Social Media and Study Abroad – Addiction?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently cited a new study out of the University of Maryland that indicates that students who are denied social media describe their withdrawal symptoms in terminology similar to those of drug and alcohol addicts. According to the Chronicle article, 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 symptoms such as anxiety, misery, and being jittery, the authors wrote.

I got a taste of this when recently co-facilitating a pre-departure orientation for a summer program in Spain.  The students regularly asked about whether or not to bring their lap tops and how to best manipulate their smart phones to work in Europe.

My gut reaction is to want to stand up and SCREAM at the top of my lungs:  “Drop the technology!  Step away from the keyboard! Dump your phone into the nearest lake (ok, not very green, I admit…but you get my point)!”

Since I could not reasonably do this and remain gainfully employed, I gently interjected, reminding the students that simply walking down the street in Madrid will be a whole new sensory experience –  history, architecture, shops, smells of food, music, traffic, people, sights, etc.  I wanted them to trust that they won’t be glaring down at the cell phone wanting to know who is texting about their annoying little brother, or worse yet, “four squaring you” to tell you that they checked in at the local Seven-Eleven to buy a sugar loaded Big Gulp.

Really, I promise, you will NOT miss it.  I promise you will be so completely absorbed by your new surroundings that you won’t want to observe the musings of your peers on Facebook.  The relationship statuses, random thoughts and “Mafia War”/”Farmville” statuses simply won’t matter.

But how do you get this across to an 18 year old who is socialized to feel withdrawal symptoms when they can’t text or Facebook for 24 hours?

Thankfully, an old soul in the pre-departure meeting makes the connection that plugging in your laptop and sucking up the electricity in your home stay may not be the most appropriate way to introduce yourself as an American college student.  Or an American. Or a guest in someone’s home.  Or a world citizen trying to respect energy resources.

Who says there isn’t hope for our youth?

This is quickly countered by a student who wants to download her photos daily for her art class. Dang it! It is a fair request, I suppose.

I feel the tug of war raging inside of me.  To tech or not to tech? That is the question.

The irony is that I write this on my lap top, post it to my Melibee Global Facebook Fan page and then load it to my LinkedIn profile status update.   I have also partnered with Digital Strategy Works (the shop that created my blog) and we are consulting together in all matters that relate to digital media and international education.  Does this make me a hypocrite?  Sigh.

Ah, technology.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…