Huey Lewis will have to keep on looking: social media appears to be as addictive as any chemical compound, and while it satisfies some of his key criteria for a new drug -- "one that won't spill, one that don't cost too much, or comes in a pill" -- it fails to meet some of his most important demands.
Specifically, social media withdrawal leaves individuals "nervous, wonderin' what to do," according to a new study from the University of Maryland's International Center for Media & the Public Agenda, which asked 200 U of M undergraduates to forego all media for 24 hours -- including the Internet, their mobile phone, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. The results are either amusing or disturbing, depending on your degree of attachment to our declining civilization. Even allowing for a certain amount of self-dramatization, the reactions were indistinguishable from addicts deprived of a fairly powerful habit-forming drug, with subjects using language like "frantically craving, very anxious, extremely antsy, miserable, jittery, crazy."
Unsurprisingly the loss of mobile connectivity was probably the most serious blow to the young crackheads in Maryland. One reported: "Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable" (interestingly, the study found that calling and email both trailed far behind texting and Facebook as ways of communicating).
ICMPA director and journalism professor Susan D. Moeller noted the most noticeable complaint was a feeling of social deprivation, as "they wrote at length about ... how they hated losing their personal connections. Going without media meant, in their world, going without their friends and family ... what they spoke about in the strongest terms was how their lack of access to text messaging, phone calling, instant messaging, email and Facebook, meant that they couldn't connect with friends who lived close by, much less those far away."
The U of M study also found that social media double as news sources, with students expressing anxiety at being cut off from information delivered via blogs, text messages, email, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The study summarized the findings on news consumption: "Students have only a casual relationship to the originators of news, and in fact rarely distinguished between news and more general information... While many in the journalism profession are committing significant resources to deliver content across media platforms -- print, broadcast, online, mobile -- the young adults in this study appeared to be generally oblivious to branded news and information."
Regarding social media in particular, one respondent described it in terms of animal reflexes:"It is almost second nature to check my Facebook or email; it was very hard for my mind to tell my body not to go on the Internet." Another respondent had to resort to what I would call the old "flushing the cigarettes" approach: "I knew that the hardest aspect of ridding myself of media though, would be not checking Facebook or my emails, so I went ahead and deactivated my Facebook account in advance. It's pathetic to think that I knew I had to delete my Facebook in order to prevent myself from checking it for one day."
Returning to Huey Lewis, it would appear social media actually fails to meet a number of his criteria, including "one that won't make me sick" (withdrawal), "one that won't make me crash my car" (texting while driving), "one that won't hurt my head ... or make my eyes too red" (eyestrain), "one that won't keep me up all night, one that won't make me sleep all day" (all-night Facebook surfing), and "one that won't make me talk too much" (self-explanatory). By contrast, social media only meets a few of the other demands, including "one that won't make my mouth too dry ... or make my face break out." Finally, no decision could be issued on the following, as the criterion is unclear: "One that won't make me feel three feet thick."