October 04, 2004
Study Participants Go Without Internet Access, Experience Withdrawal

Yahoo! Inc. and the OMD media agency sponsored a study of how 28 people reacted to being deprived of the internet for two weeks. People reported feelings of withdrawal and isolation.

It's a sign of the times that to get people to agree to the deprivation in the first place, researchers paid as much as $950 per household. In video diaries, participants talked about feeling "withdrawal" as they resisted the temptation to log on.

Neighbors? Such things exist in the physical world? But our virtual neighborhoods are so much more interesting. I can't find real neighbors nearly as interesting as my virtual neighbors.

Could a study like this be done as a reality TV show? Picture people being interviewed about their feelings of withdrawal from the internet. Picture some guy flipping between TV channels to try to recreate the experience of changing web pages. Or a girl could go by and see her girlfriend to ask her what topics are being discussed in instant messaging chats with their other friends. Take away phone use and really watch the girl beg for information.

At least three-fourths said they spent more time talking on the phone, watching TV or movies, and reading newspapers. Some reported visiting their neighbors, playing games, and exercising more.

The internet makes people feel more secure and powerful. (same article here)

Internet users feel confident, secure and empowered. The Internet has become, to some, the ultimate symbol of modernity to the point that participants were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. The pervasive nature of the Internet is such that participants often forgot or lost the desire to use "old fashioned tools" like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service.

The loss of communications ability was felt more keenly than the loss of the ability to do research, look up information, or engage in commercial transactions.

"I haven't talked to people I usually talk to and have been tempted to go on instant-messenger because I feel out of the loop," said study participant Kristin S.

"I'm starting to miss emailing my friends -- I feel out of the loop," said study participant Penny C.

According to the research, communications figured most prominently in the withdrawal process, demonstrating a new social network paradigm. The study shows that the Internet affords people the ability to overcome time and distance and to manage communications with a larger social circle, thereby creating an effortless community. Participants in the study found they missed the ability to exercise control over the pace and content of communication with different layers of friends and families. As a result, during the deprivation period, participants' outer circle of relationships suffered.

One can end an online work break faster than a physical work break. That makes sense. It is probably harder to politely end a conversation in the hallway at work as compared to ending a messaging session.

"I miss the private space the Internet creates for me at work." Kim V.

"I've been taking physical breaks instead of online breaks at work. The difference is that I can't get right back into what I was doing," said Ryan V.

Have you tried kicking the internet for a few weeks? Do you feel an emptiness if you go on vacation without it?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 October 04 01:10 PM  Comm Tech Society


Comments
SpakKadi said at October 4, 2004 3:45 PM:

Hi, my name is Spak, and I'm an internet addict.

I don't generally experience withdrawal on vacation because I usually have other things to do which distract me, though I sometimes feel the urge to get online and check the weather if I noticed a weather system that could effect the place I am vacationing before I left (but that's due to a separate weather addiction). I usually only experience withdrawl when I'm in a place where I can usually get internet access but for some reason can't at the moment (i.e., the power goes out at home or the network goes down at work). I have literally started shaking because I couldn't check my e-mail at work. Sad.

Tim Mack said at October 4, 2004 7:55 PM:

Fantastic article. I just linked it. I get bored easily with people, but on the web I always seem to find interesting people. I'd like to see a more in depth study. But that's a great start.

Paul N said at October 5, 2004 1:13 PM:

This is not a surprising result, and it angers me that people conclude that the results are symptomatic of "internet addiction". The internet is largely a communication tool, and the quotes in the article illustate that people removed from the internet feel withdrawal from people, not withdrawal from porn or sports scores or whatever. If you took peoples' telephones away for two weeks, many would feel withdrawal too - yet no one speaks of "phone addiction".

John McKenna said at October 5, 2004 6:27 PM:

I can't imagine being without the internet for two weeks. The internet saves me and many people from boredom. After reading this article, I found how true it was to my own life. I can't remember the last time I've ever said "Hi" to one of my physical neighbors, let alone a conversation. Yet, I spend hours on instant messages talking to my virtural neighbor hood. I do find this scary, that the gold old neighborhoods back in the day, are non-existent. Some people can spend their whole night tapping away on the keyboard. I myself, have done this on several occasions. I do not watch television any more. I sit right down to the computer chair and start typing in web addresses. I like the fact that I can go anywhere while surfing the web, unlike television where there are set programs. The internet is a tool that I believe is a necessity. Everything you would possibly need is just at your finger tips. I would not call myself an addict, but I am a regular user that could not go for two weeks without it.

Brandy Holmes said at October 5, 2004 7:02 PM:

Wow, this is not your everyday sickness but, at the same time I can relate to what the participants are feeling. I can recall just last week I was riding along in the car and I heard something on the radio that tweeked my curiosity. I felt like I just had to look the subject up and my laptop was the only way of doing that. I can recall plenty of times when I ran around in a frenzy trying to get a wireless signal in the middle of no-where.

Aaron Rose said at October 5, 2004 10:49 PM:

I think i know what these poor people went through, lets not forget that week when us freshman got here and did not get our computers until the day before classes. that was one miserable week, not being able to check email, talk to my friends on instant messager or check my ever important fantasy baseball stats. There is a very strong sense of a loss of connection with the world, i dont know how because of cnn and espn and other news networks. as for people talking on the phone, i can only say that instant message has made people quite lazy, people would much rather have several informal conversations than have one more engaging conversation.

Thomas Banta said at October 6, 2004 10:06 AM:

I find this all kind of sad. We have become so dependant on the internet that we have almost forgotten how to get by without it. Although I do use the internet just as much as everyone else, I don't think I'd feel any symptoms of withdrawal if it was taken away from me for two weeks. The internet has become a huge source for information and research, but every now and then i think it's important for us to use "old fashioned tools" such as books, newspapers, encylopedias, etc.

elven espinar said at October 6, 2004 12:09 PM:

i think that the internet is a great invention by to some extent. some people take advantage of the internet by hacking into files or sites and they abuse their rights. the internet overall is a great source for finding information on everything. some people that stay on the internet need to go out more because i start gettin headaches when i look at the monitor for a long time.

Billy Wolfrum said at October 12, 2004 6:06 AM:

Hmmmm...maybe I'll try this. But then i would not be able to access Prof Shannon's web page and blog. And that of course would be terrible.

Penelope T said at October 12, 2004 6:59 PM:

I would literally fail several of my courses if I were not allowed to use the internet for two weeks. My current education course is a media course, and we have regular assignments and assessments that are completely web-based, as well as our syllabus only being online. I'm also in a CompSci course with a web-only textbook and we turn in all assignments through an online interface. Finally, I am relying very heavily on online collections of primary documents for my senior thesis.

What this says to me is that not only are people becoming used to the ease of communication afforded by the internet, but that educators are coming to rely upon it. But I go to a small residential college where they know everyone is connected.

For myself, when I'm on vacation, there's very little withdrawal. In fact, when away from the college environment, I tend to go the opposite way and only spend a little time each day online, primarily to catch up with my college buddies. In situations where I have no access, I quickly stop worrying about it. (Two weeks? I worked at a Girl Scout camp and had no access for two months.)

Clarissa B said at October 18, 2004 7:43 PM:

To be honest I am not quite sure how I would react without the internet. I know personally, as far as instant messenger, I much more like interacting in person. However, distance restricts seeing somone sometimes and that's when instant messanger becomes a tool. Also, it allows you to talk to more than one person at a time. It is definitly possible to live without the internet especially instant messanger. However, it is an issue of convenience to use the internet. How lazy is the world today becoming? If you can't live without the internet, how lazy are you?

Melissa said at April 14, 2005 10:44 PM:

When somone has no internet for two weeks because they are on vacation, they are still very occupied with their vacation. There are new things to see and do, and so on.

I have been without my computer for almost 6 weeks now (starting 2 months ago) because it has been in the shop being fixed. I had it two weeks ago for a two week period. Right now it is gone.
I still have some access to the internet but I feel the loss keenly. Im finding that its the same feeling as when you are a guest at another persons house. You want to be in your own house because thats where all your stuff is, thats where you have everything set up to your convienince. You can get along just fine without things, but it adds a certain stress to your life.

I really cant comment on how being away from the internet makes for feelings of isolation. It does for me, definatly, but Im currently living abroad and use the internet to communicate home. So the feelings of isolation could also be from being in a foriegn environment. Even in my home country though, rely a lot on the internet. When I was without it for almost a month I even started to get twitchy and irritated about it.
I think its very possible to get addicted to the internet, but an addiction is not bad until it interfers negatively with our day to day living. I dont think having the internet does that to many peoples lives.

Melissa said at April 14, 2005 10:46 PM:

When somone has no internet for two weeks because they are on vacation, they are still very occupied with their vacation. There are new things to see and do, and so on.

I have been without my computer for almost 6 weeks now (starting 2 months ago) because it has been in the shop being fixed. I had it two weeks ago for a two week period. Right now it is gone.
I still have some access to the internet but I feel the loss keenly. Im finding that its the same feeling as when you are a guest at another persons house. You want to be in your own house because thats where all your stuff is, thats where you have everything set up to your convienince. You can get along just fine without things, but it adds a certain stress to your life.

I really cant comment on how being away from the internet makes for feelings of isolation. It does for me, definatly, but Im currently living abroad and use the internet to communicate home. So the feelings of isolation could also be from being in a foriegn environment. Even in my home country though, rely a lot on the internet. When I was without it for almost a month I even started to get twitchy and irritated about it.
I think its very possible to get addicted to the internet, but an addiction is not bad until it interfers negatively with our day to day living. I dont think having the internet does that to many peoples lives.

Kurt Paul said at February 15, 2010 7:52 PM:

Before I learned touse a computer and surf the internet I would be with some of my friends and feel like a conversation drop out. They talked about who they e mailed and who e mailed them. What they read and what music and movies they saw on the wev. I am in the 60 and over group now this happened when I was in my 50s. Now that I am online we all talk online and in person. It is the 65 and over age group that has low numbers on the internet, A lot of these people dont even have a cell phone. They only get a cell phone when an emergency has happened like broken down car or accident. I try to tell these people learning how to operate a computeris not hard and easy to send e mails and surf the web. However some learn and others dont and they are laughed at.

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