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The world unplugged?


(First of two parts)

“I am bored!” This was the biggest complaint of around 4,000 high school students in our study of media behavior.  Even with a plethora of gadgets at their fingertips, around 85 percent of respondents (roughly half “strongly agree” while the other half “agree”) say they are bored.

For the past three years, counselors Maribel Sison-Dionisio and Ichel Alignay and Ateneo de Manila parents Nesy Fernandez and Chris Peabody and I have been conducting a large-scale study on media behavior of Ateneo and Miriam College high school students.

Future columns will discuss the findings of our study in more detail.  For now, we will just focus on why, as the international study “World Unplugged” found, boredom among our youth seems to be universal in this technological world.


In 2011, the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda of the University of Maryland, with university partners of Salzberg Academy on Media and Social Change, studied around 1,000 college students from 10 countries (Argentina, Chile, China-Mainland, China-Hong Kong, Lebanon, Mexico, Slovakia, Uganda, United Kingdom and the United States).

Students were asked to stop all forms of media use, including watching television, just for one day. They were only allowed to use landlines.

Sadly, in every country, majority of students could not do it. They returned to their cellular phones, laptops, iPods, social networks after just a few hours.

During the short time they spent offline, they experienced panic, anxiety, irritability, depression. And extreme boredom.

Most boring day

The best way to understand this phenomenon is to look at student responses in The World Unplugged site, http://


An American says, “My 24 hours without media was without a doubt the most boring day of my life.”

Many students get bored after less than an hour. A Chinese says, “After 15 minutes without using media, my sole feeling about this can be expressed in one word: boring.”

A Briton says, “The journey to meet my classmates was a very boring and long one, a 20-minute bike ride with no iPod!”

Another Briton says, “Within half an hour of ‘turning myself off’ I had eaten three bits of toast and half a tub of ice cream simply through boredom.”

Even physical exercise is boring without technology. A Lebanese says, “I went to the gym at 6:30 and, of course, exercising without my iPod was a bit annoying because I kept getting bored and distracted without any upbeat music to motivate me. I stopped after 45 minutes and went back home to shower.”

Unsure what to do

In our Filipino study, around 60 percent of Ateneo and Miriam students say they do not know what to do with their time.  Ironic, isn’t it, when they have the entire world at their beck and call?

This finding is confirmed in the international study. Many students do not have creative ways to alleviate boredom. They do not have alternative activities to fill their time.

A Chilean says, “Tidying up without music from my iPod or the radio or TV [for] company was so boring. I started to think about things to do without media and found out that actually I couldn’t think of many.”

A Slovakian says, “I lay on my bed and realized I was very bored. I stared at my laptop for at least [a] quarter of [an] hour, but then I got an idea—that I can use the time to improve myself. I started [to] exercise [but] after 10 minutes I gave up and was bored again.”

A Briton says, “I realize now I should have attempted to spend my time without media doing something quite productive. Instead, I chose to sit on my bed and stare at the ceiling, which was such an awful idea now that I think about it.”

School is boring

School, of course, is terribly boring.  In our local study, around 50 percent of students say they find it hard to concentrate on teachers’ lectures in class or on their assignments at home.

When they have to unplug even for just a day, students around the world find the experience excruciating.  A Slovakian says, “School was more boring than I could imagine.  Students had their heads in their hands, trying just to listen to what the teacher was talking about. I almost [fell asleep].”

A Chinese says, “During the class, feeling bored, I wanted to take out my cell phone to go online, watch the news, chat … But with no mobile phone I can’t do anything, only sit there.”

An American says, “I found myself very bored in class. Facebook via my phone or texting usually keeps me occupied during boring lectures.”


Silence, even for just 24 hours, is too painful. A Slovakian says, “I’m addicted to music, so it was really terrible for me. I didn’t like the silence, which was everywhere.”

A Chilean says, “The silence was like an infinity and I thought how different this situation would be if the music was on. I felt awkward, like I was forced to keep on talking. I was anxious to get home fast; the silence was killing me.”

Without music, students find it hard to manage the realities of life.  A Lebanese says, “On my walk back to my place, I had hoped that, without my headphones, I would hear the LIFE of Hamra’s streets. I didn’t. I just heard lots of cars and honking.”

(To be continued next week)

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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Tags: Boredom , column , High school students , Learning , media behavior , no gadgets , offline , online , opinion survey , queena n. lee-chua

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