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The 43-Hour Day

by William McGaughey

Americans and residents of other industrialized countries spend an average of 43 hours a day interacting with various communication devices. The fact that this number exceeds the 24 hours in day reflects the simultaneous use of several different devices. In other words, today’s consumers of communication messages are “multi-tasking”. They are paying attention to a number of events at the same time. The Media Center at the American Press Institute reports that “70 percent of consumers use multiple forms of media at the same time.”

OMD, a media-services company in New York City, reports that the average American home in 2006 has 12 different media devices compared with 5 a decade ago. Some of the newer devices include big-screen televisions and iPods with video. This company has surveyed people in several industrialized countries, including the United States, to determine the average time per day which they spend on activities related to each device. The results follow:

Communication device
Average hours per day
Internet
3.6
Television
2.5
Radio
1.3
Music (non-radio)
1.3
Telephone
1.3
Email
1.2
Instant messaging
1.0
Newspapers
0.7
Magazines
0.6
Text-messaging
0.6
Online games
0.5
Movies
0.4
Video games
0.3
Personal digital assistant
0.2

 

The OMD survey includes persons in the United States, Argentina, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, China, France, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

What conclusions can one draw from these facts?

First, we are living in an age dominated by electronic media. It is an age in which young people (especially teenagers) are on the cutting edge of cultural development. Members of the old generation must often learn from them. Such web sites as YouTube.com and Myspace.com are an important part of young people’s lifestyle.

Second, unlike the old days, the consumers of this new electronic culture seldom give any media-generated experience their undivided attention. As President Lyndon B. Johnson once watched three network-news television programs at a time, so today’s multimedia consumers have a number of different devices on at the same time. Their attention shifts between one and another depending on personal interest.

Some call this a “distracted” life experience and worry whether the next generation will have the patience or concentration required to do the complex analytical thinking required for jobs in a technologically advanced world. Does this contribute to short attention spans? Some worry whether people’s skills of interpersonal communication may suffer if their main communication is through electronic devices. Because of cell phones and email, some parents report improved communication with their children. Other parents restrict the use of television and other programmed entertainment so that their children have time to do school work or have “real life” experiences with persons of their age.

Third, electronic communication is a growing part of the economy. Commercial innovation is focused on this sector of enterprise. As more people become interested in an electronic gadget, sales volume increases and prices come down. Between 1998 and 2006, the cost of a 42-inch plasma television set has dropped from $12,000 to $2,000. Lower prices mean that even more people will be interested in purchasing or using the device. It will increase its hold on the consumer market until some other device comes along.

Finally, in a world of multi-media communication, the remote control is a critical interface between the experience delivered by a particular electronic-communication device and the individual consumer. The consumer can conveniently switch between one experience and another by pressing the on/off button on the remote-control device with minimal physical exertions. That may encourage people to become “couch potatoes” whose brains are seething with entertainment images while their bodies grow flabby from lack of use.

At the same time, the newer electronic technologies tend to be more interactive than a technology such as television or radio. Consumers are more in control of their entertainment experiences and, in cases such as video games, they can personally influence or interact with the experience. As an executive with Cartoon Network Enterprises put it: “Watching TV is a ‘lean-back’ activity. You’re enjoying it, but you’re passive. With computers, you’re ‘leaning forward.’ You’re engaged. With multi-screening, you’re doing both.”


This page summarizes material in an article by Neal Justin in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune on November 26, 2006, pages A1 and A18, titled “Swarmed by Screens: As high-tech products transform our lives, they’re powering debate about the overall effects.”

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