As any human being who has ever set foot upon a college campus can tell you, kids these days love to spend their time hunched over any screen they can find, and most of them find that way more diverting and fulfilling than every other thing in the world.
A new study by The Miriam Hospital, just published in Emerging Adulthood, has proved this experimentally — after surveying 483 female college freshmen enrolled at a northeast university, it has found that the average freshman woman spends 12 hours a day engaged in media use, "particularly texting, music, the Internet, and social networking." That's a staggering figure. How could someone possibly have that wealth of thought to interface with the world? I, for one, can only text with another person for roughly 15 minutes before I run out of things to say and type "lol," then curl into myself for a well-deserved rest.
Assuming the students in question are getting six to eight hours of sleep, they're only spending four to six hours a day not interacting with some form of media, which would barely cover time spent in class and meals. That leaves almost no time for the traditional college pursuits of playing frisbee, having the same argument about Nietzsche as everyone else, and drunkenly throwing up in your own bed. It also obviously doesn't leave much time for homework or studying — the study also found that excessive social media use has a negative effect on performance on women's academic performance:
"We found women who spend more time using some forms of media report fewer academic behaviors, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance use," said [lead study author, Dr. Jennifer] Walsh, adding that the study was one of the first to explore mechanisms of media effects on academic outcomes.
So what can be done? According to the British Psychological Society, young women are "more vulnerable to internet activity and may devote more time to it as they negotiate their identities from late adolescence into young adulthood." To emphasize the adverse effects of social media use is to overlook the way in which it does allow young women a venue for self-exploration and communication (this, of course, has its downsides as well due to the prevalence of cyber-bullying, internet sexism, and cruelty in general). Furthermore, there's absolutely no way to pry the smartphones from the greedy clutches of late teens and 20-somethings, so it's pretty naive to assume that it will be effective to tell a college freshman to just put down the phone and read a damn newspaper for once. Keeping in mind both the significance and complete ubiquity of social networking and mobile technology, the study helpfully recommends that professors work to integrate technology into the classroom and that school counselors encourage students to take media breaks.
Another solution is to encourage the youth to cultivate a "smug intellectual" Internet presence, a strategy successfully adopted by many a college student. This will allow freshmen women to partake in activities such as riding old-timey bikes, reading the Paris Review while sipping on an artful latte, and attending lectures by famous intellectuals, all the while continuing to participate in our hypermediated late-capitalist society — because no status is as fun for your Facebook friends to read as one that's just a lengthy Zizek quote.
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