Media over-consumption

Thanks to technology like laptops and my iPhone, I unquestionably consume far more media than in the past, and with much greater immediacy. When you look back, it’s amazing how much and how quickly things have changed, and how much more complex our (multi-)media lives are today.

1990: the dark ages?

For instance, in my university days in the early nineties, the only way I could catch up with the weekend’s NFL results and reports was to either phone a premium rate line which would play a crackly, recorded summary or to wait for the Monday edition of USA Today or the International Herald Tribune to arrive at WHSmith, typically on Wednesday – three days later. As for TV coverage, that was largely limited to weekly highlights on Channel 4.

Today, I am spoilt for choice. Sky Sports and Five broadcast at least three games live every week, in addition to which I can watch daily NFL Network programming on Sky. I can follow live scores and stats online via PC or my iPhone. And everything I could possibly want to know about what’s happening in the NFL can be found on the NFL website or via a plethora of other online resources. During the season, it’s not uncommon on a Sunday evening to find me sat on the sofa watching one game on Sky and following all the others on our laptop.

It’s a far cry from the comparative media starvation of 20 years ago.

And nowadays you don’t even have to seek out the news – it comes to your PC or smartphone immediately. I use a combination of Google Reader, Twitter and Google Alerts to track websites, people and topics of interest to me, all of which are delivered to my PC/phone without me having to lift a finger. So, for instance, at 6.45 this morning I was already reading a Wall Street Journal article about new doping allegations raised by the disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis – several hours before anyone Stateside will have seen it in the print edition – having seen it flagged on both Twitter and my news feeds.

In the past, it would probably have taken several days for this item – highly significant in cycling, but probably relegated to no more than a two-paragraph sidebar in the mainstream press – to have come to my attention. In our online world, though, such relevant news arrives instantaneously (frequently from multiple sources), and I can easily follow the reactions of mainstream media outlets, bloggers and online community members to the story at the press of a button.

Multi-media multitasking, or media over-consumption?

Gone are the days when the vast majority of our media consumption involved our televisions, whether it was watching Dallas or waiting for the Nine O’Clock News to come on. Nowadays we want it all and we want it now, and even the concept of ‘appointment TV’, where entire families would sit down in front of the box to watch their favourite programme, is fast becoming an outdated concept with the growth of viewing via Sky+, iPlayer and iTunes downloads.

Interestingly, despite the proliferation of alternative media, TV viewing in the UK is increasing, with recent BARB research showing us Brits watch TV for 30 hours a week on average. However, at the same time, we are more likely to be multi-tasking while watching The Apprentice, often consuming other media simultaneously.

That’s certainly true in my case. I reckon I spend about 25 hours in a average week watching TV although, with the exception of live events, it is now almost all time-shifted viewing via Sky+ or (occasionally) iPlayer or one of its brethren. But it is rare for me to be watching TV exclusively, as I will frequently be checking my Facebook or Twitter accounts, or looking up something on our laptop, or one of a million other online or offline activities which only require a small portion of my concentration.

Who says men can’t multitask, eh? (Actually, I did read some research a few weeks ago – which I have subsequently failed to find again – which stated that not only are men capable of multitasking, but they are frequently better than women at it. Obviously it wasn’t written by a woman …)

Having done some quick and dirty maths, my average media consumption looks something like this:

  • TV: 25 hours, a figure which can increase significantly depending on whether there’s any interesting sports coverage on. But I never watch the main news on TV any more – the last time I remember doing that was after the 7/7 bombings.
  • Social networking: 7 hours, primarily Facebook and Twitter, much of it done on my iPhone while narrowly avoiding bumping into lamp-posts and other pavement/road furniture.
  • Websites, news, blogs and other online content: 10 hours, which excludes time spent creating content such as this blog.
  • Radio: 1 hour. I listen to the radio much less than I used to, primarily because I prefer to be in control of what I listen to rather than have it dictated to me by a fixed schedule or someone determining a playlist.
  • Podcasts: 7 hours, the vast majority of it in the car to and from work.

I make that an average of 50 hours per week. Which, given that there are only about 80 hours a week when I am not sleeping or working, underlines just how rarely I enjoy the luxury of consuming one form of media on its own, or doing such mundane non-media things like eating or just, you know, talking to people.

Is this level of media (over-)consumption a good or bad thing? It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, really. As an information junkie with a limited attention span, I love having the world at my fingertips and being able to flit from one thing to another. Has it detrimentally impacted other areas of my life? Not really. With two kids, I don’t exactly have much of a social life anyway, and if anything I’m happier having frequent but fleeting online conversations with friends as I am having occasional but longer phone conversations.

I guess I’m just a product of our times. One who can multitask perfectly well despite the Y chromosome, thanks very much.