Changes and Revelations

Has Anything Changed?

What is new media? From one of the new media itself, Wikipedia, comes a succinct definition: “New media refers to on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, and creative participation. Another aspect of new media is the real-time generation of new and unregulated content.” Throughout this discussion, the terms technology, new media, and media are used somewhat interchangeably, more as concepts than actual concrete things.

Before the discussion gets intense, I should disclose several things. First, I’ve been aware of and disgusted by the fact that I have slowly been losing the ability to control my new media usage. I’ve been making a conscious effort to do one thing at a time and never, I mean never, be on my phone when eating with someone or engaging in conversation. I am also aware of, and am actively trying to combat, the fact that new media kills my ability to focus. Those are the baselines I’m working with. Back to the paper.

New Media is something I used, and continue to use, probably more than I should. As an AD/PR major hoping to work in a fast-paced environment in a neurotic and frenetic city like Chicago, I have been told to be “always on.” This has lead to problems in the past-not paying attention when I should have, degradation of my ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and even the dreaded shortness of breath that comes with a ton of anxiety. The problem is that being “always on” has severely hampered my ability to get anything done. Is there a way to balance all this?

My approach for the new media diet was simple: try and reduce my unproductive new media usage by 50%. Unproductive refers to time spent doing things that don’t have a tangible benefit, such as Netflix. This should have been pretty easy – I have a fair amount of “free” time now that I’m not working 60-hour weeks, and a lot of that free time was being used on mindless new media consumption. Cellphone games, Internet browsing, and Netflix, oh dreaded and beautiful Netflix, were all contributing to my problems. I thought that reducing the amount of time I spent using new media simply to use them would lead to a more productive and positive lifestyle.

Did my approach work? Unfortunately, this project came at a bad time. I purchased the new IPhone 6 right in the middle of this project (as a result of switching cell phone plans), and the corresponding increase in time spent on Apple’s wonder device destroyed the progress I had made in my other areas of new media consumption. While I did spend less time watching Netflix and randomly perusing Al Gore’s greatest creation, I had the brushed aluminum, Siri-enabled, Gorilla Glass beauty to explore.

Did my overall media usage change? Yes. I worked out the distribution of the time I spend awake each day, and figured out that before I became more aware of my media usage, I spent about two to three hours of my daily six-hour free time on new media. That lead to posture problems and even problems with my eyesight. During and after the project, I became much more aware of the time I spend every day, and managed to cut down media usage in my free-time by about 50%.

During the project, I did think quite a bit about my relationship with new media, and the way I use technology overall. While reading Rushkoff’s book, several big topics stood out (and not just because they are earlier chapters): Time, Place, and Complexity all resonated with me.

Reading more about our tendency to always have a device within arm’s reach, or always have a computer screen up and running, is terrifying. Instead of being able to use our devices for productive things, we have become conditioned to respond to every buzz, blip, and beep these metallic creations throw at us. Over the summer, when I was working a desk job at Baxter International in the suburbs, I was always on. I felt like I had to respond to every email instantaneously, which severely hampered my ability to focus on one thing. My sense of time all but disappeared-I’d look up from my inbox or project to see that four or eight hours had passed (six hours actually passed once, it was a weird day). My sense of what’s truly important had also been lost – responding to Facebook messages was prioritized more than reading the news, and reading about cool new consumer products on Flipboard’s panels took time away from observing nature or sat on public transportation.

This sense of place, of being physically in one place, but also being mentally and digitally in entirely separate worlds, was hard to notice, but once I did, I was saddened by what I found. My friends and I had a hard time actually talking to each other. Conversation suffers because we have our devices out. We want to be current and up to date on everything, often at the expense of actually knowing the full story (the complexity problem). Simply being in one place in every capacity has become a chore. We feel like we’re missing out on some aspect of our lives if we aren’t engaged in multiple spaces. This lead to a huge question I have, which is still unanswered.

Is there a way to use new media and technology, and use them well and engage in our digital society, without actually becoming ingrained in it? Can I retain the core of being a person with human friendships while still participating in a society that places less and less value on human interaction, and more and more value in Twitter and Facebook?

When I worked with public relations practitioners from Fleishman-Hillard this summer (my dream job), I observed their habits and the way their job panned out. Gathering intelligence for my potential career. What I found didn’t excite me. They were always on, always working, their phones always pinging, their client always wanting more information and time and work. Can I do that? The tentative answer I found, at least for now, is to rethink the way I view my time and sense of self. As of now, I don’t have anything too important depending on me. I don’t have a company to run, a crisis center that needs 24/7 guidance, or really anything that will come screeching to a halt if I step away for a little while. Realizing that fact, and marrying it with the realization that there really isn’t any tangible benefit to being up to date with my friend’s Facebook and Twitter feeds was a huge discovery.

Nick Carr writes in his 2008 article, Is Google Making us Stupid, about our tendency to go for the easiest possible route to information, and that it might be making us less experiential and thoughtful as a species. This ties in with Rushkoff’s discussion of complexity perfectly. Google and its incredible power make any discussion a discussion of facts, instead of thoughts and discovery when new information is found. There is something rewarding abut finding a book using Loyola’s library system, then physically moving up steps, in and out of dust-covered stacks of books, till you find the cracked and battered book, and then spend minutes, or even an hour or two until the perfect quote has revealed itself, the information has been divulged and understanding is reached. Quantitative and qualitative skills are engaged, and one’s ability to think is bettered. Now, Google provides answers within literal milliseconds (depending on your Wi-Fi connection), and all of the process disappears. You are left with a fact, and that fact is often a simplified version of a larger issue. What you do with that information without the experiential nature of finding it seems cheaper as a result of its ease.

During the project, I think my relationships improved. By being aware of the fact that technology was hampering interpersonal contact, I stopped using technology in those situations. I don’t really have a way to quantify this, as I didn’t make my friends and acquaintances fill out analysis sheets about my “friend quality,” but I legitimately think I was more attentive, more aware, and most importantly more human, with the people around me.

This awareness also manifested in some annoying ways. Living so close to the Lakeshore campus has its perks, such as being able to walk to class in less than five minutes, but it also means that I live in an area full of 18-22 year olds. That isn’t real life. People walk around with their heads hunched over whatever device they are currently holding, and not many people are aware of their surroundings. I literally saw someone walk into a sign several weeks ago because he was engrossed in his IPhone. I thought that only ever happened in Loony Tunes cartoons…

Doing things like the Media Diet Project, and then actually having an actionable item or plan for change, is an absolute necessity as we develop new ways to entertain and distract ourselves digitally. Understanding that we are people using these things as tools, and not as replacements for our lives, is key to keeping our sense of self, of individuality. Maybe then we can return the Internet to the idyllic paradise it’s supposed to be, and not the current bastion of intolerance and walled gates it has become.

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Even the Best Laid Plans Go Awry

I’ve been worried about my media consumption for quite a while. Countless articles decrying screen usage, promising bad eyesight, broken posture, and a degradation of the ability to focus will do that. This media diet project was a chance to change, to improve, to rediscover the physical interactions I had lost.

Then I got the Iphone 6. Now, before you stop reading because, I mean, who can complain about Apple’s new shiny toy, let me explain. My family has been trying to switch from Sprint for a while now. In Kansas City, we live ten minutes from Sprint’s worldwide headquarters. Yet, do we get service? No. Anything was better than Sprint, and we happened to switch to AT&T this week. One side effect was that new phones came with new contracts-Iphone 6 here we come!

iphone 6

Unfortunately for my media diet project, the Iphone 6 had an impact. Not that large of an impact, but an impact nonetheless. Time I had intended to spend socializing, exercising, reading was instead spent acclimatizing myself to Apple from Android, transferring odds and ends, and playing with my shiny new toy.

However, certain things did occur. Up to this point, I had simply been worried about my new media usage. I hadn’t ever sat down and taken the time to actually calculate the hours, minutes, and seconds I spent using new media every day, whether the usage was productive or not.

  • I realized how much time I actually have every day (soon to be visualized in a wicked sweet i infographic)
  • I realized how much time I waste every day. This actually made me mad-after working for most of my waking hours this summer, coming back to school has been an adjustment. These past few days made me realize how quickly I’ve fallen back into habits that are simply ways to burn through excess time.
  • Making a concerted effort to interact with people on a human basis every day vastly improves my mood. I have had a string of “good days,” days where I had energy, was happy, and was productive-one was even a Monday.
  • Conversely, the project made me incredibly more aware of people, many of my friends included, who are more focused on the latest inane way to fake social interactions. Quick example: when I went to hangout with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, his phone consumed the interaction. What did I do? I left, and was very vocal about why. The outcome? Well, besides being called some names not fit for print, was actually an apology, and a promise to be more “with it” next time (not what I expected at all).

The outcome? Stay tuned. The cool infographics-up soon.

Revision of Media Diet

For the experimentation project, I would like to slightly revise, and specify, what exactly I will be doing.

This week is an especially busy week-between midterms, papers, articles, and other school and student activity related things, reducing digital usage is not possible. However, what I will be doing is trying to reduce my non-productive new media usage by 50%.

50%. Just half. This consists of things like Netflix, phone games, anything that doesn’t contribute to a cause or assignment.

How will I track this? Via web tracking apps I’ve installed in my browsers, and the timer function on my phone.

How will this go? By Thursday, we will see.

Delving Into Skimming

Out of all of the patterns, feelings, and findings that I’ve noticed through tracking my media usage, I want to zero in on one: my “New Media ADD.” I realize that ADD is a disorder that does affect people’s lives, so from here on out, I will be calling this “skimming.”

To me, skimming is my tendency to jump from website to website, article to article, picture to picture, without ever actually doing anything deeper than looking.

From my observations, I do this quite a bit. If I truly read all the things I click on, and digested them as well, I would have an astoundingly large knowledge base, and I would win at trivia anywhere. I do not do have that base (yet), and I am only halfway decent at trivia. Instead, I read a bit, then my focus lags, and I jump to the newer, shinier article or website.

What this means for me, not only in my use of new media, is that my ability to focus, to truly look at something in depth and try to get a deeper meaning, is losing its power. I’ve noticed that this spills over into all facets of my life, even this blog post-I have espnfc.com up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I am losing the ability to think on one thing, and one thing only, for sustained periods of time. My mind wanders, and my thoughts become a jumbled, un-organized mess.

To test this, I am going to be making a conscious effort to focus on singular items, and, if I can find the software to do it, restrict me from navigating to new links until at least one minute has passed. If this works, which hopefully it will, I will have regained some of the ability to focus and analyze that I’ve felt myself losing over the past couple of years. I propose to test, and improve, my mental clarity by restricting web usage to a more orderly form.

Preliminary Summary and Other Thoughts

After observing my new media usage for several weeks, no big epiphany has arisen, no radical changes in my behavior have come about, and I have not died and been reborn a new man, baptized in the blue glow of my Apple laptop. However, I have come to understand more about the way I consume media, and what it means for my mind.

The biggest surprise is the extent of my new media ADD. For about a year, I’ve noticed that it’s been getting harder and harder to focus, especially when I’m perusing the Internet or using anything digitally. Reading books is difficult (until I’m about fifteen minutes in), class can be a nightmare, especially if computers are allowed in the classroom, and even my personal relationships have suffered, as my friends and I whip our phones out of our pockets at a moment’s notice. This needs to change. I need to slowly reverse media skimming into media digesting, media thinking, media deep-reading.

The patterns I’ve observed in my media documentation look something like this: check out sports information across about five different sources, which all link to other sources, and so on, until I find myself in a weird corner of the Internet looking at potential rap names for college athletes; quick jump to tech blogs for the newest Iphone and Android rumors, with some emerging tech and unique design mixed in for color and diversity; reading the news of the world, Wall Street Journal marketplace and market trends, more news until I get depressed reading about the Middle East and Russia; finally, a quick scroll through Facebook to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This is the pattern I have observed most often about my web usage, and, despite some deviations for school and other obligations, this pattern has stayed consistent for several weeks. Now that I know it’s the pattern, will it change? Will I change it?

Because I’ve been tracking my usage, and related feelings and details, I can overwhelmingly say that a majority of my new media usage is a response to boredom. After any bit of homework has been done, the Loyola Sakai site has been accessed (and ignored until later), I don’t do anything of quantifiable value on the Web. Over the summer, I was on LinkedIn, I emailed constantly for business connections and conversations of value, I learned the basics of html and CSS coding in my spare time, and I generally just did things that helped me mentally, in my career, and increased my knowledge base. Now, and this is a bit of a response to no longer working 60 hour weeks, I have a lot more spare time, and my browsing time has increased in the same proportion. Whether this is my wakeup call to find a new hobby, (or hobbies), start training for a marathon, or simply do something more productive with my newfound spare time, I’m not sure. However, what I do know is that there is only so much mindless browsing I can tolerate before my brain switches off.

This brings me to my next point-gratification. One of the best parts of using the web, and new media, is that you can find just about anything. Whereas you used to have to read a newspaper for football scores, you can now check ESPN. When you used to want sources on the rights of indigenous people in Latin America, that meant an afternoon at the library with an increasingly more frustrated librarian. Now, there is Google scholar. Gratification. Instant gratification. However, while you can access almost anything in real time now, there is a weird feeling after you do, or at least after I do. That feeling is called a lack of effort, a “what do I do now?” kind of feeling. Do I feel gratified after using new media? Yes. Does it last? No.

Generally, I am most active on new media in my free time. This seems like an oxymoron, and it is. When I have time, I use new media. This, however, is time I could spend socializing, exercising, reading, or generally doing more productive things. I spend quite a bit of time on new media when I should be, or when I am, studying. This is where new media actually becomes a hindrance-when I am trying to get things done and I can’t focus. Like right now-I have a couple wired.com articles open in other tabs that are calling my name. This is the lack of focus, the “New Media ADD” if you will, that I have been referencing.

How will this change in the coming weeks? Well, the next post should summarize my approach.

Walkthrough Time

After I had taken some notes, and done some reflecting on my use of new media, I had my friend Peter sit in while I went over a typical usage session of new media with him. Before I go further, I should note that I am an extremely fast reader, which can skew perception of my reading habits if not made apparent.

When going through my media usage, and talking out loud to another human being about the way I use the Internet, I realized how worthless a fair amount of my browsing actually was. The content itself wasn’t worthless, but I was reading out of a desire to be busy, to do things, instead of out of a desire to actually learn information, synthesize it, and then utilize what I had learned in a productive way. I wasn’t using the Internet the way it ideally should be used, instead, I was a dreaded “time-waster.”

When I walked Peter through my facebook usage, this is where it got interesting. I made sure to note the specific people I actually was interested in, which made me realize that my several hundred friends weren’t actually my “friends.” Also, this is probably something everyone who uses Facebook has thought about at some point, so it isn’t necessarily the most unique, but this was the first time I had actually vocalized the meaningless relationships I had built on this digital platform.

However, when talking through my Facebook usage, a notification popped up from a chat I had ongoing with an old friend who is actually in Italy. That was meaningful. New statuses about someone’s crazy weekend or random musings that link to the dreaded “10 things you didn’t know about x” were garbage, and I realized they were when I vocalized my long-buried opinion of that particular slice of information.

The most interesting part about the walkthrough was that it felt so slow. Mind-numbingly slow. I’m used to surfing the web and interacting at warp speed, so to sit down and articulate my thoughts was an exercise in patience and restraint.

This was a great exercise, and I might do it again in the near future.

Video Capture Observations

Using Camtasia, I recorded my Internet browsing one afternoon.

The results were what I expected, but magnified.

I knew I have new media ADD, but I didn’t realize how quickly I was trying to process articles and information before moving on to the next thing. I have a habit of going to a website, and opening interesting articles in new tabs to read later. During the recording session, at one point I actually had 29 tabs open. I didn’t capture sound, but I’m sure I was whining about the Internet loading slowly.

The way my eyes moved was also one of the most interesting parts of the recording session. Traditionally, I read everything fully, the way you would read a book. However, when I was using new media, I looked like I was either skimming what was on my screen, or reading in an “F” pattern, where I was reading less and less as I scrolled down.

I have referenced “New Media ADD,” and I want to go into this for clarification. Basically, I can normally focus on something until I’ve finished it, or at least gotten what I want out of it. What I saw in the Camtasia capture was that was not the case. I would skim an article, or just scroll for a page or two, then jump to something else, repeat, then jump to something else. Nothing there, at least to me, seems like a focused individual using the Internet and his computer for something productive or transactional-based.

I will be using Camtasia again soon, and I expect to notice some new insights moving forward.

Fieldnote Observations

The most interesting part about this assignment is that I have done something like this since May of 2014. I worked for a healthcare corporation in the communications department, and I would allot myself a little time every day for random Internet cruising. I’d check ESPN, news, and several other approved sites, but I had to note how much time I was on each, because I actually had real work to get back to.

This project has made me more aware of the way I consume new media, and media in general.

Several observations:

  • I have social media ADD. I have never been a huge fan of facebook, but I check it about ten times a day to see if anything has happened in groups I am a part of, as well as to see what people are up to. Nothing transactional, just curiosity. However, each of these “checks” takes no more than two minutes. I skim, then exit.
  • I read a ton of sports information. From soccer blogs, to espnfc.com, to the depths of reddit for breaking news, funny clips, and weirdly intense discussions, I read a ton about soccer. I get my fair share of NBA and NFL action from ESPN and other sources, but I constantly am updating my base sport knowledge, often out of boredom more than actual curiosity. Interestingly, I use the fantasy football app on my phone more than I do on my computer, despite the huge drop off in user-friendliness and complexity.
  • I’ve noticed that very few people seem to be aware of the way they use media. I have been trying to cut down on computer usage lately, and have been trying to read more books, but I feel as if I’m one of very few. I read the paper on the bus, and literally, literally, every single person is on their phone. This made me feel prematurely old (I’m 20, and old people are using their cell phones while I’m reading the Wall Street Journal).
  • I am mainly a transactional type new media person. I have long been an avid reader, and my eyes genuinely hurt after a day of looking at screens. Because of this, I try to make sure that when I am on a screen, I am doing something that will help me, or at least use the medium for a purpose. Facebook for messaging people, sports blogs to talk about with friends or use in fantasy football, or tech sites to figure out what my next big purchase will be. Funny image sites, (besides tickld.com), or buzzfeed don’t feature in my new media rotation.

As I take more fieldnotes, and delve more deeply into my media usage, I’m sure I’ll come across new findings, but as of now, this is just preliminary musing.