Online Addiction: Will Search Be a Controlled Service?

April 20, 2011 reports that “Kids Go Cold Turkey When You Take Their Technology Away.” We never agreed 100 percent with Marsshall McLuhan and his hot and cold thing. We do understand dependence, involvement, and digital magnetism. If the good Dr. McLuhan were in Harrod’s Creek today, he would sit up and take notice at this story.

Researchers at the University of Maryland subjected participants ages 17 to 23 to 24 hours without cell phones, the Internet, and TV. They could use landlines and read books. (Our view is that digital addiction can take place much, much earlier.)

The subjects’ diaries show that such restrictions threw many of them off their game. For a generation raised with such devices, unplugging is apparently unnerving, according to the article:

“[The study] found that 79 percent of students subjected to a complete media blackout for just one day reported adverse reactions ranging from distress to confusion and isolation… One of the things the kids spoke about was having overwhelming cravings while others reported symptoms such as ‘itching’. . . .One in five reported feelings of withdrawal like an addiction while 11 percent said they were confused. Over 19 percent said they were distressed and 11 percent felt isolated. Some students even reported stress from simply not being able to touch their phone.

And on the plus side, one in five enjoyed the experience, and some found they had more in-depth conversations during that day.

For a busy one parent family, hooking a child or adolescent means some blissful moments of peace. But what about other effects? How will these dependencies change search and content processing. Can an addicted user discern whether information is accurate or inaccurate? Will the user notice? Will the user care?

The study has me wondering about the future—will our grandchildren have chips in their heads that keep them wired 24-7? Will in-depth conversation, even in-depth thought, go the way of bound books? Key word search seems less likely to appeal to those who find the warmth and comfort of online so appealing. Facebook, on the other hand, offers a warmer place. Is this the McLuhan “hot”?

Will the solution be to make search a controlled service.

Cynthia Murrell April 20, 2011



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