Young people are now so addicted to their mobile phones it feels like they have lost a limb when they are without them, a study finds.
Some said they feel so bereft without their iPhone or Blackberry that it evokes similar feelings to the “phantom limb” syndrome suffered by amputees.
The findings, by the University of Maryland, show the growing reliance that the younger generation has on technology and how it has become central to their lives.
While phones were the most essential device, other technology such as computers, MP3 players and televisions were also considered essential to get people through their day.
Many young people reported mental and physical symptoms of distress and “employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression,” when reporting their experiences of trying to go unplugged for a full day.
“Students talked about how scary it was, how addicted they were,” said Professor Susan Moeller, who led the project
“They expected the frustration. But they didn’t expect to have the psychological effects, to be lonely, to be panicked, the anxiety, literally heart palpitations.”
The study titled “The World Unplugged project” asked more than 1,000 students from 10 countries around the world, including Britain, to go without any media for 24 hours and monitored their feelings.
Prof Moeller said that more than 50 per cent of students failed to go the full 24 hours and everyone claimed to suffer some kind of withdrawal symptoms.
Ryan Blondino, a student at the University of Maryland who participated, compared the experience of going without digital technology to missing a limb.
“I felt something very similar to a phantom limb, only it would be like phantom cellphone,” he said.
“I still felt like my phone was vibrating and I was receiving messages even though I didn’t have it on me.”
A student from the UK said: “Media is my drug. Without it I was lost. I am an addict.”
The study found few differences in the way students used and relied on digital technology in different countries, despite those countries’ huge differences in economic development, culture and political governance.
It concludes that most college students, whether in developed or developing countries, are strikingly similar in how they use media – and how ‘addicted’ they are to it.
They all used virtually the same words to describe their reactions, including: Fretful, Confused, Anxious, Irritable, Insecure, Nervous, Restless, Crazy, Addicted, Panicked, Jealous, Angry, Lonely, Dependent, Depressed, Jittery and Paranoid.
In effect, cell phones have become this generation’s security blanket.”
The report was published by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda.