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A smartphone and a coffee in hands
Published
30 March 2017

Addicted to our smartphones

​​​​Students around the world are strikingly similar in how they use media – and how ‘addicted’ they are to it, according to a global study of university students by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), in partnership with the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change

The ICMPA-Salzburg Academy study asked approximately 1,000 students in ten countries on five continents to abstain from using all media for a day. After their 24 hours of abstinence, the students were then asked to report their successes and admit to any failures.1

There were some interesting facts reported by students in the study. The report noted that many young people reported mental and physical symptoms of distress when trying to be ‘unplugged’ for a day. They included that they felt a craving for their access to media and likened their distress to withdrawal from alcohol or smoking.

Susan Moeller, who led this project said “They expected the frustration. But they didn’t expect to have the psychological effects, to be lonely, to be panicked, the anxiety, literally heart palpitations.”

This result is similar to the survey conducted by technology company Cisco, where it was reported that “Nine out of 10 of the surveys of 3,800 people under 30 years old are addicted to their smartphone and, in fact, one out of five are checking their smartphone every ten minutes”2

At St Catherine’s, one of our key values is relationships. However, many girls are busy multi-tasking, and the readily available access to technology, information, news and social media is leading to distraction and less face-to-face engagement with their peers, particularly during recess and lunch. We see girls absorbed in their phones, whilst texting, messaging and/or skyping those who are actually sitting near them at school. Instead of speaking to their peers, sharing good news, or reflecting on the day, they are busily scrolling through their newsfeed, maintaining their Snapchat streaks or watching YouTube (or a combination of all three!) The Huffington Post noted that when we minimise multi-tasking, we produce less cortisol, which can lead to reduced stress levels3 . If we encourage our students to ‘focus on the present’ and to make intentional efforts to the job at hand, we may see less anxiety and increased productivity.

The students from the ‘unplugged project’ reported another positive outcome – finding the simple pleasures in their days or lives. Our ‘Hunt the Good Stuff’ focus in academic care is based on just this premise. To take the time to reflect on the small (or big) things that happened that day, why they happened and how we can make it happen more frequently. A student in the study said, “I’ve lived with the same people for three years now, they’re my best friends, and I think that this is one of the best days we’ve spent with together. I was able to really see them, without any distractions, and we were able to revert to simple pleasures.”

We certainly need to see more of this in our playground and classes and lives.​


Moeller, S 2011, ‘Going 24 Hours Without Media’, The World Unpluggedhttps://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com> viewed 8 March 2017.
Ryan, P 2013, ‘Australia becoming smartphone addicted: report’, ABC News, viewed 8 March 2017, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02013/ustralia-becoming-smartphone-addicted-report/4516938&gt;.
Cleaver, K 2015, ‘The Importance of Simplifying Due to Unprecedented Amounts of Distraction, ‘Huffington Post’, viewed 8 March 2017 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/krystal-cleaver/the-importance-of-simplifying-due-to-unprecedented-amounts-of-distraction_b_8140502.html
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Mrs Deborah Clancy
B Sc Dip Ed COGE MACE
Head of Boarding and Academic Care