Cut Off

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    Just the thought of walking to class without a cell phone to talk on or an iPod to listen to makes a shiver run up their spines.They get to class, and there is a computer staring them in the face. They can’t surf the Internet or read junk e-mails.

    Some may think, “Is this kind of life really worth living?”

    Worth it or not, four TCU students did it for a day – and lived to tell the tale.

    Relying on cell phones, the Internet, instant messenger, e-mails and even TV to communicate with others has become a staple – some say a necessity – for TCU students – and after four students took the challenge of going a day without these conveniences, most said they would not survive long-term at TCU without them.

    “Now our life is made easier through the Internet and cell phones,” said Ryan Thomas, a senior religion major. “Certain things you can go without for a certain period of time, but eventually you have to use it because things go by so fast.”

    He said TCU students have a lot they need to accomplish in relatively little time, and technological devices allow them to work more quickly.

    Thomas had given up the Internet for this study when the university was closed Feb. 19.

    “I had to walk over to see if the Rickel was open,” Thomas said. “It’s a five- to 10-minute walk, while it would take 30 seconds to look it up on the Internet.”

    Time was also an issue for senior modern dance major Amy Jo Berto when she gave up her cell phone – but in a different way.

    “What was actually hardest was that I didn’t have (my cell phone) with me to tell the time,” Berto said. “It was hard that my phone was off, and I didn’t have that luxury.”

    Berto said she usually talks on her cell phone as she walks to class and was able to appreciate her surroundings more without it.

    “I didn’t say, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a tree there that I’ve never seen there before;’ I’m not completely zoned out when I’m on the phone,” Berto said. “I can still look at what is going on around me – I was just more aware without it.”

    Berto said living without her cell phone for the day would have been harder if she hadn’t told those who call her regularly they would not be able to reach her, but she did have a problem when a faculty member could not reach her to confirm a meeting the two had together that day.

    “(My teacher) e-mailed me about it, but I hadn’t e-mailed back,” Berto said. “This caused her to worry. Lack of communication wasn’t a problem until we couldn’t communicate to fix it.”

    Krista Jennings, a sophomore ballet, modern dance and English major, said she had a problem being without her cell phone when she went to the Health Center for medical attention but could not call her mother to tell her.

    “If it had been more serious, it probably would have been more of an issue,” Jennings said. “It’s easier if you live here. I couldn’t use a land line to call my family without (it costing) lots of money.”

    Jennings said that with her family living in Georgia, her cell phone is an essential item for her to keep in touch.

    Similarly, Berto is from Washington, and said she used calling cards to call home until she started dating someone from her home state and began calling back there more often.

    “I only got my cell phone last year when I came back for junior year,” Berto said. “It was mainly because I started dating Jon, and Mom realized we were probably going to spend a lot of money on calling cards.”

    Thomas said he remembers back in high school when it cost a lot more money to have a cell phone.

    “In high school people had them, but it wasn’t a necessity,” Thomas said. “It used to just be who had the money for them, but now we need them in case of emergencies and to save time.”

    He said phones and calling plans are cheaper now, so more people can afford a cell phone. Since more people have them, students have become more dependent on them and now cannot function the as well without them, he said.

    Without cell phones, the students participating in the experiment expressed frustration because they could not communicate with their friends to make plans.

    “The only way I would have been able to get in touch with someone would be to see them on the way home – I wouldn’t have seen anyone out that late,” Jennings said, as she recounted her walk home from dance rehearsal at 10 p.m.

    Berto and Jennings said TV was a form of communication that was easy to go without.

    Both, however, said they had experiences where they would have had to cut themselves out of communication with their peers who were watching a TV show in order to avoid the communications from advertisers.

    Avoiding communication is exactly what an iPod allows students to do as they walk to class sporting little white plugs in their ears.

    Jennings said she is less obsessive about her iPod now than when she first got it, but that she missed having it in the down times of her day.

    Cameron Summers, a junior engineering major, was the only one of the four students who said the modes of communication TCU students use are not a necessity.

    “It’s definitely easier to be at TCU and have all this stuff, but you don’t need it,” Summers said.

    He said he could not give up his cell phone for the experiment because his lifestyle depends on it, but Summers said if he had never had it, he could get along with using a land line, driving or walking to reach friends just the same.

    “As many times as they wouldn’t be able to get in touch with me on a land line they wouldn’t be able to reach me when I couldn’t answer my cell phone,” Summers said.

    Regardless of necessity, most college students are using computers, cell phones and other means of technology to communicate, and they are paying big bucks to do so.

    According to the National Retail Federation’s 2005 Back-to-College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, college students or their parents were projected to spend $8.2 billion on electronics, including cell phones, computers, laptops, organizers and calculators, as students headed back to college this year.

    Although business may be booming for those who sell electronics, others are scrambling to keep up with the effects the gadgets are having on the way college students communicate.

    The dependence on technology for communication is causing problems for marketers, said Robert Largen, an adjunct instructor in the Schieffer School of Journalism who also works in marketing.

    Largen called today’s college students “the gener@ion.”

    “They basically are a group that’s continually online – they’re always connected,” Largen said.

    He said the gener@ion is less predictable in its media habits and has caused a shift in control of communication from the marketers’ hands to the consumers’ hands since people can now consume information in many different ways and on many different time schedules.

    He said he studies the media habits of young people to find out how the group wants and needs to be communicated with, in order to launch effective marketing strategies for the demographic.

    Largen said technology has made today’s college students independent.

    “They’re dependent on the technology, but because it allows them to cast such a large net, they’re not dependent on any one source – they can make their own choices,” Largen said.

    He compared giving up the modes of modern communication for a day to giving up speaking and hearing for a day.

    “It’s almost like going into solitary confinement,” Largen said.

    Although they did it for a day, the students involved in the experiment said going without their means of communication made life at TCU hard.

    Years ago people might not have imagined a society so interconnected through technology, but now it’s just a way of life.