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Students Survive (Barely) Without Cellphones — for a Day

Communication Class Conducts Media Boycott

November 22, 2011

(ABOVE) Texting is a favorite past time for college students. (BELOW) Maria Larson checks through her in box.

(ABOVE) Texting is a favorite past time for college students. (BELOW) Maria Larson checks through her in box.

A group of Wilmington College students experienced symptoms ranging from feeling disoriented, anxious and irritable to having actual chest discomfort while engaged in a class experiment.

The exercise was not any of the following: spending a night in jail, being deprived of sleep or food, or being forcibly held against their will. Rather, they were separated from their cellphones for 24 hours.

Students in Corey Cockerill’s Communication 101 class engaged in a media boycott in which they stayed clear of television, radio, newspapers Internet and, yes, mobile phones.

They were asked to record their feelings and impressions in a journal.

The media boycott affected their habits and rituals to varying degrees: Newspapers — no problem (most don’t read them anyway, at least paper versions). Television — a bit inconvenient at times but certainly doable. Radio — with that, it was getting more difficult.

But take away Internet, Facebook, texting and cell phones and students noticed a significant void that manifested itself in psychological, emotional and physical lack of wellbeing.

Students described the resulting silence as “disturbing,” “awkward” and “kind of scary.”

“The silence uncovered a significant amount of noise coming from dormitory hallways and the nearby parking lots,” said Cockerill, assistant professor of communication.

She said cellphones have become “security blankets” for many students and living without them for even a day can result in a palpable hardship.

“Not having a smart phone resulted in a tightness in my chest that was relieved only when I checked into Facebook after the media boycott,” one student said. “Only then, I felt like I could breathe again!”

Cockerill said students felt “isolated” and “disconnected from the world.” Since many feel that listening to music helps them study, some saw the 24 hours of media silence as a distraction that made them “unproductive.”

However, for some, silence helped induce much-needed sleep.

“This is the first time I’ve gotten this much sleep — just over 12 hours — since I can remember, and honestly I feel refreshed,” a student said.

Another positive result indicated that students tended to show up early to class, work or sports practice, which is outside the norm, Cockerill added.

While it proved to be an enlightening, albeit uncomfortable, experience, most of the students were reluctant to accept any future challenges that involved such a loss of electronic communication. Cockerill said the majority of participants indicated they would not engage in a media boycott again — “even if offered extra credit in a course.”