Wednesday, September 28, 2005

We swim in an ocean of media

The Christian Science Monitor is well-known for its thoughtful approach to the news, often carrying stories that are worth a moment of quiet reflection. In this moment of overheated, breathless coverage—Louisiana's situation is serious, but no longer really "exciting" and it is wearisome to watch the media pretend otherwise—it is very comforting to read a typically sensible Christion Science Monitor story.

The story, "We swim in an ocean of media" takes a look at a Ball State study, a study in the famous Middletown tradition of studying how we really live and what we do day to day that has long been a staple of sociology. It documents just how much we modern folks live in an environment of electronic media. A couple of things are interesting about the study. The headline message was that we spend a lot of time with media; two thirds of our our waking hours, in fact.

About 30 percent of their waking hours were found to be spent using media exclusively, while another 39 percent involved using media while also doing another activity, such as watching TV while preparing food or listening to the radio while at work. Altogether, more than two-thirds of people's waking moments involved some kind of media usage.

And that is pretty impressive. To the exent that the sort of people we are is defined by the environment to which we adapt we are not the same sort of people our great grandparents were.

However, the article strains to make a fairly unconvincing point of "multitasking," having more than one media going at a time--doing something else while the TV is on is most of what fall s into this category. In my experience people who are talking on the phone, for instance, while the TV is on are NOT multitasking, they are ignoring either the TV or the phone.

Probably the thing that strikes me as more important is that the studies assume a broad definition of media, including interactive media like cell phones with more traditional media like TV. The studies show that a passive media like TV is often paired with an active one (like computing or talking on the phone). The active forms, especially in the form of computing appear to be on the upswing with more and more people spending time in active/interactive forms of media. People are making and participating more. As more bandwidth and computing power become available usage appears to be shifting towward activity-based forms of media. Lafayette's fiber-optic utility will accelerate the rate at which bandwidth and computing power is made affordable.

It's likely Lafayette's children, who will have more earlier, who will chart a path toward changing media from a passive into an interactive/making experience. It should be very interesting to watch. It's not Muncie, but Lafayette that I would study were I interested in the future of media.

Worth reflecting on.

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