Media Diet Project – Step 3 – Write

Link to Essay

William Tolan
COMM 200
10/8/14
Professor Meghan Dougherty

New Media, Complexity and the Identities We Develop

New media has continuously found itself becoming ingrained in everyday life. Lisa Gitelman and Goeffrey Pingree say that “when new media emerge in a society, their place is at first ill defined, and their ultimate meanings or functions are shaped over time by that society’s existing habits of media use (which, of course, derive from experience with other, established media), by shared desires for new uses, and by the slow process of adaptation between the two” (Gitleman & Pingree) As individuals living in the 21st century, we see signs of this integration and adaptation every day. Examples of this would include when we check our twitter feed, when we see someone in a television commercial using an iPad, or when we choose to text our friends instead of trying to communicate face-to-face with one another. Even when new media is completely foreign to the general population, when a community is given a chance to see the prosperity and efficiency it can achieve, the mindset of “out with the old, in with the new” begins to take place.

John B. Thompson argues that “an everyday world external to the media is central to individuals’ experience of their lives and their self-formation.” It is important to consider the effects of new media on our lives as we continue to adapt to its technological advances. One may ask the question of how a person is able to experience their own identity or self-formation if they are constantly experiencing new media and not experiencing the physicality of the world around them. For example, texting has increasingly erased the need for face-to-face and even verbal communication. Does this lead to a critical lack of socialization? Through our Media Diet Project we were able to put these issues through the test. By creating a new media fast, I was able to see how one’s relationship with technology can become habitual and as a result I realized just how easy it is to let new media shape our identity.

Before I began my new media fast, it was important to reflect and have a better understanding of how I use the technology around me. Through field notes, video footage, and walkthroughs, one of the biggest observations I discovered was that I have a tendency to use my cell phone whenever I step foot onto public transportation. Whether I am on one of Loyola’s shuttle buses or using public transportation provided by the CTA, it has completely become a routine to just take out my phone. Even though this was not entirely brand new information, our use of technology becomes an entirely different experience when we take a step back and truly observe our behavior and consequentially the relationships we build using technology. When I used my phone I noticed I would check the time, and then either browse the Internet or read and respond to my text messages. When I decided to put down my phone on public transportation for 72 hours, it became both an enlightening and thought-provoking experience.
It almost immediately became clear how much of a reliance I have built over my phone. The first time I shut my phone off on the bus, I had to resist the urge to just glance down and check the time. I quickly paid attention to how I often use my phone not only to communicate but as a makeshift laptop. Like a laptop, I use my phone to check the websites I normally browse such as Facebook, Reddit, Wikipedia and BuzzFeed. I would say this reliance I have developed is symbolic of the relationship that not just myself but many others have built with new media over the years.

There are a lot of people who can relate to the increasing motivation to use new media based on its accessibility and efficiency. Douglas Rushkoff says in his book, Program or Be Prorammed, that “on the net, we cast out for answers through simple search terms rather than diving into an inquiry and following extended lines of logic” and this sentiment is one that can be applied to many people. It is easy to use new media as a way of finding out information or a way of communicating with one another and rarely do we think of what truly is taking place, at least on a complex level (61). As people continue to use new media because of its easiness, habits begin to form and it becomes apparent that “digital technology becomes biased toward a reduction of complexity (Rushkoff 62). Rushkoff is saying that when we are exposed to so much information, we begin to develop an inflated sense of how much we know even though “the more complex our technologies become, and more impenetrable their decision-making, the more dependent on them we become” (Rushkoff 68). Through my Media Diet Project, I saw this dependency through the relationship I have built with my phone.

This dependency can explain the habitual relationship that I, along with many other people, have experienced when it comes to technology. While there is an inherent complexity to new media, we become less accustomed at actually exploring this facet when everything appears to be handed on a silver platter. We are able to go from seemingly simple Google search to opening up a Facebook app in just a matter of seconds all while music is playing in our headphones. It is too easy to ignore the actual technological advances that make scenes like this one even possible.

Rushkoff mentions how instead we “opt for a world in which our technology learns about us” and this is something we can definitely take notice of if we step back and pay at least a little attention to the world around us (Rushkoff 68). For example, when I completed a walkthrough using my Facebook page, I noticed how one of the advertisements on the side was targeted directly at me. The advertisement was aimed at people who have a double major including English. Normally I would not have noticed an observation such as this one but by taking a step back and observing my own actions, I was able to see aspects of new media that I often do not pay close attention to.

I also experienced some self-discovery when I took video footage of myself through Camtasia. One of the biggest takeaways I discovered was that I make my way through websites at a tremendous rate. I often multitask, have various tabs open, and scroll without fully processing all of the information that is on my screen. This behavior can explain why some people would not automatically notice when websites like Facebook target advertisements directly at them. One has to ask: does this behavior reflect the way we conceptualize certain situations?

For a lot of people, habitual use of new media can lead to loss of capacity in regards to concentration and contemplation. In Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” he states that: “my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles” (Carr). Carr also references several of his friends who also made claims that the swiftness they experienced in their new media use has led to an inability to read long texts/articles. Carr even cites scholars such as Maryanne Wolfe have stated concerns that “the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace” (Carr). In many ways what Wolfe says is true. New media is currently in a state of continuous progression which can arguably even be responsible for a change in identity; an identity where one has the desire to be as efficient and quick as possible.

While being able to read complex works of prose is an incredibly valuable skill, there are people who have adapted to the ever-changing ways of new media and as a result have noticed a shift in their own societal identity. New media has opened opportunities for people to communicate and express themselves in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. Twitter and David Silver’s idea of “thin tweets” and “thick tweets” are examples. People can use Twitter to post insignificant details such as “oh snap, it’s raining again” but the idea of “thick tweets” shows how people can use the identities they develop online to further advertise and communicate (Silver).

Silver defines a “thick tweet” as “tweets that convey two or more layers of information, often with help from a hyperlink” (Silver). These thick tweets are often used by companies, celebrities, etc. to self-promote but people can also use them to quickly and efficiently express their ideas to those that follow them. Twitter has become a method of connection that allows people to formulate various ideas about one another – what one tweets becomes almost representative of their societal ideals, beliefs, and even personality. Of course these tweets cannot be compared to the deep reading that is referenced in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” but they are representative of how new media is finding ways of changing the way we look at technology and its importance. As an individual, the use of social media and its affect on one’s identity is something that I can see every day. When browsing Facebook, you can see whenever people are having conversations with one another through the News Feed. Photos are continually uploaded which provide insight into one’s lives and through the use of liking and commenting, we are able to let people know how we feel about any given topic. Even when we use our phones, we are forming an identity of a person who is available at any given moment to continue a conversation through the use of text messaging.

The habits we can develop through new media end up impacting the way we behave and socialize with one another. Even though new media is representative of an impressive, worthwhile advancement in our society, it is up to us to make sure it does not go too far and completely take over our identities as human beings. Regardless of what one thinks about 21st century new media, it cannot be denied that it is changing the way our society functions in a variety of ways.

Works Cited
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 1 July 2008. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

Gitelman, Lisa and Goeffrey Pingree. “What’s New About New Media?” New Media, 1740-1915. MIT Press, 2003. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

Rushkoff, Douglas. Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For A Digital Age. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2011. Print.

Silver, David. “the difference between thin and thick tweets.” Silver In SF. Blogger, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

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Media Diet Project – Step 2 – Test

Notes and Observations

Monday (9/29/14) – Usually when I first step foot onto the CTA bus, I immediately take out my phone to check the time. I had to resist this urge. I found myself staring out the window looking at construction. Using my trips on the shuttle bus, I was able to finish the novel Americanah for a class I have on Tuesday.
Tuesday (9/30/14) – I had a similar experience on the CTA bus to the one I had on Monday. I stared out the window and thought about some of the work I was going to have to do for the day. On the shuttle bus, I tried to just take in my surroundings. By the end of the day, I noticed that while my urgency to use my phone was still there, it was not as strong.
Wednesday (10/1/14) – I began to notice similar passengers on the CTA bus from my observations on Monday. My ride on the shuttle bus as particularly relaxing on this day as one of the windows was left open and there was a nice cool breeze in addition to the scenic view of Lake Michigan. This made the removal of my phone much easier.
Thursday (10/2/14) – Today was not meant to be a part of my notes but I noticed that I only took my phone out once while using public transportation.

 

Summary

Throughout this past week (9/29/14 to 10/2/14) I have been testing my new media consumption based on the proposal I created on 9/3/14. As I stated in my last blog post, “For 72 hours, I will not touch my phone at all whenever I am on public transportation. This test will include both CTA buses and the Loyola shuttle buses. I will take note of my feelings, observations, and actions during this time period.” Throughout my test, I was diligent and made sure I would not go against this proposal in anyway. When I got text messages or phone calls, I waited until I got off of the bus to respond and I did not even attempt to listen to music. For the past week, my phone was basically obsolete whenever I stepped foot onto public transportation.

Throughout my field notes, I began to realize that taking out my phone when I sit down on public transportation becomes a bit of a default action for me. When I am on the bus there are days when I may just glance down and check for the time or notifications but then there are also those days where I just browse the Internet for my entire bus ride. When I use the phone on public transportation in this manner, I become less observant of my surroundings which is not a good thing.

This ended up becoming one of my biggest takeaways while completing this test. I began to notice obvious construction work, the beautiful view Lake Michigan, the same bus riders who assumingly run on a similar schedule as I do and more. It is sad to say that when I spend my entire time on the phone, I become almost oblivious to all of these seemingly notable surroundings.

Furthermore, once I got used to not taking my phone out, I noticed that it was really not a big deal at all. In a way, it was almost relaxing. I emphasize almost because I would not be telling the truth if I said the need to check my phone completely went a way. However, looking at the view of Lake Michigan on the shuttle bus as I felt the breeze from an open window was incredibly calming and I can say that not having my phone was not as big of an issue as I imagined it would be.

I also began to use the extra time to catch up on various novels I had to read for other classes. For example, I was able to finish the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah for a class I have on the shuttle bus. I was then able to use the time that I would have normally spent reading that book on other tasks later on in the day.

Even though I had already finished the 72-hour test, I noticed that today (10/2/14) I only used my phone once on public transportation. I am not saying I will never use my phone again on the CTA or shuttle buses but I do think I am more self-aware now than I was just a few months ago.

Media Diet Project – Step 1, Part 5 – Proposal

The one pattern that stuck out to me the most throughout my tracking of media consumption was the way I used my phone.

As I’ve said before, when I am on public transportation, my immediate instinct is to turn on my phone and go on the Internet. This is an instinct that I know I share with many other people. When taking field notes, I observed that the majority of people on public transportation were using their phones just as I did. Therefore, I propose that this is the pattern that I will explore in more depth as I continue on with my Media Diet Project.

For 72 hours, I will not touch my phone at all whenever I am on public transportation. This test will include both CTA buses and the Loyola shuttle buses. I will take note of my feelings, observations, and actions during this time period.

Media Diet Project Step 1, Part 4 – Summary of Findings

The overall process of tracking my media use has been an enlightening experience. Through various methods, I was able to see different perspectives of my own media consumption. By taking field notes, using Camtasia, and participating in a social media walkthrough, I learned more about myself and how I respond to the media around me.

For example, through the use of field notes I was able to see my immediate response to boredom is to usually check my phone. I spend a lot of time on public transportation during the weekdays and when I am on a bus, I usually spend my time staring at my phone. I know I am not the only person who does this, but I became much more aware of this tendency when I took a step back and evaluated how I personally use various forms of media. I’ve found that I tend to browse the Internet on my phone in a similar way to how I would browse the Internet on my laptop if I had the time. It is just easier and more convenient to check my phone right before class starts or while I am on my way to the Water Tower Campus. It has almost become just a standard routine for me to just go on the Internet while I am on my way to class.

Watching my Camtasia video ended up providing me with some self-awareness as to how I behave while on the Internet. I tend to just stare at the screen and I get frustrated really easily if my laptop does not act as fast or as efficient as I want it to. Furthermore, I move through websites very rapidly. I multitask with multiple tabs and overall, make my way through the Web at an accelerated pace.

My social media walkthrough forced me to slow this accelerated pace down so I can truly grasp the complexity of my behavior involving media. When I went through my Facebook, I discovered that I typically “like” posts rather than comment. I also payed more attention to photos and posts from my family and close friends. I tried to be more observant to what was on my Facebook page and noticed the advertisement which specifically referenced people who have a double major including English.

This specificity reminded me of how social media websites are now incorporating more personalized advertisements and layouts. This personalization can affect the kind of information we receive. After I noticed this, I was inspired to do a Netflix walkthrough as well and compare my results to my mom’s Netflix account. As I expected, I noticed a big difference in the suggestions Netflix gave both of our accounts to the point where most of the films on my mom’s Netflix did not even show up on mine.

The walkthrough kind of summed up my entire media tracking journey. As I generated data in different ways, I began to gain more awareness to what is actually a part of my media consumption. I noticed different habits I have such as my need to use the phone on public transportation or the way I quickly go through different websites. I also became more observant to what is actually on different websites and how sites like Facebook try to personalize our webpages whether we are aware of it or not.

Media Diet Project Step 1, Part 3 – Walkthrough (Facebook and Netflix)

For Part 3 of my Media Diet Project I sat down and closely examined two websites I normally visit – Facebook and Netflix.

As I mentioned in my post about the Camtasia video, I have a tendency of quickly making my way through various websites. For my walkthroughs, I really had to buckle down and slowly examine the decisions I make as I browse the Internet. By slowing down my use of new media, I was able to see just how complex our experiences can be.

The very first thing I saw when I logged on to Facebook was this image:

Walkthrough 1

Source: facebook.com

I recently became a member of Loyola’s ((dop)) (Department of Programing) and once I saw this post about the Chicago Fire game, I felt inclined to “like” it. This behavior kind of paved the way for the rest of my Facebook walkthrough. I noticed two aspects as I went through my Facebook feed. The first was that I tended to “like” posts and comments rather than actually comment myself.

The second was that I focused more attention on posts with images rather than posts with texts. I do not want to say I diminished all posts with text as this is not the case. However, when I see posts like this following example from people I barely know, I am just going to be honest and say that if not for the walkthrough, I would have probably skipped over them:

facebookk

Source: facebook.com

Most of my attention actually went to posts involving my family members. Maybe this will sound corny but I definitely recognize how Facebook can help provide connections to those who live further away and when it comes to family members who live out-of-state, this is always nice.

Walkthrough 2

Walkthrough 7

Source: facebook.com

I ended up “liking” the image above which was a photo of my little cousin getting ready for his first soccer game. However, I also noticed one of the advertisements on the side of the screen which specifically references a double major involving English. This has been my plan for awhile though and after the classes we have had together, I have found myself more observant of how various advertisements on websites like Facebook can become more personalized towards users.

This personalization actually inspired me to do a second walkthrough with Netflix. Anyone with Netflix is probably aware of how the website tries to customize itself in order to fit the user’s personal taste. With my walkthrough, this fact became even more highlighted.

Netflix 2

Source: netflix.com

The first thing I was greeted to when I logged in to Netflix was the “Top Picks for William” category. Over the summer I used Netflix to catch up on some TV shows so it was not surprising to see my suggestions based off of this. This walkthrough let me see just how accurate Netflix is. I have had interest in all of the shows above at some point (except for maybe Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

I also took note of all of the film categories that popped up. I tend to use Netflix’s film selection to watch independent films that I do not have the chance to watch in theaters and I felt my Netflix page reflected this viewing behavior. I decided to compare this with my mom’s Netflix page.

My mom specifically uses Netflix to watch either romance films or British programming. Her “Top Picks” category looked more like this:

Netflix 5

Source: netflix.com

I can say with confidence that I saw none of these films as I went through my Netflix walkthrough. It makes me wonder how much of Netflix’s selection I miss out on when trying to decide what to watch. I think that Netflix is a good example of how complex our new media consumption can be because it shows how a website itself can also affect the decisions that we, as users, make.

Media Diet Project Step 1, Part 2 – Video Capture (Camtasia)

Camtasia 2

Source: Camtasia

For the second part of my Media Diet Project, I used the program Camtasia to record myself as I used the Internet.

I will say that watching this video was interesting to say the least. I tried to use to use the Internet as I normally would while I recorded myself. I went on websites such as BuzzFeed, Variety, and Facebook. My video continued until I tried to go on YouTube. Unfortunately my computer began to freeze once I made that decision and I decided to stop the video before I would lose all the footage I already had.

I felt kind of awkward watching myself through the Camtasia footage. I noticed that my facial “reactions” stayed pretty consistent. I put quotation marks around reactions because throughout the 16:04 time frame, my face really did not change expressions at all.

I noticed that the biggest reaction I had was towards the end when my frustration over my computer’s technical problems was caught on tape. It was funny to watch but kind of fascinating to recognize that the one obvious emotion I displayed was when my laptop was having trouble working.

As I watched the Camtasia video, I also took notice of how I would browse different websites. I saw that I tend to make my way through different websites pretty quickly (barring any technical difficulties of course). I have a tendency to open multiple tabs, and scroll down websites at a pretty fast pace.

It honestly makes me wonder how much of the information I read on the Web is actually staying with me. Maybe this behavior can be attributed to the websites I visit (BuzzFeed is not exactly known for its hard-hitting news). However, it is definitely something to consider as I move on with my Media Diet Project.

Media Diet Project Step 1, Part 1 – Field Notes

laptop

Source: 123codings.blogspot.com, Google Images

Over the past two weeks, I have payed close attention to the way I use new media. This observance was quite strange at first because usually when I am on my laptop or using my phone, I do not really think about the reasoning behind my actions. Taking field notes really required me to take a step back and really look at the patterns I have developed throughout the years using new media.

When I started my field notes, I immediately decided to focus on how often I use my laptop or other computers (such as the ones in Cudahy Library). It became quite clear that there is a big difference in how I use the computer during the summer and how I use it during the school year.

The biggest difference is that I do not have much free time to go browsing through websites such as Reddit or YouTube like I do during the summer. Instead, throughout most of the times I have used my laptop or other computers, I have had to concentrate solely on schoolwork. I will admit that there were days where procrastination would kick in and I would deviate from an online readings to browse the Internet.

As far as computer use goes, this would probably be my biggest discovery. While it hasn’t really impacted my grades or anything of the sort, I do have a tendency to take little “mini-breaks” on the Web when I could be using that time to finish my work at a quicker pace.

I have to say though that while taking field notes, I ended up concentrating more on my cell phone use rather than focusing on how I spend time on the computer which surprised me.

Field Notes

Source: NotePad – Android Apps on Google Play

  • Total Times
  • Wednesday – 99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
  • Thursday – 116 minutes (1 hour, 56 minutes)
  • Friday – 94 minutes (1 hour, 34 minutes)

I began to notice that whenever I use public transportation (CTA buses and our Loyola’s shuttle buses), my attention quickly gravitates towards my cell phone. As I observed those around me, I noticed that I am not alone in this behavior.

After this discovery caught my attention, I began to keep track of the amount of time I spend using public transportation. While I did not spend 100% of this time on my phone, I do realize that I checked my phone multiple times throughout all of these time intervals.

Most of the time when I would check my phone, it was just to browse the random websites I would normally check out when I am on my laptop. In a way, I noticed that outside of texting, my phone has kind of become my own makeshift laptop when my actual laptop is not available to use.