(Last of two parts)
Since 2010, our research team (Maribel Sison-Dionisio, Ichel Alignay, Nesy Fernandez, Chris Peabody and I) has been studying the media behavior of around 4,000 high school students from Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College.
Surprisingly, in a world of constant stimulation, boredom is the biggest complaint of young people in today’s online world.
This finding is consistent with that of “The World Unplugged,” an international study done by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda of the University of Maryland, together with Salzberg Academy on Media and Social Change.
Around 1,000 college students from 10 countries and five continents (unfortunately, the Philippines was not included) were asked to unplug from all sorts of media for just 24 hours. The only device they could use was the landline phone.
Last week, we looked at sample student responses to the phenomenon of boredom. Now let us look at what research has to say.
In 2006, a team of Taiwanese psychiatrists and professors—Chih-Hung Ko, Ju-Yu Yen, Cheng-Chung Chen, Sue-Huei Chen, Kuanyi Wu and Cheng-Fang Yen—discovered that teens who spent long hours online had higher scores in novelty-seeking (NS) and harm avoidance, and lower scores in reward dependence, than teens who were not addicted.
NS, a persistent compulsion to seek out new things, was the biggest predictor.
“Since NS is thought to reflect the brain’s incentive or behavior activation system, and is associated with the dopamine system, individuals with high NS readily engage in new interests and activities but tend to neglect details and are quickly distracted or bored,” the researchers said in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
The researchers said Internet use, especially games, had constantly-changing scenes and feedback so that adolescents were quickly and highly aroused by and then hooked on them.
Shockingly, the researchers said: “This is similar to the effect of high NS on substance use experience,” such as drug use.
Negative life events—death in the family, illness, unemployment, poor academic performance and the like—can trigger heavy media use to help dull the ache of life’s vicissitudes and avoid or postpone dealing with them.
While comforting in the short-term, escape is not the ideal way to deal with life in the long term.
After all, when we get off the Net, real problems remain.
Many people use the Internet as a form of escape. In gaming, particularly, they have more control over what they do, which is not the case in the real world.
While occasional fantasies are not harmful (we may fantasize about dating a movie star, for example), they may have profound consequences if
indulged in frequently.
“For people with a predisposed difficulty in distinguishing personal fantasy from social reality, the distinction between online fantasy environments and online social environments may be blurred,” said Rider University psychologist John Suler, in the journal Cyberpsychology and Behavior. “In our modern media-driven lifestyles, the power of computer and video game imagination can infiltrate reality testing.”
In the World Unplugged study, this was how a Hong Kong student put it: “Once you enter the Internet life, you can do whatever you want: play games/chat with friends/
receive information/news. To a certain extent, I agree that this is actually our second life. One can even sit motionless and spend the whole day interacting with the computer. You can skip your meals, skip sleeping time and… even give up your real life identity [for] the Internet world.”
The good news is, once we unplug ourselves, it is possible for us to appreciate and engage real life more fully. In the World Unplugged study, many students learned to appreciate simpler pleasures.
Such as reading. A student from Uganda said: “The positive of the day was that I actually read a lot of school handouts that I would not have been able to read on a ‘normal’ day.”
Or exercise. A student from China said: “I invited my fellows to play badminton and enjoy the sunshine in our beautiful campus, chatting, laughing, eating, drinking, wandering, etc.”
Or hobbies. A student from Slovakia said: “I dedicated more time to my hobbies and 6-year-old brother, with whom I played cards and other games.”
Or communing with nature. A student from China said: “As soon as I got used to [being without media], I felt happy and unrestrained. I had enough time and space to do what I really liked. There was no need to worry about other things. No one to disturb me. I could take a walk along the pathways in my school as much as I liked. I could sit beside the lakeshore to enjoy nature and the beauty of the lakes and mountains, and bring a book with me. It couldn’t be better in my heart.”
Or simply peace. A student from Hong Kong said: “This experiment also gave me an opportunity to live in a more silent world where I could find more peace. I shut down all media devices and stayed away from them so I could enjoy a one-day peace not connected to anyone.”
Visit The World Unplugged website at http://theworld