I did something a little different for my “media” diary. Rather than track what “goes into my head” via digital media, I tracked what goes into my head — and out of it — via non-digital conversation.
Why would I do such a thing?
So here’s what I did, and what I learned:
Tracking non-digital “conversations”
For the purposes of my tracking, I defined a “conversation” as an exchange among myself and at least one other person in which we all use our actual voices to speak. So in-person and telephone conversations are in, but tweets and emails are out.
For each and every separate conversation I documented over the waking hours of three days (Feb. 11, Feb. 12 and Feb. 15), I tracked a bunch of stuff:
And these are key:
I collected information on 169 separate conversations.
And here’s what I got, by the numbers…
CONVERSATION AT WORK
I was extra curious about the three scales on which I measured the work my conversations were doing — relationship building, enjoyment, and knowledge building — and to what extent they were related to a conversation’s duration, or how immersed I felt I was in each one.
These were subjective, self-reported scales, and fairly uncalibrated. But just for fun, here’s the lowdown:
Now for the fun part. Did longer conversations correlate with higher grades on these scales? How about conversations in which I felt more immersed in the conversation itself, with less preoccupying or distracting me?
Here are a few charts to illustrate an answer to those questions. I claim no statistical significance here, but you can see some trends — especially when you compare immersion with enjoyment…
Just from a walking-around-in-my-own-body standpoint, there’s no question to me, having done this, that I get more out of conversations when I’m able to focus on them, and on the people I’m talking to. That’s really hard, though, and the rewards of great conversations are more rare than I realized.
I do a lot of other things while I talk to people. Walking around, taking notes, eating, looking something up on my phone … Many of my conversations fit in the transitional periods between other activities.
But many of my most enjoyable, longest lasting and knowledge building conversations stayed still somehow. A lunch with a student who inspires me. A one-hour reading lesson with my son. A family dinner at my best friend’s place.
Here’s another interesting tidbit: Of the 169 conversations I tracked over these three days, 15 had been formally scheduled to happen (coffee meetings, a lunch, an interview, etc.). Those I rated, on average, 4.1 on immersion, 2.9 on relationship building, 4.2 on enjoyment and 2.5 on knowledge building — far higher than the total conversation averages listed above.
The attention economy, indeed…
This post is about two things: 1) The arbitrariness of the ways in RescueTime (and I!) define media and 2) the realization that I really need to spend far, far less time looking at screens. (Far, far less.)
I used RescueTime to track my media consumption, but then threw that data into buckets. A few attempts to wrestle through some of the questions I found interesting, below.
News, Entertainment & Social
This first rough slice looks at three categories: the time I spent on news, social and entertainment. I used these categories because RescueTime uses them, but I already see ample space for confusion and critique. We’re already playing in somewhat arbitrary territory, in the sense that the time I spent on BuzzFeed got classified as news consumption, but could possibly have gone into entertainment (was it a listicle? Was the listicle newsworthy?). Meanwhile, BBC America went into news, but I’m pretty sure I spent those 11 minutes looking at Doctor Who action figures. On a more substantive note: there is genuine slippage between categories, here. For example, the “Entertainment” category includes all of YouTube (I didn’t track each video separately, but I almost wish I had). Part of that YouTube time was definitely informational videos about gravitational waves, and part of it was “Last Week Tonight,” a product that easily belongs in more than one category. Meanwhile, most obviously, “Social” is both news and entertainment. In an era when I’ll see Tweets about an earthquake before it appears in the news, I’m genuinely getting breaking news off social media (never mind the more hyperlocal ‘news’ about my friends’ lives.) Finally: let’s stop pretending the news and entertainment are separate. I don’t think that helps anyone.
News, a Breakdown by Source
I found this breakdown interesting. Here I’ve broken down “news” by point of origin, excluding social (ie, FB). The big green slice towards the bottom is blogs. This includes Medium and WordPress sites, and they dwarf any other individual news site. Also, I don’t know what killed news brand loyalty (search? social?) but it’s clearly dead.
Users Versus Big Media
In the news and entertainment categories, I thought it would be interesting to look at media based upon who produced it. This is where it all got interesting. The clunky term “user-generated” (which still roams at large in many newsrooms) is both off-putting and, it turns out, not very useful. The “User-generated” slice here includes everything I watched on YouTube. When I think about the stuff I watch you YT, it includes a ton of Youtube cover bands, makeup tutorials (deal with it), and comedy groups. My point: I spend a lot of time consuming media on YouTube that is produced by neither Big Media nor casual users, but by some in-between professional class of producers whose only distribution mechanism is YouTube. Some of these folks are quite famous, some of them make a comfortable living off what they do on YouTube. But they’re not part of the group of producers we consider Big Media. Meanwhile, User-gen also includes Reddit, which is some strange and uncomfortable hybrid of user-generated and big media.
This chart demonstrates the weirdness of “user-generated” as a term, still further. I’ve got content from Reddit, Blogs (Medium, Medium’s Matter publication, etc) and YouTube all jumbled together in here. None of this is produced by ‘users’ in isolation – even platforms like Reddit and YouTube enjoy massive monopolies over particular types of interaction, and they are hardly small players. They provide development, editing and interaction tools on their platforms, thereby participating in the process of content creation. Therefore, the final product, even on a site like Reddit, is partnership-generated. This content isn’t generated by professional journalists, but we (professional journalists) might be the only people who care about that distinction anymore.
News vs. Telegram
This chart looks depressing, but it’s actually possibly vaguely heartening. Remember up top, when I said I need to spend less time with screens? That’s true, certainly, but it isn’t true that screen time =/= relationship time. In this chart, I juxtapose all the time I spent on news this week against the time I spent on Telegram, the social networking site I use the most. Here’s the interesting part: I only use Telegram to talk to a handful of friends. That means that I spent 6 hours and 52 minutes talking to approximately four friends, online. In a way, this is an homage to relationship-building, isn’t it? Even when I’m online, the #1 thing I’m doing is maintaining relationships with a core group of friends. The most interesting part of all this is that these are the four friends I probably hang out with the most in daily life, too. Interesting? Weird? Cult-ish? Maybe a bit of all three, but at least I feel a little less like an antisocial nutjob.
Print vs. Online
Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact quote, but a few months ago a fairly senior official at a big news publisher made headlines (Tweetlines?) by suggesting that young people will one day get tired of consuming news online and will go back to print newspapers. Whoever he is, wherever he is, this chart is for him.
Video vs. the World
This is another one of those charts I kinda struggled with, but it gets at a distinction I wanted to address. Because I’ve been using RescueTime for a while, very little of what I’ve discovered this week surprises me. That said, I was reminded just how much time I spend watching video content online. (And it’s interesting, because despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still think of myself as a ‘reader’.) What’s interesting is that this statistic might actually underestimate the amount of time I spend watching video, because it doesn’t count the time I spent on, say, a Vox media page watching an embedded video on that page. (‘Video’, here, only counts time on video-specific sites like YouTube or Netflix.) This also raises really interesting questions about video distribution. BuzzFeed makes a ton of money off video. Here’s a quote from an article about their financial statements:
“You have to remember,” Dempsey added, “that BuzzFeed doesn’t operate on any sort of subscription model, is growing at a significantly higher rate versus traditional media companies, and also is doing a lot in their original video content, which is largely viewed outside of BuzzFeed.com, almost making this part of the business more comparable to an original content company vs. digital media publication.”
Part of winning the video play, at least if you’re taking a page out of the BuzzFeed playbook (and who isn’t, these days?), is being seen on aggregators like YouTube and Netflix. How many news publishers are serious about building audience on YouTube (I know what you’re thinking: does John Oliver count?) Meanwhile, if you search Netflix for news, what do you get? Nothing at all.
Note: if the image quality on these charts is lame, I’ve got higher resolution pdfs I can share.
This assignment came at the perfect time – it’s a very very busy month and I really need to improve my media diet. The goal of my media diary is to determine a media consumption routine that is the most productive(towards dissertation research).
Diary: see screenshots below or see interactive diary here
the key: to mimic a hand-drawn feel, I used hatch marks. The messier the mark, the less productive.
total days: 1 – 7, from last Wednesday, I went on a ill-timed vacation
productivity is highest in early – mid morning
overall I am not productive 🙁
I work at the lab or on the train
Parameters: The media I measured are what inputs I get, not what I make(those are tracked in a spreadsheet already).
Collection: After using rescuetime for a few days, I decided against it because it’s automatic recordings didn’t allow me to reflect on what I consumed. The method I found most helpful was to hand record as I go throughout the day. After the first few days, I adapted my notes into a google form(left) so that I can input directly from my phone into a standard format.
The format of my recording results in a spreadsheet with columns for date, time, media, productivity, who I am with, part of day, duration, place, and a short description.
Visualization: I chose this assignment to write a simple reusable visualization module and experiment with opening up visualizations to others on github. Inspired by “Dear Data”, I made a simple spreadsheet to sortable hatch marks visualization.
It is really still a work in progress.
Conclusions: I am pretty predicable. I look at Instagram and online shop throughout the day. I am most productive in the lab, on the train, and in the early mornings.
There is so much I want to do for this visualization. Changing the labels, adding more notes, increasing the clarity with some modifications, and using google spreadsheets directly instead of a downloaded spreadsheet. This repo I made for code in the project is working. (without the key panel)
“Ha, I have to write about my media consumption for last week? Big Deal, I know what I spend my time on.” My impression went roughly in this line when I found out that I had to embark on this crazy self-monitoring endeavor. Little did I know that self-monitoring in this digital age can be strangely cathartic.
My journey started with installing RescueTime in my borrowed MacBook Pro. First warning sign came to me when RescueTime asked me, rather incredulously, if I was in my senses when I marked News and Opinion category as productive. “Really? Most people mark it as distracting” was the website’s wisdom. But what would an impersonal website know about our priorities, we know better right? But the power of perceived monitoring became apparent when I started navigating through my digital life.
Here are some of the insights I got from my three-day digital surveillance: I may have been devouring media, both traditional and social, in my earlier life as a journalist, but as a grad student for last two years, my media consumption went downhill and I may have retracted into my metaphorical cave filled with library books and articles. A.T. Mahan, Halford Mackinder, and other luminaries took the place of Media glitterati in my life. Consequently, the most amount of time I spend either online or offline is devoted to these readings. But self-monitoring proved that this could be a far cry from the truth. I do spend a fair amount of resources (both data and battery power) on both ‘productive activities like checking news sites and ‘distracting’ activities like listening to online music (we certainly have to be current with the Grammys right?) or checking TweetDeck ever-so-often.
It was revealing to me that when time became a precious commodity, Facebook quickly went into the back-burner but twitter remained in the focus. Another information I found about my browsing habits is that I tend to hop from one website to another. I start off with an interesting tweet or article and start reading all the related stories or the hyperlinks present in the stories. Hyperlinks can be distracting, and addictive as well…
While it was interesting to see that I was following a pattern and unknowingly was being led from one article to another, the most interesting aspect I found is the time slots that I am online.
I tend to squeeze my Digital time between the classes and other sacred Grad School rituals, like realtime socialization. While this pattern is most visible during the weekdays, I do operate on identifiable time slots during the weekends as well.
Before the start of monitoring I was of the impression that I was doing a lot of work and that as a grad student, I was under enough workload. It was only after I started monitoring my own activity that I realized there is always enough time, we just need to look deeper into our own time consumption.
After the first full day of auto-assisted tracking on my laptop, phone and iPad, my stats looked something like this:
Concern over my social life aside, I wondered: how much of that time was voluntarily given? Or, to put another way, how much of my media consumption was I opting into?
Turns out, not as much as I’d like.
The chart above shows the number of emails in my inbox that I interacted with in some way during the last week. Overwhelmingly, I am a passive consumer of media: taking in far more content than I create. This extends to all the social media platforms I used for more than three hours a day.
I can’t say I’m very surprised to find out that of the 12 or so hours of “entertainment” RescueTime tells me I consumed, 11 of those hours were spent half-listening to podcasts from Radio Lab or music from Spotify as I went about other tasks. Media has been part of the background noise in some shape or form for most of my life. That said, I wonder at the implications of such a wide margin of consumption to creation — particularly as we continue to explore how media can serve in a civic capacity.
“Track all the media that you put into your head after you leave this classroom”, said Ethan. The exercise was demanding, I did it for five days and the interruptions felt unnatural as I was collecting the data of my Whatsapp’s messages, the news I read or my mom’s FaceTime calls. However, that neurotic gathering of information paid off: at the end it provided a revealing portrait of my media behavior.
Among other things, I discovered that I’m locked in a microscopic part of the Internet, that I’m consuming media one in every four minutes, and that E-mail takes most of my time in front of a screen.
Gathering the data
To collect the data I took screenshots of all the digital media that I consumed via my mobile or my laptop.
Then I organized all that information (time, device, language, format, etc.) in a Google Spreadsheet that turned out to be nine columns and 134 rows.
Interviewing the data
1. How much time did I spend in front of a screen?
Five days have 7200 minutes, and let’s say that I slept 1800 of them (6 hours per day), so I was awake for 5400 minutes. During the five days of the exercise I spent 1331 minutes consuming digital media: that means that I was 24.6% of my time in front of a screen.
One in every four minutes I’m consuming digital media. That’s just shocking.
2. How diverse is the media that I consume?
Using pivot tables in Excel I found out that I only visited 45 unique websites, that’s an average of 9 different websites per day. There are around 990,950,000 websites in the Internet right now. In proportion, the 45 websites that I visited are like the size of a particle of dust (0.5 µm) in the Big Ben.
I also discovered that I only used 17 of the 87 apps that I have installed on my mobile… No comments.
3. When in the day do I consume more digital media?
4. What media format do I consume more?
5. In which activities did I invest more time?
6. En qué idioma consumo la información?
8. Time invested in each activity
Things that I would like to know but that I couldn’t visualize
RescueTime isn’t the most amazing of tools, especially the free version, but I appreciated the aggregated data coming off my laptop, and added in another sizeable chunk of time regarding my cell.
I’m not totally cyborg, but in the last week I spent about 60% of my time connecting to some kind of machine/online media source. I thought as a fun form of data vis, I’d glitch my face as a quantitative measurement of my computer usage in true Neuromancer art fashion. With soft massaging of data:
60% online/computer usage, 40% other (reading, painting, working out, you know, living). The glitch me versus the real me. Yep, 60/40….
“Glitch me” breaks down to be 70/30% software development to OMG FB and social media. Horrifying. The larger pixelations vs the smaller pixelations represent this ratio.
glitch software from https://getmosh.io/ I wish i had more time to do a live visualization/API feed but this is my analog estimation of how cyborgian I truly am.
My media journal started off with me meticulously detailing when, where, and what I was consuming, as I consumed it. I was idealistic in assuming I could do this for a full week with no problems — by the weekend, I found myself consuming media left, right and center and forgetting to record it.
Luckily, I had my browser history to pull from to fill in the gaps and I found some interesting — although not entirely surprising — results. Yes, I spend more time than I should on Facebook. I also spent an extraordinary amount of time on LinkedIn and GitHub this week, which I thought was interesting. Upon reflection, though, this makes sense: 1) I’m job-hunting and 2) I use GitHub for one of my other classes.
I also found my media consumption to center around a few events — I tend to find a subject and read lots about it, rather than read about a large breadth of topics. This week’s topics were dominated by Kanye West and Gilmore Girls (as tempted as I was to hide certain browsing details, I kept them in).
I combed through my Chrome browser history, taking a look at the history file on my computer, which is stored in sqlite format. I ran a few simple queries, like the one below to get the percentage of my browser history that was social media related:
where "last_visit_time" > 13099253131722513 #timestamp from a week ago
and "url" like "%facebook%"
or "url" like "%twitter"
or "url" like "%github%"
or "url" like "%linkedin%"
From this, I was able to get the percentage of links that were Facebook, Twitter, etc. You’ll notice that this doesn’t measure time spent on each page. I actually thought that this was fine, as throughout the week, I noticed I’m not one to scroll through Facebook too much – I just take a look at the top stories on my feed and then exit out — and probably don’t spend longer than 2-3 minutes per visit unless I’m messaging a friend. If I really wanted to, I could estimate the time by calculating the number of times I hit Facebook in the past week multiplied by my average time spent per visit (e.g. 401 visits to Facebook –> 16 hours, which is terrifying to think about).
Another aspect of media consumption I looked into this week was seeing where I found the articles I read. Did they come from Facebook? Twitter? I found that most of them came from Twitter and links shared from a friend through Slack.
Interestingly, I found that beyond my social media consumption, my media consumption is largely driven by email. About 50% of my media consumption came from email! Related, but not necessarily media (which, by my definition, was communication for an audience that wasn’t private) was that I spent a lot of time on my calendar, organizing and adding appointments with peers.
To track my mobile phone usage, I ended up conceding to phone battery to determine which apps I used to consume media. This is obviously a skewed metric — Snapchat uses much more data to transmit photos/videos compared to Twitter, which is much more text based. I found that I used Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter and Facebook the most on my phone, which is consistent with what I thought my mobile media consumption would look like. I also read about 75% of articles on my phone compared to the 25% I read on my computer. Because I tend to use my computer to either code or write extensively (and use my phone in almost all other cases), this also makes sense.
But enough of SQL code and words — I wanted to try my hand at infographics, so I decided to put together a couple of short ones: one for my computer media usage, the other for my mobile media usage.
Notably, these graphics and my earlier discussion doesn’t track any media that wasn’t consumed on my phone or the computer. I did read one print publication this week, which was my school newspaper, The Wellesley News. I also listened to roughly 150 tracks on Spotify, 50 tracks on SoundCloud. With regards to TV consumption, I watched a couple episodes of Mozart in the Jungle and the first four episodes of Billions.
When I started my media journal, I had a hunch of what I would find: lots and lots of time on Facebook. I never really got into Twitter and Snapchat, but Facebook has become a big problem for me in recent years. It started as a convenient way to keep in touch with friends I wasn’t seeing and networking with other journalists, activists and interesting people – many stories I wrote started with my feed. It also seemed like a good way to gauge zeitgeist, which is important for a journalist.
But over the past 2-3 years, it has evolved into an addiction. Clicking on Facebook and scrolling down my feed became something I either do all the time, or want to do all the time, like the smoker who starts craving a cigarette even as she’s still smoking one. It’s not that my feed is so interesting: more often it’s either boring or depressing (Unlike other people who get depressed by seeing other people’s photogenic lives, my depression derives mainly from having so many lefty Israeli friends who are disgruntled about the way things are in Israel). Furthermore, I don’t trust Facebook. I know they’re selling me to advertisers, that they are a useful tracking and monitoring tool for governments, and that Facebook keeps me from reading and writing stuff I really want to read and write, from really being with my kids, even when I’m physically there and that it turns me into a “like” junkie.
So why do I keep at it? I think that it’s the useful distraction from anxiety, combined with a slight ADHD. And, it’s so easy. Facebook is always there. It has gotten so bad, that when I have something important to do – an assignment or just an afternoon with my children – I have taken to deleting the Facebook app from my phone. The problem is, I always re-download it.
Examining the battery percentage report on my phone revealed that my suspicions were founded: On a daily basis and also on a weekly basis, I was spending around 50% of my battery (i.e. of my time) on Facebook.
Some insights about my usage of Facebook:
Another interesting insight is that I now consume most of my media through Facebook. I rarely go to the New York Times website anymore – I just “like” them, get updates and read what I want to read through Instant Articles. It’s the same with Haaretz, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, but also silly quiz websites and slideshows.
The defining feature of my consumption is that it is seemingly random: I don’t start out saying, “I’d like to see a slideshow about the longest-lasting celebrity marriages! where can I find that?” I am distracted into clicking on the link when it appears on my feed. Of course, there is really nothing random about it, because it is all dictated by the Facebook algorithm in ways that I will never understand. But the point is that it is not dictated by me. I’m no longer in charge of my media consumption: Mark Zuckerberg is.