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Students feel connection through social media, as well as addiction

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

"Media is my drug; without it I was lost," one participant reported. "How could I survive 24 hours without it?"

Another said, "I hope that I never again have such a day in my life." A third added, "The feeling of nothing passed into my heart. … I felt like I had lost something important."

The overall finding from the study was that if a person is under the age of 25, they are most likely addicted to some type of media, no matter where in the world they are.

Relief and calm are the feelings that come to mind when Dietz thinks of having no technology for 24 hours.

"I actually would like it a lot better. I like having one of those days not having the Internet," Dietz said. "It would be a nice break from everything. But I'm not addicted to my phone, so I wouldn't die without it."

A project similar to ICMPA's was conducted in 2010 at the University of Maryland, but was done with 200 students at the university. The results: Many of the students reported not only being bored without something to be plugged into, but how they are "clearly addicted, and the dependency is sickening," as one student put it in a response.

For many students, the need wasn't always to be plugged in to avoid boredom or feel as if they are doing something productive — it had more to do with being connected with other people, whether those people were near or far.

"What they spoke about in the strongest terms was how their lack of access to text messaging, phone calling, instant messaging, email and Facebook mean that they couldn't connect with friends who lived close by, much less those far away," Susan Moeller, project director and journalism professor at the university said about the project.

The most disconcerting finding from these studies was the large number of students who experienced symptoms similar to those from drug and alcohol withdrawal, the Education Database said.

Addiction or habit

"I definitely would say I have a habit of getting on my phone when I have a spare moment, when I'm going from class to class I'm on my phone," Dietz said. She gets on Facebook and Instagram to see what her friends are up to, not to post her own material. "Mine is more of a habit because it's there for when I have a spare moment, that's when I'll get on."

To Preston Parker, it isn't always about addiction; to him there is addiction and habit.

"I have specific ways to view addiction and habits, you can be positive and negative with habits," Parker, who teaches social media classes at Utah State University, said. "Addictions, to me, are always bad. You've given your agency to that thing you are addicted to … I think it's a bad thing to be addicted to social media."

You can have good habits in media, Parker said. To him, positive use of social media focuses on online reputation management.

"You can never control the message sent online, but you can monitor and manage your reputation — individually or as an organization," Parker said. "Social media is the quickest and easiest way to manage your online reputation."

Reputation management is one of the main concepts Parker tries to teach his students. By knowing of any existing reputation and receiving notifications of any new posts, the subject can respond almost in real time, Parker said.

He also wants to instill in his students that this kind of social media use can make them more efficient and effective, he said.

Parker believes there's a strong minority of students who are addicted to social media, though he thinks the majority are not and that many students use social media in a healthy way.

"They feel more connected when something is in print; that means more than when you turn and talk to a person one-on-one," Parker said of the phenomenon of social media being used between people who are physically next to each other. "If you upload something on Twitter and hashtag or @ them, or tag them on Facebook, then now you are telling the whole world. You are announcing that relationship to the whole world."

Among adults, 66 percent who are online say they use some type of social media — Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn — according to a report by The Pew Research Center. The study also found that about two-thirds of social media users are users in large part to stay in touch with friends and family.

email: mmorgan@desnews.com

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