Go a week without your smartphone. This was the challenge accepted last May by 92 young Spaniards (ages 15-24) who participated in a research study led by several Spanish and European universities to analyze their information sources. according to Reuters Institute, 39% of 18-24 year olds use social networks as their main source of news. After seven days of losing access to their smartphones, most members of the study group said they felt less informed. For news, they mostly turned to television and radio, and few looked to print newspapers. “As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I look at Instagram for the daily news. I felt a little lost without my phone,” said Lorena Vegas, a 21-year-old study participant. Like many others in the group, I read her first book in years—more Bestsellers by Megan Maxwell, ¿Un último baile, madam? (One last dance, Milady?)
“We decided to conduct this study out of concern about indications that young people are turning to questionable sources of information, to actors outside the journalism profession. It seems that the future of our society is satisfied with this miserable content,” said lead researcher Pedro Farias, professor of journalism at the University of Malaga in Spain. One of the aims of the study, which will end in 2023, is to analyze the factors that influence nearly 9,000 young Europeans to trust certain content, and what motivates them to share or not share that content on social media.
The study, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, monitored participants’ smartphone use for three weeks (May-July 2022). During the first week, study participants were observed using their devices as usual. The packages were taken for the second week of observation and returned for the third week. Participants were asked to record their thoughts in a daily diary and to answer weekly surveys. During the first week, study participants logged an average of five hours per day of smartphone use, four of which were on social media. WhatsApp was the most used app, followed by Instagram and TikTok, which quickly became the only information channel for younger users.
When study participants were deprived of their smartphones, they reported feeling uneasy, anxious, insecure, and dependent, even though they felt liberated for some of them. Several of those surveyed said things like, “I felt calm as soon as I got close to him”; “I had more anxiety than when I tried to quit smoking”; and “Seeing everyone on public transportation with their phones made me want to use my phone.” Most participants reported feeling closer to their family during the week of deprivation, with comments like, “When I’m home, I usually go to my room after dinner to watch TikTok. I had more family life without my phone”; “I watched a TV series with my father without any distractions – I enjoyed it”; And “this week we didn’t argue about using my phone, which was a relief.”
Another advantage mentioned by study participants is a greater focus on academics – “It helped me a lot being without a phone; I got all my homework done faster.” Some talked about reading physical books – “I read an entire book. It’s been six years since I read one just for enjoyment.”
The researchers who conducted the study believe that this type of experience makes young people think about their digital excesses. Lorena Vargas told us in a phone interview that her nights are all about TikTok. Before you go to sleep, it allows the app’s algorithm to randomly present comedy and dance videos that you watch for about four hours. “I live with three roommates. We talk a bit after dinner and then we all go to our own rooms. I haven’t watched TV in years.” She started reading novels and articles again during her week without a phone, and now she only spends two hours a night on social media. We ask – do you think it will last? “Well, I really don’t know,” she says.
During her week without a phone, Vargas was oblivious to current events. “The news comes to you on your phone, so you don’t have to look for it,” she said. Most of the participants said that buying a newspaper is a “waste”, because they spend money on something that happened in the past when the latest news was freely available on the Internet.
Joint Reuters Institute and Oxford University Digital News Report 2022 Over 93,000 consumer interviews in 46 countries. He warns traditional media of the challenges they will continue to face in attracting new generations to their content, and pushing them to do so. The average subscriber age is currently 47, and new subscribers under the age of 30 represent a small portion of the market in countries such as the UK (8%) and the US (17%). The report notes that young people find it difficult to understand the language used by traditional media and ways of telling stories. The use of TikTok as a source of information increased from 3% in 2020 to 15% in 2022. TikTok viewers enjoy more official, more, and more diverse content, as well as live video.
The Intergovernmental Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report in 2021 entitled:21st Century Readers: Developing Literacy Skills in a Digital World. When 15-year-old students were asked if they had difficulty identifying biased information, 46% of Spanish students reported having received school training on how to determine whether information was reliable. This was lower than the 54% average for countries OECD surveyed.In Australia, Canada, Denmark and the United States, more than 70% of teens said they had received such training in school.When asked if students were able to distinguish between facts and opinions, 41% of Spaniards said yes, Compared to an average of 47% for OECD countries.
But for some young people, giving up their smartphone for a week wasn’t critical. What she misses most is the lack of GPS, Amparo Garcia said. “It was a big drama… I had to print a map!” She says she slept great without having to answer her Whatsapp group messages. This app and voice calls consume most of the 4 hours she spends on her phone per day. “When I turned it on again, I got 700 unread messages from 140 conversations. That’s what takes up most of my time – we’re not all glued to social media.”
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