Counselling in a Digital World

Posted by: Dawn Schell on April 14, 2011 3:47 pm

“Your assignment is to find a 24-hour period during which you can pledge to give up all media: no Internet, no newspapers or magazines, no TV, no mobile phones, no iPod, no music, no movies, no Facebook, Playstation, video games, etc..”

[visualizing the reactions of students when they were given this assignment – gasp, gulp, shudder, heart racing, palms sweating]  You want me to do what? But what will I do?

How do you feel when you hear about this assignment? Relieved? Anxious?  Curious?

Recently, almost 1,000 students from 10 countries were asked to complete this assignment.  Once they had gone through a media-free 24-hour period they wrote about their experiences.  And write they did.  Close to half a million words.  They wrote about how difficult it was for them to live for 24 hours media-free, how they felt “addicted” to media and how anxious/depressed/bored/lonely they felt without media.

If you have not yet heard about or seen this study you can check it out here:

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the impact of media on students.  I know it’s not a representative study but it is telling. 

Highlights from the study that seem relevant to me:

First – A number of participants, and the news stories, used the word “addiction” to describe the level of student attachment to media.

While the study is clear that the word is not being used in the clinical sense it shows the depth of dependence on media.

Second – “Students around the world reported that being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit, it is essential to the way they construct and manage their friendships and social lives.”  Another related finding was that some students were surprised by how much their relationships were “dominated by media”.

Which makes me wonder –  How does this change ideas about what it means to be “in relationship” and our understanding of boundaries?

Third – “Students construct different ‘brand’ identities for themselves by using different communication tools to reach different types of people.”

This raises some interesting questions for me around which type of communication tool makes most sense in providing counselling online.  For example, would counselling by text work if students feel it’s a tool they only use for close friends?

Fourth – “For many students, going without media for 24 hours ripped back the curtain on their hidden loneliness.”

This finding didn’t surprise me at all. Think about how rare silence is in our society.  Many people use the ‘noise’ of daily living to distract them from feeling.  No surprise that students would use technology that way.

Implications for counsellors in a digital world?

It seems to me that, as counsellors, we need to at least understand media, how the people we counsel use it, and the role it has in their lives and relationships.

What do you think?

Well, gotta go – phone messages, texts and emails to answer now that my 24 hours is up [just kidding].

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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