Unplugged: Living without the media
How could you survive without the media, the internet and a mobile phone for 24 hours?
Perfectly well, perhaps if you are Vanessa Feltz - we've been having an entertaining dialogue this week about whether modern technology is an essential part of our lives. But for some media students at Bournemouth University, it's been something akin to torture.
They have been taking part in a global experiment called Unplugged. It is designed to examine the intimate relationship young people now have with the media and work out what happens when television, radio, the web, and mobile phones are taken away.
Earlier this week I pitched up in Bournemouth to film three of the many students taking part in the experiment. Caroline Scott, Charlotte Gay and Elliott Day have all just started on a degree in multimedia journalism so normally they would be reading papers, watching television, blogging, texting, Facebooking and tweeting, and generally engaging in the multimedia life of the modern student.
But when I arrived, they had switched off their phones and computers and were wandering disconsolately around the campus without so much as an MP3 player to entertain them.
Earlier this year a study from Ofcom showed that we spend nearly half of our waking hours using the media, often plugged into several things at once. As we filmed it struck me just how dependent this generation is on modern media technology.
When they wake, their first move is to the laptop or phone to check out Facebook. In the student union bar, big screens show live sport, while half the crowd seem more focused on their phones than their friends. Even in the library, it is computer screens rather than books which seem to command student attention.
In my student days, back in the mists of time, the radio and newspapers were my only regular contact with the media, and arranging to meet friends meant dropping round on the off chance, and scrawling a note on the door if they were out. Today, it's the mobile phone which makes student life work.
Charlotte told me that it was almost impossible for her to function without her phone: "You have to organise everything a day in advance. But things change in a matter of minutes, let alone a day. It's been really difficult."
Dr Roman Gerodimos who is running the Unplugged project says there are already signs of how much the exercise is hurting those who are taking part: "They're reporting withdrawal symptoms, overeating feeling nervous, isolated and disconnected, they don't know what to with themselves or their time."
Of course, there was one intrusion from the modern media world - me, and my cameraman. But I hope we encouraged the three "unplugged" guinea-pigs to think about the experience and what they had learned from it. Because I set them some homework, asking each of them to write 100 words about their day offline.
Rather than jot it down on paper and put it in the post - as I might have done 30 years ago - they waited until the next day when they could turn on their laptops once more. Here is what they sent me:
"Usually, as I climb out of bed I would switch on the radio and listen to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 whilst I was getting dressed. Then I would walk to the nearby shop and buy The Times and the Bournemouth Echo to read over breakfast. Today, however, was unlike any other day. Today I was attempting to go 24 hours without media. Today my whole morning routine was thrown up into the air. Despite being aware of the social importance of the media, I was surprised by how empty my life felt without the radio or newspapers."
"I didn't expect it, but being deprived of the media for 24 hours resulted in my day-to-day activities becoming so much harder to carry out than usual. I kept reaching for my smartphone to send e-mails, read texts and log on to the internet - only to remember I wasn't allowed to use it! I felt isolated from society without knowing what the papers said or being able to contact friends at the touch of a button. I believe that the older generations of people in society would definitely find the challenge just as hard as my age group - we have all adapted to depending on the media to carry out tasks quickly and find out information on demand. I didn't break out in a cold sweat like our lecturer expected us all to, but it's not something I would like to do again!"
"After the experiment I realised how much media we are subliminally receiving and it's not until you consciously try and shut it out then you notice the effects it must have on a person. During the task I found sitting in social areas the hardest to avoid the media, adverts everywhere, music being played the airwaves and everyone with their gadgets made the task near impossible to complete. I have to say the most difficult item for me to be without has been mobile, not only is it a social gadget, it's my main access point of communication."
You can read more about the whole Unplugged experiment on the Bournemouth University blog. And there's another thing I missed out on when I was a student - somehow I never got round to starting a blog.