Modern Media Times

For today's offering I am going to borrow heavily from a colleague who sent an email over the weekend after being struck (forcibly, it seems) by the realization that he was at the epicenter of a volume and variety of media use and exposure that he had not previously appreciated. Working with some of the data collected through our observational research methods has undoubtedly heightened his awareness of media use, but what is remarkable about his account is the sheer array of behaviors on show in the account that follows -- video, audio, portable and time-shifted media, GPS, email, IM, and much more -- all in the course of a romantic dinner a deux!

There are all sorts of reasons for believing that this tale of modern media consumption is not "normal" -- not least the fact that the person concerned deals with media-related data and its analysis for a living and is obviously very media-savvy. But in a time when all of the devices, applications and content mentioned are widely available and used by so many, I'm not so sure that terms like "normal" and "abnormal" are that useful any more.



So read on and enjoy this tale of life in our modern media times -- and if you want to, ponder the nightmare of measuring all this on a systematic basis.

"Tonight I had an epiphany -- quite to the contrary of what I previously thought, I am a complete media pig! It started at 7 p.m. or so, when I went out for a (slightly) romantic dinner with my wife.

I walked out of my house talking on my cell phone, got the mail from my mailbox, jumped into the car, switched on the radio, changed over to the CD player, then moved on to a mp3-cd before switching to my wife's iPod. I popped open my laptop (my wife is the driver in my family), opened Excel to check my personal to-do list (which I'm way behind on!), popped in my mobile broadband card to get online, checked my email, checked the weather, checked and bought some tickets for an event this weekend. I then plugged my GPS into my computer - I love to watch how fast my wife is driving without getting yelled at for looking at the speedometer!

Next I took a call on my cell, and then made another call. My wife asked me to check if her cousin had emailed her back (which I did) and then said I should check out the video of the 44-pound cat found in southern Jersey (strangely, said cat doesn't look nearly as fat as I expected). The Internet signal crapped out, so I quickly went through my snail mail and began reading an article in a small freebie newspaper. I then flipped through two magazines and a catalog of aquarium supplies (no, I do not have an aquarium, but aquarium supplies are very alluring to me for some reason . . . ).

I opened a demo video I had started creating and did a minute or two of editing. The Internet came back up and I googled Musikfest (an annual music festival) as we had passed a billboard for it. Since we were nearly at the restaurant, I opened iChat - an instant messaging program -- and changed my status message as I will not be in the office tomorrow. Then I quickly sent myself a test email to make sure my out of office reply was working properly.

We jumped out of the car and walked toward the restaurant. I checked my cell phone, as I was expecting a picture of my young niece; my wife called her office's answering service on her cell.

We walked into the restaurant and, as you would expect ,we were exposed to environmental audio. The restaurant has a computer reservation system, so I suppose I was also exposed to Computing-Software-Other because I was watching the screen while the hostess was having a difficult time finding my name. Sitting down and enjoying our meal involved very little media exposure, though I did check my phone several times and text messaged my sister asking her where the picture was; my wife used both her Palm Pilot and iPod to check out her calendar and jot down a few notes.

The car ride home was the same as the car ride there -- radio, Internet, iPod, etc. My wife asked me to buy a song on iTunes before she forgot and I did as instructed and then downloaded it to her iPod.

We arrived home, and my epiphany occurred within 15 minutes. As I was squeezing out of the car with my laptop, cell phone, mobile broadband card, iPod, newspaper, magazines and doggie-bagged desserts, my landline began ringing inside. The media-related devices I was carrying were hindering me from getting inside fast enough to get the landline, but I picked it up just in time before the answering machine kicked in. While on the landline, I checked my email, checked the weather (I am paranoid about the weather) and searched for and printed out driving directions for tomorrow (in case my GPS craps out).

I settled in, chatting on the phone and sitting on the couch half watching some live TV news, until my wife grabbed the remote and changed the channel, did some channel surfing, scrolled through the program guide and finally settled on a Tivo'ed show. By that point I was off the phone, had re-checked my cell again for the elusive picture of my niece and was back on my laptop. I suddenly realized -- I am more media than I am human! It's almost scary!"

Verily -- we have become the Jetsons.

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