The past ~7 days…
RescueTime offers three views of increasing granularity. For me, Email is king, followed by my vices of Reference and News, which can be somewhat interchangeable, then my social networking vices which are later broken out into Facebook and Reddit and Twitter. After accounting for videos (YouTube mostly) and games (I’m a sucker for a good puzzle plat former like Continuity), you get actual work: Writing and Evernote, random Business tasks. Shopping shows up here only because I was buying books for classes and research on Amazon and I badly need a new pair of sneakers.
Snapshot of Browser Activity
Using a Firefox add-on Voyage which allows you to explore your browser history as a wall of media, I was able to dig a little into my behavior in 30 minutes blocks and uncover some of the true freneticism of web browsing and the wormhole like time-suck that comes from portals like Google News, Wikipedia, and Reddit. So here is a snapshot from yesterday morning: 9:00am-9:30am (read it from right to left). I started off by reading a New York Magazine piece on Aaron Swartz. Then I checked Facebook and Google News, the latter led me to read about the proposal to drop wrestling from the Olympics. Modern pentathlon was on the list to be axed as well so I did a Google search for that in order to quickly get to the Wikipedia page where I read about its history. Then came Reddit: most of the bubbles without favicons were images submitted to a thread about whether or not eye color makes people significantly more attractive. Then I was back to Facebook, in which I apparently visit 46 pages while I looking into the relationship of a friend of mine with his fiancee, whom he had just proposed to according to the site.
Offline Media Summary
- Books: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, read an average of 8 pages before sleep during 3 of the past 6 nights; Readings for this class, 2 hours; Readings for my Intro to Networks class, 1 hour
- Newspapers/Magazines: Weekly print Economist subscription, read an average of 5 articles a day, mostly on the T to and from the Media Lab; The Tech picked up from stand in the Media Lab, read cover to cover last week’s issue between classes
- Television: Downton Abbey, Sunday ritual with my fiancee, watched 2 hours; Jeopardy, watched 3 episodes in past week after making dinner; The Taste, cooking competition show, watched between Jeopardy and The State of the Union last night, 1 hour; The State of the Union and Republican Response, watched approximately 2 hours
- Podcasts: Listen to an average of 1 hour per day when I exercise at home in the morning, 7 episodes of The Moth, 2 episodes of This American Life, 1 episode of On the Media
- Music: 95 songs from 10 albums played while working or browsing the web, captured using last.fm scrobbler (see below)
Reflections on Media Diarying
1) Measurement bias is a bitch
2) It’s not what it looks like, but it kind of is, maybe
3) Holy crap, email
When I embarked on this assignment my first step was to search for any kind of tool similar to RescueTime that would automate the collection of my media consumption behavior. This was important to me not only because I thought it would help me quantify my behavior but also because I wanted something so lightweight that it wouldn’t disrupt my actual consumption. Putting on my sociologist hat, I’m familiar with the range of biases that are introduced by various quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Two common ones are the observer effect and the social desirability effect. The observer effect results in subjects changing their behavior due to the fact that they are being watched. The social desirability effect is a specific example of the observer effect when a subject adjusts their behavior to come across how they think they should come across in terms of societal norms and values. In terms of keeping a media diary, this means that I might change my media consumption because I want to appear like I’m a very productive person who has perfect self-control and does not indulge in frivolous media. OR, this means that I might simply avoid consuming media at times where its inconvenient to me to record that media since I’m also the observer and I’m feeling a bit lazy (happened a few times with non-digital media). So in this week, I strove to do exactly when I would normally do and hope that I could record as much of that as possible automatically and just not think about it too much. This is imperfect and certainly an underestimate of my media consumption in a number of ways. One example is that I used a Firefox add-on called Reddit Enhancement Suite which allows me to visit the media linked to by Reddit right on the page as I scroll through: this means the number of cute cat pictures and AdviceAnimal memes that I actually consumed is completely lost in the measly 28 pages I scrolled through on Reddit which were actually recorded.
Many of the tools for automatically quantifying media consumption also reduce the media to sources: i.e. YouTube (84 videos), Facebook (132 pages), GoogleDocs (31 pages), etc. So when I’m watching a YouTube video that’s relevant to my research, which involves studying media, it gets counted the same as that Harlem Shake video that was linked from Reddit. Furthermore, while that Harlem Shake parody was very distracting at the time in the context of the work I was or should have been doing when I watched it, the sum total of Harlem Shake videos I have consumed inform my understanding of a cultural phenomenon which is relevant to my research as a media scholar AND my cultural capital in the Bourdieuian sense: something that I personally value and can be exchanged for social and economic capital when others value my knowledge of it. This cuts against the prevailing notion of “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” That said, I have a certain occupation and social milieu that values the consumption of YouTube videos, which may not be true of others. And certainly the primary education movement in the 1990s of any reading is good reading has been shown to have been flawed. My more formal literacy may help me digest and appreciate a broader swath of media in ways that are particularly productive. OR I’m part of a doomed generation that justifies its frivolous media consumption through complicated rationalities. Relativism + cultural capital is my saving grace here; I should also plug deep qualitative research like ethnography and content analysis as a better way to open a window into the INTENTION behind the consumption of a piece of media, like what I did with the snapshot from Voyage. (Intention is very interesting and relevant to the research we are trying to do at the Center for Civic Media because we want to get past the concept of slacktivism when it comes to purposeful consuming and sharing of media.)
Finally, there is the realm of pseudo-productivity in the opposite direction: email. RescueTime tells me that I spend the majority of my screen-staring time on my email client, 7.5 hours in the past week! Email is simultaneously how everything and nothing gets done in the knowledge society and workplace. Studies have shown that email produces shots of chemicals in the brain that either excite you or terrify you depending on your disposition; either way they keep you coming back for more. Plus, sending off emails are quick wins in terms of check offs on to-do lists: hit send and you’ve done something! In the past week, I have sent out at least 50 email messages. I have received many more than that. There are numerous recommendations floating out there about managing email deluge: scheduled email checks with specific time limits once or twice a day, converting inboxes to priority order rather than chronological, and simply unsubscribing from anything that seems to hurt more than it helps. I’ve tried all of these at various times to no avail. There is also the oft-cited law that states–the more email you send, the more email you receive–which seems inescapable.
Something that I’m really curious about the future is how media consumption will change in terms of behavioral patterns and its meaning socially, culturally, and in terms of productivity when wearable technology is our main digital media source and is ubiquitous. Think of Google Glass as the closest approximation: I’m interested in what our media landscape will look like when we consume it through the lens of augmented reality. Will it break down the silos of media: away from YouTube, email, news websites, etc.? Can I have exchanges that perform the function of email but not in this way that takes us out of our productive spaces? And then will we develop cognitive mode-switching techniques will fill in to help us distinguish one mode (email) from another mode (video watching). How will this change the patterns and diversity of media we consume: will it look like push or pull or some new yet-to-be-experienced form?