Withdrawal from Digital Media Resembles Symptoms of Drug Detox

By Tracey E. Schelmetic January 07, 2011

What happens when you ask young people to turn off all electronic media – phones, e-mail, Internet, Facebook and Twitter – for 24 hours? The University of Maryland did just that, and discovered that the results aren't pretty. The results even have a new psycho-babble name: Information Deprivation Disorder. The name may be somewhat pretentious, but the results are real. Individuals deprived of electronic media begin to undergo “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms that in many ways resemble detox from hard drugs.

You might think: really? (particularly if you're over 40), but it's true. Symptoms were not only psychological, but actually physical, said Dr. Roman Gerodimos, a British lecturer in communication who led the U.K. section of the international study, according to British newspaper The Telegraph.

To conduct the experiment, volunteers at 12 universities around the world spent 24 hours without access to computers, mobile phones, iPods, television, radio and even newspapers. Subjects were allowed to use land-line telephones and read books (the paper variety, not e-books). Participants kept diaries about the experience, and almost all reported being anxious, depressed, fidgety and isolated.

The study, which was led by the University of Maryland's International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, has underscored for researchers and psychologists that our addiction to modern technology is as real as any other addiction: food, alcohol, drugs or tobacco.

There was an upside to the study for some subjects, however. “There were also some good effects as people developed coping mechanisms they went out for walks and visited friends rather than sitting in front of a computer,” said Dr. Gerodimos.

While many subjects had the biggest problem with silence initially – no gadgets meant no music – many of them saw an upside by the end of the test period. “A lot of them [subjects] said they found the silence quite uncomfortable and awkward. But as they got used to it they began to notice more things around them like birds singing or hearing what their neighbors were doing,” said Dr. Gerodimos.

It's easy to deride the “withdrawal” symptoms of the subjects and imagine that it wouldn't happen to us, noted website Asylum UK. But perhaps these feelings are little more than hubris. “While we'd really love to mock the students who participated in this study,” commented Asylum UK. “We're not sure how well we'd hold up in the face of such an information blackout, and find the prospect of trying to figure that out somewhat horrifying. In fact, when we lose our phones, all we want to do is Google where it is. Not a good sign.”

Now where's my phone?

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Contributor

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