Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Better or Worse?

I have heard rumours about a University Professor who challenged her students to go on a “Media Purge” diet. The students were challenged to see how long they could last without any technology developed after 1985. The only exception to the rule was that you could use your computer, as a typewriter, to complete any assignment for another class. If you think about it, the purge was essentially asking students to give up the Internet and their cellular phones.

Research for assignments would need to be conducted at a library, phone calls would need to be made on a landline and you wouldn’t be able to update your status on Facebook. Sounds easy right? Care to guess how long the winner lasted? A month? A week? Try one and a half days. That’s right, the winner was only able to last 36 hours.

An overwhelming number of students said they couldn’t complete the purge for two reasons. The first cluster of students woke up and found they didn’t have any phone numbers. All the information they needed to contact the outside world was stored inside their phones and consequently dropped out of the challenge when they couldn’t contact anyone. The second group said they needed to use the Internet to confirm appointments, plan meetings and keep up to date with friends and family.

Ultimately, the test proved exactly what the professor had expected – new media has assimilated its way into our daily lives.

A study from the University of Maryland found that youths are hooked on social media and cell phones, describing withdrawals in terms similar to those used by drug and alcohol addicts.

The study from the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, "24 Hours: Unplugged," asked 200 students on the campus to give up all media for a full day and blog on private Web sites about their experience. Student reaction showed addiction-like withdrawal the authors wrote about symptoms such as anxiety, misery, and being jittery.

It’s important to remember that this argument is only one side of the story. For every study about the negative effects of social media and new technology there is an exact opposite study that says this is just the new trend in leisure socializing and should be regarded as a natural progression in socialization.

Personally, I enjoy the “connectedness” that today’s technology provides. I can turn on my computer and shoot a friend a message about the night before or a night to come. I can flip open my phone and send a text message to a friend without disrupting what they are doing. Technological advancements have made it easy to remain in contact with one another.

But, as I stated earlier, for every positive there is almost certainly a negative. Advancements in cell phones have made surfing the Internet, text messaging and Facebook-ing possible from the palm of your hand. Is this a bad thing? No, I don’t think so, but it can become a problem when we use these technologies at inappropriate times.

I like to jog. I am fortunate enough to live near the Etobicoke Creek Trail and I have developed a routine that consists of mostly trails, but requires me to run on the sidewalk for about five minutes and cross at two sets of lights. While I am out on my runs I am beginning to notice a trend i.) a driver’s disregard for looking for pedestrians crossing the street at lights and stop signs and ii.) drivers on their cell phones. Last I checked I thought being on your cell phone while driving was illegal.

I know a lot of my friends and family who went out and purchased blue tooth devices when the cell phone law passed, but I still see people who are driving with a phone up to their ear. The reason why the law was brought into effect is because studies found that driving while talking on a cell phone were causing a higher percentage of accidents. When I continue to see people driving with a phone in their hand it forces me to wonder if there is some validity to these media addiction studies.

Why can’t we put our phones away?

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