The Plugged-In College Life

Looking back on their own college days through a haze of nostalgia, adults tend to view that phase of life as carefree. But this isn’t necessarily how today’s students experience it, according to an mtvU/Associated Press survey. And new technology is a mixed blessing for many of them.

When asked about “how things are going in your life in general,” 40 percent said they’re “very happy.” But 41 percent gave their lives a more muted grade of “somewhat happy,” while 8 percent are “neither happy nor unhappy,” 6 percent “somewhat unhappy” and 5 percent “very unhappy.” (The polling was fielded last month among undergraduates age 18-24 at four-year colleges.)

Though severe unhappiness is rare, stress is not. Sixty-three percent said there has been at least one time in the past three months when they were “so stressed that you couldn’t get your school work done”; 62 percent said there has been at least one occasion during that period when they felt “so stressed that you didn’t want to hang out with your friends or participate in social activities.”

Of course, there are friends and there are “friends” for today’s students. Ninety percent said they’ve visited a social-networking site in the past week. Among those who’ve ever used one, 70 percent report having at least 200 social-networking friends. And yet, 51 percent said they would feel comfortable sharing very personal details of their lives with “very few of them.”

More broadly, 28 percent said increased use of technology “has made it harder to feel close to people,” while 54 percent said this has “made it easier.” (Most of the rest said it has had no impact.) It’s partly their own fault, judging from the number of students who confessed they have used technology to avoid face-to-face conversation with others (see the chart below).

What about “unplugging from technology” altogether? Taking that drastic step would make 57 percent of respondents feel more stressed and 25 percent feel less so.