Facebook generation suffer information withdrawal syndrome
Turning off mobile phones, avoiding the internet and tuning out of the television and radio can leave people suffering from symptoms similar to those seen in drug addicts trying to go cold turkey, researchers have found.
The scientists asked volunteers to stay away from all emails, text messages, Facebook and Twitter updates for 24 hours. They found that the participants began to develop symptoms typically seen in smokers attempting to give up.
Some of those taking part said they felt like they were undergoing "cold turkey" to break a hard drug habit, while others said it felt like going on a diet. The condition is now being described as Information Deprivation Disorder.
Dr Roman Gerodimos, a lecturer in communication who led the UK section of the international study, said: "We were not just seeing psychological symptoms, but also physical symptoms."
The findings will fuel concerns raised by neurologists and psychologists about the impact that excessive use of the internet, computer games and social networking sites are having on the so-called "Net Generation" of teenagers and young adults.
In the experiment, called Unplugged, volunteers at 12 universities around the world - including 125 students Bournemouth University - spent 24 hours without access to computers, mobile phones, iPods, televsion, radio and even newspapers.
They were allowed to use landline telephones or read books.
Participants were asked to keep diaries about their experience. Entries in the diaries showed that many recorded feeling fidgety, anxious or isolated.
The research was led by the University of Maryland's International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda.
Dr Gerodimos, of Bournemouth University, said: "The extent to which we are using some of this modern technology and new media is changing us.
"Participants described feeling fidgety and kept reaching for their mobile phones even when they weren't there.
"There were also some good effects as people developed coping mechanisms they went out for walks and visited friends rather than sitting in front of a computer.
"What was amazing for us was how dependent people now are on their technology. People often don't own watches or alarm clocks because they rely upon their mobile phones to wake themselves up."
While most participants in the study struggled without their mobile phones and felt they were missing out by not using Facebook, it was abstinence from music that caused them the most difficulty, Dr Gerodimos said.
"A lot of them said they found the silence quite uncomfortable and awkward," he said. "But as they got used to it they began to notice more things around them like birds singing or hearing what their neighbours were doing.
"In their reflections on what they had been through, people freely admitted that they were experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. The students likened the experience to going on a diet, giving up smoking and going cold turkey. The words addiction kept recurring.
"Some people didn't find it hard, while a minority hated it. The majority struggled at first, experiencing these symptoms, before they developed coping mechanisms that helped to distract them.
"If we become a bit more aware how we are using this technology, it might help us to control the effect it has on us. Perhaps everyone should try going without it for a day every year."