Commentary

Slaves To New Media

Can't go on vacation (or even to a movie or ball game) without checking email or logging into social media? When was the last time you spent a solid uninterrupted hour just reading a dead-tree book or magazine? A growing number of folks log into social media when they watch TV (some say in an attempt to save shows looking like they might not be renewed). A University of Chicago study found that most people say Facebook, Twitter and email are harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.

You know this is true, because you have to practically beat your kids to stop them from texting during meals (or any other time, for that matter.) But you are probably just as bad; after all, a Neverfail survey reports that more than 50% of folks say they send emails during a meal with family or friends. You probably think you're impressing your boss by being "on" 24/7, when really you are just feeding your addiction to the fear of "missing something." Perhaps there is truth in Jeff Einstein's contention that "In recent years we have entered what I call the Great Age of Addiction & Loss, an age characterized most notably by an irrefutable addiction — both as individuals and as a nation — to all things media."

Out where I live, drivers are running over and killing pedestrians because they can't resist the urge to answer the phone or send a text while behind the wheel. Back when I used to do a fair amount of distance running, if I didn't see a driver's eyes meet mine, I stepped off the road.

As advertisers, in this new media world order, we need to rethink our traditional concepts of impressions and engagement, since we are now only getting snippets of audiences' attention.  Tom Cunniff, one of the smarter, more thoughtful marketers out there, earlier this week wrote that we are in "the age of Ambient Media" because all of our devices are on and available, with our attention flitting from one medium to the next, or to none at all. Everything is devolving into an endless media stream.

As individuals, we need to take a moment and disconnect.  I recently took a couple of my kids on a spring break vacation and purposely left my BlackBerry at home. It was great. Since I have clients, I logged into my laptop a few times a day to make certain there were no emergencies, but I didn't read the usual endless e-blasts from the trade pubs, nor even watch TV. Never plugged into an iPod. Just read a book. 

What you notice when you unplug is how utterly pervasive media is around you. On the beach, at the pools, in the restaurants, folks all around us were plugged into an electronic this or that. Suddenly, even the Muzak at every venue -- including the weight room and the spa -- was annoying.

Interestingly, the backlog of TV shows I record each week was so overwhelming on my return  that I deleted about half of them and never missed a beat when I played the following week's episode.

So tuning out was not the end of the world I expected it to be. In fact it might even be beneficial. A religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania teaches a class called "Living Deliberately," which has no exams, no formal papers and little required reading. However, students are expected to modify their lifestyles with a set of restrictions drawn from monastic traditions: They must give up alcohol and refrain from using electronic communications.

Apparently, the students who enroll find that living without the Internet makes a profound difference in their lives. "Every student who has taken this class has said without exception that they have done better in their other classes, and they have been able to focus more," says the prof. "This is the best thing for their work they have ever done."

Hmmmmmm.

Tags: media
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6 comments about "Slaves To New Media ".
  1. Steven Rosenbaum from Magnify.net , April 13, 2012 at 9:48 a.m.
    George, there's no doubt that you've shared a feeling that many if not all of your readers have. We're living in a world of Digital Overload. But I would challenge your proposed solution to overwhelming nature of ambient media. Big changes are unsettling. The electric light bulb upset the natural rhythm of the day. The automobile upset our sense of community and proximity. The printing press put ideas and information in the hands of the masses. The nature of information abundance is no less of a change, and perhaps more unsettling than any in history. But how can the solution be to 'tune out' this spectacular flourishing of connectivity? I would propose that the answer is precisely the opposite - to tune in. To tune in with purpose, with focus, and with intention. To find tools to sort and organize inputs. To be disciplined about how we curate the noise, and to think not just about how we filter for ourselves, but how we share the knowledge we've garnered. It's early days for sure. And we're going to all have to pull together to set new standards and behaviors for etiquette in an 'always on' world. But the solution is to lean in, not pull away. That's the only way to turn Digital Overload into Information Leadership... which we all have the capacity to do.
  2. Tom Cunniff from Combe Incorporated , April 13, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
    Thanks for the kind words, George. Every day I try to take a 20 minute walk outside. There's a path behind my office complex through the woods -- zero media exposure. I often find this is the most productive 20 minutes of my day. It's the time when everything I've been Tweeting/reading/doing comes together and becomes useful ideas. A walk is good for the digestion, in every sense of that phrase.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 13, 2012 at 10:13 a.m.
    George, now people are so dug in they can miss they next best thing or worse miss something that will save their own lives on various levels. And you get credit for doing something we did without credit ? And you wonder what's wrong these days that you wouldn't know the results ? In touch is so out of touch.
  4. Jeff Einstein from The Brothers Einstein , April 13, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.
    Steven, I don't think George is counseling or even suggesting a wholesale withdrawal from electronic media. Merely that there's profound meaning, solace and quality of life in the quiet beyond the noise. Moderation, not abstinence, is the more appropriate and more realistic response to all behavioral addictions, media addiction not least. That said, we will not find more measured and deliberate use of the media channels by leaning in -- as you suggest -- any more than compulsive gamblers can ind more measured and deliberate use of their obsessive-compulsive behaviors by spending more time at the gaming tables. What you suggest may sound rational in theory, but fails to survive any test in reality. What you suggest is predicated on reason and logic. Our behaviors -- especially our addictions -- aren't. The only way to deal effectively with behavioral addiction is to intervene first, take a good look at the alternative to the noise in the ensuing quiet, then find ways to replace the rituals of addiction with more meaningful rituals -- over time. George is right on track. Jeff
  5. Steven Rosenbaum from Magnify.net , April 13, 2012 at 3:27 p.m.
    Jeff, I know the meme. I'm just suggesting that the whole concept of 'addiction' suggests that our behavior is compulsive and not healthy. We're not 'addicted' to knowledge, or vegetables, or love. Addition is a world that presumes the negative. So when I say 'lean in' what I mean is embrace, explore, and manage. No reason not to take a walk in the woods or a yoga class - that's great. But our newly interconnected world isn't an addition, it's a new way of expanding our global brain. Just takes some getting used to.
  6. Neil Leddy from Sponsorship Sales Group , April 14, 2012 at 12:51 a.m.
    George, I'm reminded of a quote by a chap in his friend's cabin on a small lake; simplify, simplify, simplify. We choose our own path. Our technology controls us or we control our technology.