Categories
Culture

My media consumption habits vs. the average American’s

According to eMarketer, U.S. adults spend twelve hours each day consuming media; that amount has increased 24 minutes since 2012. These numbers may seem impossible, but consider that consumption sessions can overlap:

For example, an hour spent watching TV while simultaneously using a smartphone counts as an hour of usage for each medium, and therefore as 2 hours of overall media time.

Here’s how those numbers break down for the average American:

My only takeaway from these numbers, on their own: it’s amazing how much time the average American carves out for TV. I’m at least a little bit jealous.

Here’s my attempt to estimate my own daily media consumption:

Some notes:

  • My total consumption hours are almost exactly the same as the average American’s: twelve hours each day. I’m not sure whether to be alarmed or relieved by that.
  • My definition for each medium may not match eMarketer’s. For my purposes, “TV” is anything I watch on our big screen—i.e., it includes streaming media (Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime). In my “radio” bucket, I do listen to a bit traditional FM broadcast in the car (mostly NPR). But that category also includes Spotify (instrumental music is the soundtrack for most workdays), podcasts, and my voice-guided meditation app. My ‘radio’ hours are high, but is that because I’ve bucketed things differently?
  • Along the same lines, what counts as “consumption”? I use my devices all the time—literally from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. But for big chunks of the day, I’m making stuff: designing collateral for work, drafting blog posts, recording podcasts, composing emails, etc. I assume that eMarketer is making a similar distinction between active, productive work and passive consumption, but I’m not sure.
  • My media consumption on weekdays differs dramatically from what happens on the weekend. For example, during the week, I rarely watch more than one episode of a TV show before I get sleepy and stumble off to bed. On the weekend, though, I’ll often watch a movie or binge on Netflix for several hours.
  • Similarly, my smartphone use skyrockets on lazy weekend days; I’m far more likely to exhaust my iPhone battery on a Sunday than on the average work day.
  • Looking back, it’s astonishing how much my own habits have shifted in the past few decades. In high school, before I had easy access to the web, I would often spend my study hall flipping through the local newspaper. These days, my print consumption has dwindled to nearly zero—yes, we subscribe to the local newspaper, but I rarely get past the first fold.
  • Another big change since my teenage years? Back then, my media world revolved around the TV. Between traditional linear television and console gaming, I probably spent 5–6 hours each day planted in front of the boob tube. Now, I don’t game at all (I haven’t owned a console since the PS2). And even when the TV is on, it sits on the periphery of my attention. TV mostly serves as background noise for my #1 media consumption activity: browsing Twitter on my smartphone. ■

Categories
Culture tech

Stealing back the attention that tech stole from me

Justin Rosenstein, who helped invent the now-ubiquitous Facebook “Like” button, writes this:

“These are our lives — our precious, finite, mortal lives. If we’re not vigilant, TVs, computers, and mobile devices will guide us to spend our time and attention in ways that don’t align with our deepest desires.”

Here, Rosenstein succinctly captures what I was feeling when I picked this site’s name. “Careful tech” is about approaching our devices with more clarity, more mindfulness, and, yes, more caution. The risk is real: we’re in danger of wasting our lives.

We may even be losing our souls—those things that make us human. Tech distraction suppresses our agency, deadens our compassion, dulls our consciousness, and drowns out our sense of purpose. When we’re held captive by our gadgets, we stop pursuing noble causes and instead squirrel away our hours, chasing red badges and refreshed timelines.

Rosenstein continues:

“Businesses that depend on demand-generation advertising… are incentivized to do whatever it takes to get you to stare at them, from sensationalist journalism, to outrage-baiting discourse, to addictive software. That’s why they sometimes bring out the worst in humanity: they turn people into a product for advertisers to buy…. I’m hopeful we can move onto other business models—in the way that HBO & Netflix have shown is possible for television—in which content producers’ and consumers’ interests are economically aligned.”

“Free” ain’t free

A corollary to all this? “Free” software isn’t free. I’m bartering something for that $0 price tag; in many cases, I’m giving up my attention. Ad-supported software attacks my focus; over time, it makes me shallower, more anxious, and less present. This barrage makes me unhappy.

That’s one reason paid software still matters, even in 2017. In buying great software, I incentivize developers to build apps that help me feel better—instead of ones that steal my focus. I’m helping align the app ecosystem with my best interests. So maybe money can buy happiness, after all. Or, at least, it can fend away unhappiness.

Owning my attention

But I can’t wait around for the software industry to align its financial model with my best intentions. I’m on the Internet all day, every day, which gives my monkey mind plenty of opportunities to get distracted. So here are some changes I’m making now to guard my attention:

  • I’ve locked down my phone notifications. Those buzzes and alerts aren’t doing me any favors. One example: until today, my podcast client pinged me every time a new episode was available. That’s pointless; very rarely do I drop what I’m doing to listen to a show. There are too many apps I let interrupt me for no good reason. You might find it helpful to scroll back through your phone’s notification center, so that you can remember which apps are constantly sending reminders.
  • This feels scary, but I’ve even turned off Twitter notifications. I’ll no longer instantly be aware when someone retweets or replies to me, unless I’m actively using the app. This not only protects my attention, it also prevents me from obsessing about how much (or more often, how little) interest my posts drum up.
  • If a phone app has a reasonably-priced upgrade that disables in-app ads, I’m going to spring for it. For example, I check Weather Underground, my weather app of choice, multiple times each day. That app lets you obliterate ads for $1.99 a year. That’s a good buy.
  • If an app has advertising or distracting media that can’t be turned off, I’m going to delete it. I’ve already dumped Facebook, the preeminent offender here. I’ve also killed the Weather Channel app, which offers a $3.99 “no ads” option but doesn’t (as far as I know) let you turn off its ridiculous ‘video’ and ‘news’ features.
  • First and second pages of my home screen
    First and second pages of my home screen

    I’ve rearranged my home screen (yet again) to make productivity and focus my priorities. My most productive apps (OmniFocus, Calendar, and Drafts) get pride-of-place in the bottom dock. The first page is completely empty, as a reminder to be intentional about what apps I open. On the second page, everything gets buried into folders. And within those folders, the first folder page is dedicated only to favorite apps that improve my focus. Check out the screenshots at right.

These are small gestures, but hopefully they give me just a little bit more headspace. ■

Categories
internet movies TV

Netflix, our hero!

The telcos are doubly damned.

On the one hand, American telecommunications companies continue to hold back TV’s natural evolution. Television service hasn’t improved for decades. To watch your favorite programs, you still have to buy overpriced packages of channels you hate. Even now, when pervasive broadband invites infinite distribution alternatives, the telcos ruthlessly stymie innovation and strong-arm content providers into antiquated deals.[1]

On the other hand, the telcos seem intent on breaking the Internet. Verizon recently won a court case against the FCC, invalidating rules that prevented ISPs from discriminating against traffic. Net neutrality—so key to free speech and healthy competition—is now on death watch. And because telcos own local monopolies in so many markets, Americans may have no choice but to accept it. We’ll pay whatever the ISP demands, accept whatever speeds are available, and put up with whatever crippled version of the Internet they deign to offer.

One company is uniquely impacted by both telco sins. Netflix, the one-time DVD-by-mail startup and current king of streaming video, has a stake in both TV’s evolution and net neutrality.

On the one hand, Netflix represents the future of television. Watch what you want, when you want it, at one low price. Give your customer a simple, intuitive interface, available on any device, anywhere in the world. Just compare Netflix’s clean design to your cable box’s tangled, unresponsive, janky mess of a menu.

Of course, Netflix depends on content providers who sit under the telcos’ thumb. At any time, the streaming service could lose its content deals, leaving behind a wasteland of straight-to-DVD movies and outdated TV shows.

That’s why it’s so important that Netflix develop its own content. House of CardsOrange is the New Black, and Arrested Development aren’t just fun side-projects. They represent Netflix’s future and the future of TV. Let the telcos lock down traditional programming. It won’t matter, if you produce original shows that the viewers adore.

Netflix also stands to be victimized by the second ISP sin: hobbling the Internet. Netflix currently accounts for a huge chunk of U.S. Internet traffic. If the telcos target anyone for “traffic shaping,” they’ll target Netflix. Imagine a world where Verizon slows Netflix to a crawl (“Buffering… buffering…”), but lets its own streaming service scream through the pipes.

That’s why Netflix has already taken a preemptive, offensive stance against traffic shaping. Soon after the FCC lost its net neutrality case against Verizon, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings posted a strongly-worded letter to investors. He vowed to fight any attempt by the ISPs to slow down Internet video. In response, Hastings warned, Netflix would “vigorously protest and encourage our members to demand the open Internet.” Want to see someone get angry? Interrupt their Breaking Badbinge.


American telcos own the infrastructure that links us to the wider Internet. But they don’t own the Internet itself. They can’t hold back new TV business models forever. They can’t escape the fact that their customers just want a big, fat, wide-open connection to the wider network. Hopefully, the telcos accept their “dumb pipe” destiny quietly. But if they can’t (or won’t), let’s hope that Netflix flexes its muscles.


  1. And even when the content companies do stream online, they often require a cable or satellite subscription. In other words, they’re scared of losing their lucrative telco contracts.  ↩