Final Reflections

My general outlook on new media and technology, both before and after completing this project, is mostly positive. However, I do think my enthusiasm for all things new and shiny has been tempered slightly by my observations over the course of this assignment. Prior to this project, I had never really considered my media usage, aside from recognizing my extreme (perhaps impressive?) procrastination ability. I knew that I often used media to intentionally distract myself from things I ought to have been doing, but I didn’t think much beyond that. This project made me stop and evaluate my media use, taking a closer look at the real effects all these new media have on the way I use technology and interact with the world. Before this assignment, I wholeheartedly believed that all new media was, or had the potential to be, great, especially in regards to smartphone technology. They say there’s an app for everything, and if more is always better, what could go wrong? Throughout this project, my thoughts on that matter have shifted a bit. While I still definitely see the benefits of the ever-changing landscape of new media, I’ve come to recognize the need to prioritize and simplify in my daily life.

My iPhone is a prime example of new media excess. Thanks to the iOS 8 update, I currently have 101 applications on my phone, up from the 97 I had during testing for this project. The fact that I could use a different app each day for more than three months is absurd. Clearly my app collection has been growing for some time, but prior to this assignment I just never thought about it. Sure, a few times I’d tried to reorganize my home screen and briefly marveled at the utility of app folders (of which I used to have almost a dozen), but obviously it wouldn’t go much deeper than that. And I think that’s a major cause of many people’s media use issues today—we just don’t think about it. It’s so easy just to accept the next new thing and then move on without stopping to consider the usefulness or longevity of something.

This chart from Wall St. Cheat Sheet shows that apps take up a considerable chunk of total digital media usage.

I didn’t realize my app collection was so ridiculous until I began recording my field notes for the first part of the project. So while my Camtasia walkthrough and other activity logs also revealed interesting trends in my media use, my phone use struck me as most interesting and potentially concerning. So, to test my app usage more in depth I designated one of three categories for each application: used daily, used at least once a week, and used less than once a month. While I did a pretty good job placing apps in the correct categories, the raw data of which apps I use when doesn’t seem that important to me now. What I’m taking from this project is a new perspective on how and why I use various apps and a clearer idea of the general functionality of new media in my everyday life.

I tend to use the same dozen or so apps each day, most of them with rather basic yet important functions, like an alarm clock, the weather forecast, a calendar, a notebook, and a transit tracker. These are all things I would need or want to use each day, even if it meant some sort of analog version. Beyond these apps, I also use several means of communication throughout the day, from texting to Facebook messenger (although pretty rarely do I use my phone’s actual phone capability, except to call my mom). Aside from these more “essential” apps, I frequently use a few other social media apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I use my music or audiobook app each day while commuting, and often during that time I’m also playing my new borderline-obsession, Hay Day, a farming game. Those, plus a miscellaneous app here or there, are what I use each and every day, and I’d consider them all pretty essential in how I get most things done (with the exception of Hay Day—it’s my guilty pleasure).

After observing these seemingly normal usage trends for 72 hours, I had to ask myself about those other 80-some-odd apps. What are they and why do I have them all? Is there a good reason for my excessive app collection? A closer look at which apps fall into the leftover category shows that to a certain extent, there are perfectly good reasons to have so many apps. A lot of them are very convenient in their functionality, but only at specific times or for certain purposes. For example, I have an app, TripIt, which scans your email and compiles all travel information into one place. It’s perfect for when I get to the airport and need to access my confirmation number or flight information. I don’t have to spend 10 minutes scrolling back through my email for the reservation I made weeks ago. While I’m certainly no jet setter, I still feel that keeping the app when I don’t have any upcoming travel plans is justified by the benefits of having it when I do. Sure, I suppose I could delete it for a few months until I need it again, but part of it’s convenience is that it’s always there, ready to go. Although life going perfectly according to plan would be fantastic, we all know it never does, so if I need to unexpectedly go home in two days, I want to be able to use that app without worrying about it. That’s part of the allure of specific apps—they may have only a few functions, but they are always there, doing their job if we need to use them.

TripIt is just one example of my many “extra” apps that I actually do use. Looking at the data I collected during this project and thinking about what the data left out made me realize that the value of new media doesn’t always have to be right now, every day. Yes, those apps I use every single day are important to me, but so are many of the ones I use less frequently. To be totally candid however, I do have several completely pointless or unused apps that I should definitely delete. So while I don’t use every single app I have, this assignment has made me more conscious of those that I do use and has inspired me to do a bit of decluttering in my digital life.

I’m seeking simplicity in my digital life, and Douglas Rushkoff says that our digital experiences become simpler the more complex our machines become. In his book Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Rushkoff argues that “instead of learning about our technology, we opt for a world in which our technology learns about us. It’s our servant, after all, so why shouldn’t it just do what it knows we want and deliver it however it can?” (2011, p. 68). I realize he’s trying to make a bigger point about us accepting the modified, simplified realities that are replacing real world experiences, but I want to push back on his example a bit. I don’t have the faintest idea how iPhones or apps really work but I absolutely love the convenience of them. However, my usage of those technologies doesn’t mean I don’t value my real world experiences—in my opinion I’m just enhancing them. I primarily use new media to connect with people, both near and far. My roommates and I have a two-year-long Facebook message that’s essentially just Buzzfeed links, gossip, and Pusheen stickers. Of course I still value my real interactions with them—we live in the same physical space. But having a digital outlet to connect and share with them when we’re not in the same immediate place has brought us closer I think. It might be silly to say that I have learned so much about my roommates from endless Buzzfeed quiz results, but it’s true! The same goes for my friends who are not physically near me. I studied abroad in the Netherlands last semester and met so many amazing people. Unfortunately, at the end of it we all had to go home, and now we’re half a world away. The ability to send them a Snapchat on a whim may seem trivial, but to me it’s an incredibly powerful tool that brings us together despite our physical distance. So yes, perhaps Facebook and Snapchat are non-essential in the grand scheme of things, but in my personal life media like those are what connect me and add more value to my real life experiences.

My goal for this project was to simplify my digital life, and while I haven’t actually deleted any apps yet, I’ve definitely gained a new insight on how and why I use new media. I’ve also thought about what it really means to simplify, and despite Rushkoff’s concerns that media simplification waters down the experience for us, I think there’s more good in it than bad. Part of that is due to my awareness of my lack of knowledge. I know that I really don’t understand how these new technologies work, and I know that they can never replace true real world experiences. However, in my estimation, they can add to them. The key here though is moderation. For me, new media enhance my real life experiences, but before this project started I was overwhelmed with all of the options. This assignment made me consider my media use and realize how I can use new media to best suit my needs.

Works Cited

Rushkoff, D. (2011). Program or be programmed: Ten commands for a digital age. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press.

Initial Results

As I mentioned in my revised proposal, I separated my apps into three categories in order to better evaluate my phone usage. After recording data for 3 days, here are my initial results.

Made using Piktochart.com

Made using Piktochart.com

Over the three days observed, I used just over a third of my apps. It seems the categories I designated were pretty accurate, since 13 of the 14 used each day were in the first category, everyday use (the last one was in the second category). However, this information doesn’t mean much, only that I’m mostly aware of what apps I tend to use more.

An unintended observation I noted was about my patience level. Moving app my apps around to different folders seriously threw me off for the first day or so. Even though I had designated the categories I thought appropriate, I still spent a lot of time swiping back and forth trying to find various apps. It frustrated me a bit until I realized that most of the apps I really wanted to use anyways were pretty easily accessible on the “home page.”

By the second day, I was starting to think a bit more before opening any apps. The total number of apps I used that day was down by about 20% because I was actually considering my actions before doing them. I used mostly category 1 apps that day. Every time I went to open the other category folders, I stopped and thought if I really needed to use a specific app, or if I was just trying to kill time.

I still aimlessly scroll through Twitter and refresh my email far too often, but my more considered app usage has made me think about the way I consume new media. Although I still love being connected through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all that, I’ve also thought a bit more this week about the value of disconnecting, or at least slowing down.

Revised Proposal

As my previous post explains, I have too much stuff. I’m constantly being flooded with information, and to be honest, at times it feels overwhelming.

I’ve decided to focus specifically on my phone use, and the way I use apps in particular.

I’ve gone through all 97 (I downloaded another one the other day—oops) of my apps, putting them in one of three categories:
1. used daily [25 apps]
2. used at least once a week or so [21 apps]
3. used less than once a month [51 apps]
These categorizations were made using my own observations and recollections of my usage and my field notes from the first part of this assignment.

For a 72 hour period I will observe my phone usage, noting which apps I use and how often.

I already know I check my phone a lot during the day, so I’m not so interested in recording that this time. I want to look at how often and for what purpose I’m using my apps.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened my email (that I’ve just checked) to refresh it just once more to kill some time. That’s not productive in the least, but I think it’s pretty indicative of my general media usage.

This will be a test of how many apps I use and why.

Proposal

Like I mentioned, I have way too many apps. Too many programs. Too many bookmarks. Too many ways to consume information.

I need to simplify. I need to sort through my apps, programs, bookmarks, etc. and pare it down to what’s really important. Sure, I like to keep up with sports, but do I really need to have 7 apps and a browser extension and weekly emails? It’s important to stay in touch but I probably could do without half a dozen platforms to send messages to my friends.

I’ve halfheartedly tried to simplify before, to mixed results. I joined feedly a while back so I could get the information I wanted delivered straight to me, but I overcommitted, got overwhelmed, and stopped reading. I tucked it away in an app folder to be forgotten.

A recent and more successful attempt has been my move to utilize Evernote more efficiently. I’ve got a ways to go, but I’ve definitely made progress in consolidating and organizing things that are important to me.

I think the best way to go about this will be a two stage process. First, I need to sort through everything and decide what stay and what goes. Then I can re-observe my media use and see what’s changed, or what more I could do.

Reviewing all the data I collected on myself has definitely motivated me to change something about my media consumption, so I’ll just have to wait and see if simplification is the key. (I didn’t mean to rhyme there, but you’re welcome.)

Preliminary findings

After tracking my media consumption for the better part of two weeks, a few trends have definitely come to my attention. Some of the following conclusions are drawn directly from data shown in previous posts, and others have been extrapolated from general observations and consideration of my media use over time.

I’m a multitasker—for better or for worse—and an impatient one at that. I tend to hop back and forth between programs and platforms just to pass the time while I’m waiting for something to load fully. Even as one tab appears on my screen, I’m on to the next one that loaded ever so slightly faster. If something’s taking forever on my computer, I’ll check it out on my phone, and vice versa. I constantly have multiple programs and tabs open, and I switch back and forth freely to whichever grabs my attention or loads quickest.

Another trend, which seems to have partly stemmed from the first one, is an excess of media delivery options. In what is most likely an effort to always be “doing something” (the multitasker’s mantra), I have a plethora of apps and programs and tabs running at any given time, ready for my attention. No amount of information is ever too much, apparently.

In contrast to the trend of excess is that of integration. So many of the various programs I use are integrated with others. My Gmail account is linked to Google Chrome, Chrome is connected to everything. Evernote connects my computer and my phone, and now Chrome as well. All my email accounts are on both my computer and phone, and all my social media accounts are synced similarly. From any one app I can probably connect to a least three or so more, so why do I have so many? With all the varying ways to consolidate media and have it nicely packaged and delivered to me, why have I made everything so complicated?

I’m clearly a big new media user, so the time of day I’m most active is rather irrelevant—I’m always connected. I think my main concern, after considering these ongoing and emerging trends, is not how much I’m connected but how. I’m beginning to notice that it’s not the information that’s overloading me but how I acquire it.

Walkthrough

As a final method of documenting my media use, I did a video walkthrough of Twitter on my computer.

A standard tweet for me.

The first minute of my walkthrough is immediately indicative of my media consumption style. As soon as the camera turns on, I guiltily look at it and mention that while I was waiting for the program to load so I could do a Twitter walkthrough, I picked up my phone…and almost opened Twitter.

Most of the walkthrough is me babbling about who I follow and why as I scroll down my feed (I’ll spare you the video evidence). A few times I get sidetracked and open tweets or links in other tabs to read later or go back to. I even came across a tweet I mentioned in my Twitter blogpost on the COMM 200 class blog.

One of my recent, most retweeted tweets.

When I get to the bottom of the page, I blurt out this golden line: “Loading? C’mon Twitter, you’re better than this.” I’m such a patient soul, aren’t I? After waiting about a minute for the page to continue loading, I give up and scroll back to the top of the feed to check out brand new tweets. I then scroll down again and thus the cycle continues.

I’m a little embarrassed about how dreadfully impatient I am when it comes to webpages loading, but I’m also quite certain I’m far from the only one.

Video capture

In an attempt to capture my media use in it’s “natural habitat” so to speak, I used Camtasia to record myself on the computer for about 20 minutes.

An accurate depiction.

A highly accurate depiction.

My computer was running about ten programs at once, as usual. My favorite feature of my current operating system, OS X Mavericks, is Mission Control. Basically it allows you to easily see all your open programs and windows at once with one quick gesture. Probably a good five minutes of my video capture was just me staring at Mission Control intermittently, trying to decide what else to do while some program or webpage was loading.

Mission Control in action.

Mission Control in action.

I noticed that anytime I had to wait more than 30 seconds for something to load I would quietly sigh and look at Mission Control until another item caught my eye. Once I even checked the WiFi connection while a webpage was loading. (Actually, I do this quite regularly. Sometimes my computer connects to the WiFi of the coffee shop across the street which is much slower than the internet in my apartment.)

Nothing else in the video really jumped out at me, but I did realize that I often move the cursor along the text of whatever I’m reading. I’m not sure if that’s the digital equivalent of tracing your finger along the words of a book, but it did strike me as a bit, well, primitive.