Final Assessment Reflection

Introduction 

The experiment I conducted was to test the attention spans of young adults who use their phones while engaging with other media.

I decided to pursue this topic based on the findings of a 2012 Google study called “The New Multi-Screen World Study”, and a 2015 study by Microsoft on attention spans.

The Google study found that most people spend time using multiple devices, and my experiment focused on simultaneous screening; using multiple devices at the same time. It also found that “TV no longer commands our full attention and has become one of the most common devices that is used simultaneously with other screens.” (Google 2012, p. 2).

Between 2000 and 2013, the human attention span shrunk from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, and it can be attributed to multi-device use. Although, it has had a trade off in that most people who multitask with more than one device have gained higher attention spans, have become better at doing more in less time, and have become more efficient at memorising things.

It was these facts, as well as my own reflexivity which made me acknowledge that also am both obsessive with my phone use and also engage in simultaneous screen  watching. I knew that I would struggle to watch an entire episode of a show without using my phone, so I knew the results of the experiment would probably be worthwhile and go on to prove the points of the two articles cited above .

I also wanted to try to find some answers to questions I couldn’t find answers to or theories for in the readings I did. Those questions centred around why adults were being affected by attention spans and device use outside of consumer behaviour. While there were lots of readings about children and the effect of phones on behaviour and attention spans, all of the studies on adult behaviour was around consumer behaviour. I still reference these readings throughout this piece, but I believe there is a gap in academic study which should be addressed.

Methodology 

I approached the experiment with two things in mind; the information from the consumer studies on attention spans, and Torsten Hägerstrands’ time geography theories.

The Microsoft study found young people (18-24) were more prone to addictive technology behaviour. The ages of the people I chose for this experiment fell inside this age group (22, 23 and 24 years old). Previous studies I found from 2012 focused on children the age of 8 and 18. One by the Pew Research Centre, published in an article in the New York Times found:

“nearly 90 percent (of teachers) said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” (Richtel 2012).

I wanted to focus on the next age group up, because of the lack of research in the area and the fact it is one of the age groups most engaged with media and device use with 79% using their phones while watching TV and 77% using their phones whenever something isn’t currently occupying their attention.

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Microsoft Canada, ‘Attention Spans’, 2015, p. 7

The Google report found that the average time people engage with television is 43 minutes, so I chose to show episodes of  a television series because they had a duration of 44 minutes and 39 minutes respectively. This meant I wasn’t trying to make my participants pay attention to something for longer than the average amount of time, which would have affected the results.

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Google ‘The New Multi-Screen World Study’, 2012, p. 9

The experiment also engaged with Hägerstrands’ theory of time and space geography. On a basic level, his theory dictates that the spatial constraints of human activity fall into three categories; capability, coupling and authority, which I have outlined in more detail here.

My experiment tested these three constraints.

Capability: with what we know about human attention spans, the length of engagement with certain media for certain amounts of time and the use of device use while engaging with media, there were certain biological (attention span) and physical (phone use) factors dictating how the subjects in the experiment were going to act.

Coupling: the experiment tested not only being engaged with the space but also with the other people in the space. On the viewing of the show where the phones were allowed to be used, there was some interaction between the subjects (who are all really good friends), but this interaction was limited because the focus was already being split between the phone and television and conversation. On the viewing where the phones were removed, there was much more interaction between the subjects, which they all admitted in the interviews lead to a more pleasurable experience, even though the episode was not necessarily more enjoyable. They also had to be engaged for a certain amount of time (49-44 minutes).

Authority: obviously, there were limitations placed on actions and access to phones by the ‘owner’ (myself). I dictated what they watched, and also was in control of taking and giving back their phones.

Using these theories helped me set up and make decisions about the kind of experiment I would be using. I filmed two separate videos but chose to include them as one video with a running time of 10 minutes, to make the contrast between the two viewings clear.

I conducted interviews with the subjects immediately after the second viewing, asking them about their experience and their own perceptions of their device use. I believe I got honest and accurate answers out of them, and they offered insight into why – a key question for qualitative researchers to ask and find answers to.

Summary 

In summary, all of the participants admitted to being addicted to their phones and using their phones when engaging with television. They all admitted to being anxious when I removed their phones from them, but all enjoyed the experience more without their phones.

I thought the fact that it only took 43 seconds for someone to pick up their phone was interesting because three of the four started using their phones around this time. I also found it interesting that Lauren used her phone almost constantly during the first viewing and was not engaged at all (she even admitted it), but she was the most engaged during the second viewing without the phone (even giving off a visual reaction when scared and asking questions throughout).

I believe my experiment, which was very relaxed and definitely not infallible, does show that young adults between 18 and 24 are addicted to their phones, and it shows a relationship between phone and device use and having a lesser attention span.

REFERENCES

Google 2012, ‘The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior’, <https://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/the-new-multi-screen-world-study_research-studies.pdf>

Microsoft Canada 2015, ‘Attention Spans’, Consumer Insights, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/649091/mod_resource/content/1/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf>

Richtel, M 2012, ‘Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say’, The New York Times, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how-students-learn-teachers-say.html>

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ‘Reflexivity’, Qualitative Research Guidelines Project, <http://www.qualres.org/HomeRefl-3703.html>

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Do devices effect our attenion spans?

For this experiment, I asked my friends Kaleb, Thomas, Lauren and Madi, to watch two episodes of a horror television show, Scream, one episode where they were allowed to have their phones, and one where I took the phones off them.

Afterwards, I interviewed each of them about their perceptions on their own device use, how they found the experience, whether they felt they were addicted to their phones and whether they paid more attention when they didn’t have their phones.

The above video is what happened.

Review of Media, Audience and Place

Tutors comments on my first blog:

“Take care with in text referencing… great use of memes/GIFs to break up the text and maintain the readers interest…. I like how you have approached this discussion, by introducing the theory, and then breaking it down into easy to understand concepts – this is really effective for readers outside of the university… excellent research and utilization of relevant academic research… Just a couple of small critiques: the post ends a little abruptly; one or two more sentences to conclude would be perfect; try to avoid contractions in academic writing (should not, not shouldn’t). Overall this is a great post that combines critical thinking on the key course concerns, with relevant research and is presented in an accessible way.

Your blog looks wonderful and immediately conveys a sense of you as a developing media professional. Clean and easy to navigate, well tagged for easy access to posts. I look forward to reading more!”

How I responded to the feedback:

First, I have to admit I was pretty happy with the feedback I received about my blog. I do put a lot of time and effort into making sure my posts are engaging, as well as well researched.

When writing my week five to nine posts, I made sure to double and triple check my referencing and put hyperlinks where needed – as well as linking to previous and relevant blogs I had written previously, for example, my media effects post written in first year BCM110.

I also continued to use gifs, memes and photos to break up my posts and keep them engaging and to add an element of humour.

I believe I continued to outline the theory or idea, and then elaborate with examples and easy to understand concepts. Each time I wrote a post, I made sure it would be accessible to someone who was outside the university and hadn’t done BCM240. This was important to me because, even when I have done a course, it frustrates me when I read posts say “as outlined in the lecture” because it doesn’t explain the subject content in the best way. This is true to all posts, excluding this one, for obvious reasons.

I also took more care to end my posts less abruptly, and round them up at the end, avoided using contractions, taking on Renee’s advice.

How I engaged with the subject content:

I found that, in the beginning of this subject, I did not quite understand the trajectory of the subject. But, going forward, as the weeks went on I started to understand how all of the topics relate to each other and how they relate to the larger media world.

I tried to find a personal example for each topic that I could. I found that not only did this help me to understand the subject matter on a deeper level, but it made for a more interesting post.

For example, looking at the experiment I created for Week 8 to test attention span and multi-device use gave me a greater understanding of what I wanted to do for my final project. I did not write a proposal in Week 7 because, to be completely honest, I was still confused about what the final assessment was about, and did not have any idea how to execute it.

Now, I believe I am going to take my Week 8 experiment and refine it to look at how media use is affecting movie watching experience, both in the home where there is an abundance of screens and devices and in the cinema, where people are paying for a service and an experience. I will need to conduct more research into this area in order to effectively research this topic and effectively present this online.

Reader engagement strategy:

I will admit that in this area of the assessment, I did not apply myself effectively or do this in the best way.

Analysing what I did well:

I used tags on all of my posts. I did not just include the BCM240 hashtag, but also tags relevance to the post in order to get traffic to my site. I work for an online blog, and as part of my job I have to work with SEO in order to get our posts to appear high up in Google and in other search engines, so I know how important metadata and tags can be in achieving this.

I made sure to hyperlink to other sites, but also to hyperlink to my own site to encourage readers to stay on my page and continue reading my posts.

Analysing what I didn’t do well:

Engaging with my audience was an afterthought. I put a lot of effort into making sure my posts would be entertaining to readers without putting in the time to ensure that readers would make their way to my blog. While I did promote my posts on Twitter, it was also an afterthought.

Looking at my blog statistics, though, was quite positive.

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Blog views for 2016

Highlighted in red are the blog posts for this subject. It is looking at these that I really see the benefits in using audience engagement, because ‘Me, Myself and Media Space‘ and ‘Ethnography, Anthropology and Other Academic Sounding Words‘ were both sent out as tweets, and obviously they paid off.

There might have been more people reading my posts than I can calculate, though, because my home page has all of my posts on it in their entirety, and so there is a good chance people did read my posts, but just didn’t click on each individual one.

I acknowledge that by not engaging with my audience in a subject about audiences will have a negative effect on my overall mark.

Reflection:

Overall, I feel like I understand the content of this subject, and I hope that I communicated that well through my blog. My main reflection would be to have realised that audience engagement was extremely worthwhile, especially for this assessment and subject, and I wish I had put more effort into this area.

I would have done this by Tweeting my posts regularly, and I would have commented on other students blogs to engage with them and encourage them to view my posts.  I would also add an open-ended question to the ends of each post to encourage readers to respond to the posts. Things like

  • What are your views on internet piracy?
  • Are you a multi-device user, even when you should be focusing on one thing?
  • What is your opinion about street photography? Should there be laws restricting it?
  • Have you ever had a negative theatre or cinema experience?

I believe if I had done all of these things, I would have no just understood the subjects content on an academic level, but would have more practice in applying what I had learned.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Torrents

A 2015 report found that Australians are more likely to download content compared to the UK. Movies are the most downloaded content, followed by music, TV programs and video games. Respondents to a survey, conducted by the Department of Communications, said they pirated content because it was free, quick and convenient.

The report also found which factors would be most likely to encourage people to stop downloading content.

  • 39% would stop downloading if legal content cost less
  • 38% would stop downloading if content was more available
  • 36% would stop downloading if content was available as soon as it was released
  • 21% would stop if their internet provider threatened to suspend their account. (Bradford 2015) 

When it comes to movies and television shows, streaming services that are now available, like Netflix, address the first two points (cheaper and more available), and the threat of facing charges for downloading Dallas Buyers Club address the final point (to an extent). It is definitely a step in the right direction – if you are a company or department that wants to regulate piracy. In fact, research by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation:

“suggests that Australian consumers have embraced local streaming services, particularly those aged under 30: 46 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 49 percent of 25 to 30-year-olds say they have streamed content via an online subscription service” (Demasi 2015).

But, as researcher Laura Demasi points out in a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article, there is still a culture of pirating in Australia, which is “normalized and socially acceptable”, as well as “something to be proud of”. She uses an example of people who do not engage in piracy but accept pirated material off of family members or friends without questioning where it came from, if it was obtained illegally, or caring if the creators of the content are getting any financial recognition. (Demasi 2015)

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Story time: 

This a story of a girl, I’ll call her Lassi Flower (definitely not Kassi Klower – do not get confused), who’s sister, we’ll call her Jada, would come over to her house once a week with a massive hard drive and a list of movies, television series and music that she wanted. The two sisters would drink wine and have dinner, while Lassi’s high-speed internet was going overtime to download wave after wave of content, working its way down the list Jada had bought over.

Jada would then take her hard drive, newly filled with the newest season of whatever-it-was and newest release movies, and go home. Jada’s boyfriends’ friends would visit, USB’s in hand, and take what they wanted from Jada’s hard drive. The process would repeat week after week.

Now, Lassi was the only one doing anything illegal in this scenario, but a minimum of five people were benefiting – and this was only one case! Imagine that happening all over Australia.

Because it is so easy to access torrent sites. Even though there are things like the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, which aim to prevent Australians accessing torrent sites, pirates have an upper hand and will make new sites, find loopholes and sneak around the bill’s faster than the government can put them in place and make them law. For the purposes of research, I tried to find a torrent site while writing this, including the popular The Pirate Bay, which routinely gets blocked – before the site finds a way to get back up again – and I found it absolutely with no dramas. I’d make a great pirate.

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Piracy is on a decline but it will take massive changes to Australian media options to stop – like can we just get the television shows right away please because spoilers suck – and I’m not confident we will ever fully be rid of piracy. Because audiences today want content now.

Why should I wait three days for the newest episode of Criminal Minds to get to me, when I can download it and hour after it airs in the US? Why should I have to wait until the DVD boxset of a show comes out before watching it when I can download it for free and watch it in one sitting, without leaving my bed once, like the procrastinating human being I am?

While Netflix and other streaming services have caused a decline in Australian pirating – now 25 percent down from 29 percent (Demasi 2015) – lack of content on the services could be another way to attempt to tackle the problem.

“Gizmodo editor Luke Hopewell said services such as Netflix have made illegal downloads less relevant. But for the laws to work more effectively, rights holders need to make sacrifices.”Consumers are still noticing those catalogues aren’t as full as they could be,” Mr Hopewell told SBS.

“If rights holders could let go of some of that content so it can be negotiated to have more content in Australia available on these services at those good prices, that’s the carrot we need…” (Thomas 2015)

Piracy could be seen as a result of all of the elements of modern Australian audience behavior combining in one place. No longer content with the television and waiting on a strict schedule of when things will be shown, we want everything now and not a minute later. We simultaneously want to be engaged with our content, but also want to watch it while doing other things.

bellatrix-lestrange-i-dont-like-to-be-kept-waiting

So maybe piracy is the next logical (yet illegal) step in media consumption because it means we do not have to wait for the media to get to our shores, or be uploaded to our streaming device. We do not have to pay for a pay TV service, and we can pause or rewatch something again and again.

Then again, maybe we’re just selfish.

REFERENCES:

Bradford, K 2015, ‘Figures showing Australians twice as likely to pirate content as Brits ‘disappointingly high’’, Mumbrella, July 22, viewed September 30 2016, < https://mumbrella.com.au/figures-showing-australians-twice-as-likely-to-pirate-content-as-brits-disappointingly-high-307306>

Demasi, L 2015, ‘Ending piracy will take more than just making the content available’, Sydney Morning Herald, November 2, viewed October 1 2016, < http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/social-radar/what-now-for-piracy-in-australia-20151101-gkoet0.html>

Thomas, J 2015, ‘How will Australia’s anti-piracy law affect you?’, SBS, 24 June, viewed 1 October 2016, < http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/06/23/how-will-australias-anti-piracy-law-affect-you>

You Have To Wake Up And Pay Attention

Sitting down to write this post was hard, because I am four episodes into a gripping series on Netflix,and trying to pull myself away from that feels impossible. I’ve removed myself from my lounge room, and locked myself away in my room to take away distractions, but even now I have Youtube and Facebook open in another tab, in case I want a quick break from typing.

Ask anyone from the older generations and they will tell you that youths today have no attention spans.

A 2015 report by Microsoft Canada found that:

“Overall, digital lifestyles deplete the ability to remain focused on a single task, particularly in non-digital environments. But, all is not lost. Connected consumers are becoming better at doing more with less via shorter bursts of high attention and more efficient encoding to memory” (Microsoft 2015).

The same report finds that the average human attention span is now 8 seconds. I believe those findings. I am almost never focused on a single task, always working on three things at once as well as having my social media tabs open, Netflix running in the background and my phone by my side. But, every now and then I am hit with an intense feeling of motivation and will smash out most of an assessment in one sitting, with only checking Facebook once or twice in the process.

(For full transparency, at this point of the post I went and made lunch and a cup of tea, taking my laptop and watching part of the series. Lunch went for longer than it should have. I need help).

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In another Microsoft study on consumer multiscreen use aimed at helping marketers target the multiscreen consumer identified engagement with multiple devices and found there are four main behaviors:

  • Content Grazing: This is the most common way consumers interact with multiple devices. 68 percent of consumers use two or more screens simultaneously to access unrelated content.
  • Investigative Spider-Webbing: 57 percent of consumers use one device to find information related to what they are doing on another device.
  • Quantum Journey: 46 percent of consumers use multiple devices to accomplish a task.
  • Social Spider-Webbing: This is the least common use of multiple screens. 39 percent of consumers share content about activities they’ve accomplished on other devices (Marvin 2013).

Taking this information, I conducted a very small, informal experiment using my housemates. I suggested a movie night, with the aim to document their device use while watching a movie and whether that affected their enjoyment of the movie.

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I believe that they are all content grazers, and would miss out on important parts of the movie because they were too busy focusing on their phones. The test pool was made up of Madi, Lauren, Tom and Gee, and we watched a horror film called Hush – which I selected because it features a deaf woman, and the film relies on watching more than hearing in order to understand the plot.

The test pool was made up of Madi, Lauren, Tom and Gee (all aged between 22 and 24), and we watched a horror film called Hush – which I selected because it features a deaf woman, and the film relies on watching more than hearing in order to understand the plot.

After the movie, I asked each of them to rate the film and tell me what they thought about it, and also if they could guess how much they used their phones during the film.

ATTENTION RESULTS: 

All four of them used their phones during the movie.

  • They were accessing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, iMDB as well as texting.

One four occasions, Tom had to ask what had just happened because he wasn’t paying attention. One of these times was during the climax of the movie. Gee also asked once what had just happened.

Lauren looked at her phone the least, and Tom looked at his phone the most. Gee and Madi fell in the middle somewhere.

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AFTER MOVIE POLL: 

Lauren voted the movie a 9/10 and said it was one of the best thriller movies she had seen in a long time. She said it was genuinely scary and she could not look away. She thought she only looked at her phone once when she got a message from her boyfriend and once when she looked up an actor on iMBD.

Madi voted the movie a 9/10. She said she liked it, and was really freaked out. She admitted that she looked at her phone a lot, especially during the tense or scary screens because it helped her be distracted and less affected by the scare.

Gee voted the movie an 8/10 and said she liked it but the beginning was really slow. She also didn’t understand one section of the film involving a fire alarm. I asked her if she remembered the alarm being explained earlier in the movie and she said she didn’t. She thought she was only on her phone a little bit.

Tom voted the movie a 6/10. He didn’t like it and thought it was a bit boring. He also thought the ending was predictable. He admitted he was on his phone almost the entire time.

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As a researcher, I acknowledge my experiment was largely subjective, and therefore no real results could be gathered apart from what I know about my friends. Taking the results of the experiment, as well as my knowledge, I find that the use of a phone during a horror movie does detract from the experience of the film.

In the Canadian Microsoft study, it was found that:

“Social media can drain one’s resources, reducing the ability to allocate attention, connect with content on an emotional level, and process information.” (Microsoft 2015)

Three out of four of my friends used social media during the film, and those three all engaged less emotionally with the film. I also found that all of the four were aware of their multiscreen use, and didn’t really see it as an issue.

As I said, this was in no way an accurate study, but I would like to look into attention spans and device use as part of my final project – the question is, how?

REFERENCES:

Marvin, G 2013, ‘Microsoft Study: Multi-Screen Behaviours And What It Means For Marketers’, Marketing Land, published March 18, viewed September 10 2016, <http://marketingland.com/microsoft-study-multi-screen-behavior-and-what-it-means-for-marketer-36456>

Microsoft Canada 2015, ‘Attention Spans’, Consumer Insights, < https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/649091/mod_resource/content/1/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf>