why else is the game Farmville one of the highest used apps on Facebook?

    Unfortunately, being one person, I do not have enough information to prove the addictive nature of the internet (and cell phones), however, I think any medium that causes death should be looked at as a potential addiction (there have been numerous accounts of “gamers” who spent 42+ hours on their computer to then die from dehydration etc.)


  6. These are the kids whose working moms felt guilty for not being available 24-7 like *their* mothers had been, so gave these kids cell phones and made a point of dropping everything whenever their kids called them. Naturally these kids transferred this method of staying close to the other people in their lives. It’s far more accurate to say these kids are addicted to their friends, which makes them 100% the same as every other generation of college student.

    And now I hit the “share” button to share this article on FB because some of my friends worry that they’re addicted to FB. I look forward to some university finding the shocking truth that people in their 40s & 50s (like me) are reconnecting to high school and college friends they haven’t seen in decades through Facebook. What a horrible outcome of internet use!

  7. Tom Cloyd and Amy have it right on. It’s about perception and labels, and the way the next generation is growing up with these technologies as integrated tools within their lives.

    Just as we grew up with the integrated tools of telephones and television, the next generations — the ones in college today or just coming out of college — rely on the tools we’ve given them to communicate and stay in touch — the Internet, smart phones, iPods, etc.

    Why, when looking at teenage telephone use in the 1970s and 1980s (when I was growing up and on the telephone — like all of my friends — for hours at a time), is this any different? How about the amount of time we used the television for news, entertainment, and information about things that interested us?

    This isn’t dependency or addiction any more than we’d call it dependency or addiction in the examples I’ve given above. Is a carpenter “addicted” to modern tools because he needs them in order to do the most effective job and be the most productive in his life? Of course not. Tools are just tools, whether it’s a hammer or an iPhone.

    It’s a silly characterization for a carpenter. And it’s a silly characterization for teens and young adults today.

  8. So then would this be considered an obsession? Although I might not have a degree in psychology, I have a lot of personal experience when it comes to “obsession” and “addiction.” For me, I see the over use of the internet and “smart-phones” as being addictive. When my blackberry died, I became sick and despondent; I was going through withdrawals because I could not use my phone.

    Further I disagree with your notion that the internet is similar to the phones of the 70s and 80s. A large portion of children today do not know how to properly communicate, because they have relied on “abbreviated speech” and the anonymous nature of the internet. More kids are spending time indoors on their computers then they are outdoors with friends, and as such, are lacking greatly in the ablility to socialize. At least when you were on the phone, you could speak to someone. Now kids are hiding in their rooms and creating personas that might not be “real.”

    I think this destruction of the social aspect of America was greatly discussed by Robert D. Putnam in his “Bowling Alone” essay. Technology, especially the internet, is hurting our societies ability to communicate and interact.

    Lastly, I think it is wrong to assume that all children interact the same as you have done Mr. Grohol, as there are varying degrees of internet obsession amongst children. I still believe that the current state of children and the internet (or smart-phones) is having a detrimental impact on our society.

    Again, I am just an average person looking at the state of the internet.


  9. Dr Grohol:

    You still come across as rationalizing and denying what are overt features of dependency. David Stein above, who seems sincere in his comments as relating his history of dependency issues, echoes what I have been saying here intermittently.

    And, in my opinion, you are not unbiased and objective to render a professional opinion with this internet site as a form of income for you.

    We agree to disagree. Let the unbiased and objective readers see both points of view and decide for themselves, and if their choices lead to healthy outcomes, then good for them!

  10. In china, addiction to cellphone,social media and computer is also very common. it seems that addiction to these is a phenomona of worldwide.

  11. For their very first assignment in my First Year Seminar, “Identity in the Internet Age,” my students had to give up all forms of computer-mediated communication for CLOSE TO TWO WEEKS. Cellphones, gaming, internet, email, gaming, AIM, even IPODs. In order to understand how technology has changed our relationship to ourselves and to each other, I wanted them to visit a new culture: an alien culture called “no technology.” (Meanwhile, they had to do this while navigating three other “normal” courses on an otherwise “normal” college campus.) They journaled like crazy and learned a lot about themselves and our over-reliance on technology for even simple things, like setting up a dinner date. Truth be known, after the first 48 hours, the whole exercise was harder on their family and friends than on most of the students themselves. (About ten percent couldn’t “make it” and would count themselves as “addicts”, based on their levels of anxiety, depression, and desperation they experienced.) My comment to your research group: you simply didn’t go long enough to get anything beyond initial hype and hysteria. Twenty-four hours is nothing. :)

    JB MacGregor, PhD



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