Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Student Instant Message Use in a Ubiquitous Computing Environment: Effects of Deficient Self-Regulation

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Student Instant Message Use in a Ubiquitous Computing Environment: Effects of Deficient Self-Regulation

Article excerpt

People who spend increasing amounts of time in digital communication may be neglecting face-to-face relationships or other responsibilities. Some also may be developing unhealthy behavior patterns related to Internet use (Kandell, 1998; Kraut et al., 1998; Wood & Smith, 2001). Excessive Internet use may be a particular problem among college students (Anderson, 2001; Scherer, 1997).

One type of online activity that is growing faster than the Internet itself is instant messaging (IM)--"near-synchronous computer-based one-on-one communication" (Nardi, Whittaker, & Bradner, 2000, p. 2). IM programs allow users to conduct real-time text communication sessions online. A primary user demographic for IM includes teens and young adults (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001; McNulty, 2003). In addition to assessment of problematic Internet use generally, previous research has focused on certain online activities and synchronous applications (Anderson, 2001; Kraut et al., 1998; Kraut et al., 2002; Kubey, Lavin, & Barrows, 2001; LaRose & Eastin, 2002; Nie & Erbring, 2000; Scherer, 1997), but has yet to focus specifically on instant messaging. This study takes a first look at the IM phenomenon.

A fundamental challenge for researchers has been the development of a theoretical framework to utilize in the study of effects from what has often been termed media "addiction." Studies of media attendance have recently recognized additional, specific uses and gratifications when studying factors that lead to "addiction" to interactive media such as the Internet, including interpersonal communication, relationship maintenance, persuading others, social development, and social maintenance (LaRose, Lin, & Eastin, 2003; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Instant messaging involves focused interactivity, providing few of the traditional escape, entertainment, and content-based, information-oriented uses. Those traditional uses are provided only as users input messages as part of their mediated interpersonal interaction, which occurs spontaneously in the IM environment. IM serves a function as a conduit, like the telephone, not as a provider of content. Because IM seems to offer functions as a medium quite disparate from that of more frequently studied media like television, we examine the question of how conditions resulting from content-rich television or Internet "addiction" might be reflected among those who fail to regulate their IM usage effectively. Specifically, we examine how heavy use, deficient self-regulation, and dependence on instant messaging can lead to preoccupation with the IM medium, and loss of control in other areas of life. We begin with a look at past media addiction research, then turn to theoretical explanations for re-characterizing addiction as deficient self-regulation.

Studying Media "Addiction"

Educators and researchers have long hypothesized the potentially addictive nature of human interaction with the technology of television (Foss & Alexander, 1996; Himmelwait, Oppenheim, & Vince, 1958; McIlwraith & Jacobvitz, 1991; McLuhan, 1978; Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961; Smith, 1986; Steuer & Hustedt, 2002; Winn, 1977). More recent studies have probed for the existence of addiction to the Internet (Anderson, 2001; Kraut et al., 1998; Kraut et al., 2002; Kubey, et al,, 2001; Shapira, Goldsmith, Keck, Khosla, & McElroy, 2000). Anecdotal information from the college at which this study was conducted suggested that use of instant message software (IM) among students was quite high, and that students frequently described their use of IM by saying, "I'm addicted." Although the concept of addiction has been associated with IM by the popular press (Kwiatkowski, 2001; Woods, 2001) and by users of the software, it has not been studied scientifically. Also, utilization of the term is problematic. Clinically, addiction has been associated with habitual patterns of behavior with destructive consequences, initially to substance abuse (alcohol and drugs), then to a variety of non-drug behaviors such as eating disorders and gambling. …

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