We Say “Networked” Only Because “Addicted” Sounds So Untoward

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan CCOIn his fascinating recent book The Tyranny of E-Mail, John Freeman describes e-mail as ‘our electronic fidget.’  Anyone with a smart phone will recognize the painful accuracy of his assessment.  You can find yourself glancing at your cell two or three times in the course of an average elevator ride.  Distraction has become our constant companion.

And now, a study just released by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda concludes that college students are ‘incredibly addicted’ to media.  The study asked 200 students to give up all media for 24 hours.  That seemingly simple request required foregoing laptops and PC’s, the internet and Facebook, cell phones, texting and IM’s.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  Only direct, face-to-face conversations or something they’d probably never experienced in their semi-adult lives; quiet.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the students freaked.  In their post-deprival write-ups, they expressed an almost universal feeling of disconnectedness.  In other words, despite living amongst 35,000 students on the U of M campus, they felt alone.

Probing further, researcher and Ph.D. student Raymond McCaffrey, summed it up this way; “But most of all, they care about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet.”

An SNL skit or the latest Wall Street numbers, a Taiwanese earthquake or the Blackhawks clinching, a friend’s Facebook status update or a groupon notice: it all comes through in an unbroken life stream that add interest and import and busy-ness to our daily lives.  It’s not simply news, it’s information of every stripe.  We’ve become omnivores to social media stimulation that is as addictive and habit-forming as any narcotic.

Speaking from personal experience, overcoming this one is gonna take a lot more than just twelve steps.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


TLC says:

Another way to think about it is not as an addiction, but as an historic shift in human communication.

Sure, most high school and college aged students not knowing what to do without media for 24 hours sounds ridiculous to us old folk. We remember a day when you actually had to approach a member of the opposite sex and stammer out awkward, broken sentences; before the convenience of being able to premeditate a text message or facebook note existed. It makes us nostalgic.

But the reality of those days is that after school was over we were done socializing for the most part, outside of the kids in the immediate neighborhood. Today’s kids are continuing their conversations with their friends around the clock. Maybe that’s not something to be feared or treated as an addiction. Maybe it’s just the way it’s done now.

Most religions teach that in some way, all humankind are connected in our thoughts and actions. That both good and evil doings can “ripple out” and affect those they touch in unforeseen ways. Why not embrace these new media as a physical manifestation of that idea? Is it really that much more rewarding for humans to talk face-to-face as opposed to say, over IM?

Maybe for friends and family, but they’ll always be at home or just a plane ride away.