A Final Reflection on New Media and Me

The "New Media" of today plays a huge role in how I live my life
The “New Media” of today plays a huge role in how I live my life

A week ago, my speech partner began her speech about my data diet with a captivating question: what happens when the most tech-savy student in this classroom commits to a data diet? It was an intriguing question, forcing me to reflect on how the results of my diet contributed to my self-formation. Furthermore, on a macro scale, I was forced to analyze not only how my interaction with others changed, but also how my connection to my community at large was affected. I cannot honestly say that my lifestyle has drastically changed after this diet, nor can I say that I use my phone a lot less. However, this diet did play an important role in helping me define my personal media usage. My diet allowed me to shift focus from multiple tasks to one, build interpersonal relationships, and reveal my reliance on a digital presence for relevance in my communities, all in an effort to get a glimpse of the role new media plays in my life.

During my data diet testing phase, my girlfriend kindly noticed important tasks (i.e. homework, studying etc.) interrupted briefly by my device’s arsenal of notification alerts, whether it be blinking, vibrating, or beeping. I almost immediately reacted to these notifications, which were often nothing more than trifling information from my news feeds or pieces of communication in a group chat. What was a pathetic excuse for multitasking actually diverted my attention from my task at hand, and resulted in an endless loop of micro-distractions from my social networking applications or news applications. These distractions proved effective in distancing me away from what I needed to do in the first place.

My data diet helped me prove whether my device was really a distraction and whether I was actually multitasking. With a phone that received nothing but calls and text messages, I was no longer interrupted with a bombardment of group messages, social networking notifications, breaking news highlights, or that Netflix was now streaming the last season of How I Met Your Mother. If I was in an area with no cell service, such as a basement or dead zone around my school campus, I did not receive alerts on my phone at all. Eventually, towards the end of my testing phase, this did not worry me. Most importantly, my focus shifted from completing multiple tasks to ensuring the completion of a single task.

The positive effect this focus shift had on my time management was unimaginable; I suddenly had time to organize my responsibilities without interruption. My data diet indubitably contributed to my self-formation. In his book, “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age,” Douglas Rushkoff describes the effects of being “always on” in this digital age, similar to how I have lived my life in recent years with new media. According to Rushkoff, while we live in a world dictated by time, our digital devices do not, and thus, time is an unknown concept to them. Under these circumstances, we “become more concerned with the newest information rather than the most relevant.” This stays true as I succumb to the temptation to respond to notifications instead of focusing on the most relevant information. However, by applying the concept of time to our digital devices, and choosing when to stay “on,” I have learned that we can effectively avoid digital distractions, and change our ability to engage with the world around us.

At the very least, I saw a direct impact of my diet on the way I interacted with my peers. During the 20-minute shuttle ride between my two college campuses, I am typically found in a transcending state of unbounded bliss, filling my soul with the catchy song-of-the-week on repeat to my heart’s content. With no access to data to stream music from Spotify, I was content with keeping my mobile phone in my pocket or bag for the entirety of the shuttle rides, opting to instead share stories with friends on the bus. It seemed to be just as fulfilling; just as blissful.  Moreover, it was the singularity of the conversations that made them so much more valuable, so much more appealing. A lack of interruptions or temptations to keep multiple conversations going and keeping myself in the “now” helped me to maintain focus and meaning.

Rushkoff describes the importance of recognizing place in the digital era and understanding the importance of being in the “now.” While he acknowledges the benefits of technology in maintaining communication and interaction between people or groups who are not physically near each other, “there are aspects of physical interaction that cannot be simulated through the use of digital medium.” Rushkoff describes body languages like eye contact, physical touch, facial expression, and gestures as aspects of physical interactions that are often lost in translation into the digital world. I agree with Rushkoff; there is no substitute to in-person interaction. The meaningfulness is more apparent, as is the immediacy of your partner(s)’s response. My data diet convinced me of the attractiveness of personal communication, of aspects of communication that are lost in the constant switching between conversations when “multitasking”.

My diet did not occur without its challenges though. When alone, I depended on my family and friends to contact me through text messages. However, if they were using iPhones, their messages automatically converted to iMessages, assuming that my device still accepted them when in fact, the iMessages went straight to my iPad or Macbook instead of my phone. This proved challenging on updating peers on my location, and keeping an updated and consistent conversation going between two “iDevices”. It was almost as if the technology relied on a constant presence on my part to maintain and regulate consistent communication. Despite this challenge, it was important to recognize that I should be in control of my technology – and responsible for its limitations.

On a macro level, maintaining control during my data diet proved to be impactful in my community. I am a board member on my college’s Hindu Students’ Organization, and our primary medium for communication is the group-messaging focused universal application, GroupMe. The application relies on data – either WiFi or Cellular – to relay communication between group members. I was forced to intermittently check the desktop application for the latest news and updates, and was reliant on requesting personal updates from the group’s president through text messaging. The organization is constantly working on upcoming events and fundraisers, and thus, maintaining communication between board members is imperative to completing important tasks. Having no mobile access to GroupMe distanced me from the organization that I was responsible for partly leading. Furthermore, this lack of communication translated into the classroom as well, making group projects, communicating with professors, and viewing updated academic calendars all the more difficult. While my relationships and my concepts of self-formation were definitely affected by my data diet, it was my connection to my community that I believe received the biggest hit. My connection to the digital world, and in turn, campus life and community, rely on these basic communication technologies, and I am distanced without them.

It may be difficult to refute the fact that technology is not in control; humans are. Moreover, as devices become “smarter,” and more opportunities grow for people to rely on them for communication, they become sources of micro-distractions, further developing the already well-established asymmetrical relationship people have with their smart devices. My data diet proved to me that in my human-machine relationship, I need to be in control. Multiple hours of screen-on time a day is unacceptable, and the benefits are real. The future of technology may lie in dualistic relationships between humans and machine, but until society can distinguish between the unequivocally important interpersonal relationship and digital relationships, it can expect to continue to react to those annoyingly disruptive notifications on its lockscreens. I, on the other hand, plan to continue to go on self-mandated data diets throughout the year, slowly distancing myself from my reliance on constantly updated network connections. And as a fellow member of modern society, I challenge you to do the same.

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Testing My Penchants

My Data Diet: 72 hours without a data connection on the go. Photo courtesy of Cult of Mac
My Data Diet: 72 hours without a data connection on the go. Photo courtesy of Cult of Mac

On Thursday, September 25th, I ran from my home to the bus stop in hopes of catching the next bus. Unluckily, it sped past me, and I stood begrudgingly under the roof of the stop hoping to catch sight of the next one. I took my phone out of my pocket to use the app, Transit Stop, for locating the next bus. The app conveniently displays arrival times for buses and trains in the area. However, on that morning, it didn’t. I disappointedly recalled that that morning was the start date of my 72-hour Data Diet.

My phone was essentially barebones, only able to send and receive calls and texts. I could also play some games, but as an apathetic gamer, that freedom meant little to me. For 72 hours, my smartphone would “function” as a dumb phone to test my new media consumption. My previous posts – to recap – signified an overuse of data, and data related applications, on my smartphone. I had learned that I spent nearly 4 hours on a daily basis viewing my phone. I notified my friends (my family rarely ever iMessages me), but strictly enforced the no-data rule. My goal was not only to carefully examine the role of new media in my everyday life, but also examine the affect of its sudden absence in my life. The results were, to say the least, fascinating.

I took notes in the Notes application of my iPhone to record my feelings as I went about the day. At any time, if I “needed” data on my phone, I would record it. I did, however, use my laptop when necessary to complete homework, and if I was out and about, my girlfriend graciously lent me her Samsung Galaxy S III (this was particularly rare, I found).

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On Thursday, I first noticed the absence of data on my smartphone when I had nothing to do on the bus. Typically, on the shuttle bus between the two campuses of my school, I used my smartphone for instant messaging and streaming music, as well as reading news and watching YouTube on occasion. I recognized it was very tempting to use data, even if I intended to use it just for awhile to beat my boredom and drowsiness. On the way back to school, my stomach desired a warm, cheesy slice of pizza. I was instantly reminded of the delicious Rosati’s pizza I had as a kid, so I wanted to find the nearest location to my school. Without access to Google Maps in my pocket, though, I was forced to resort to a local pizzeria. As school came to a close, I shamefully wanted to look up my girlfriend’s school schedule (which I admittedly should have memorized by now) to meet up with her as her classes ended. This was impossible sans-data.

Another aspect of my diet that I noticed on Thursday was the reaction I received from friends who inquired why I hadn’t responded to their instant messages. Many of my friends were surprised, and to be honest, several questioned my ability to make it through the 72-hour period without data use. Their reactions are symbolic of the proliferation of smartphone use, and perhaps a comment on society’s reliance on data as the lack of it may be ostracizing. In fact, I made sure to request that my friends verbally keep me in the loop, as my lack of data my remove me from any potential plans or news. This was important to me, and in fact, very revealing on my reliance on data to stay connected to my peers.

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My lack of data kept me out of the loop in other services as well. I use email daily to connect with professors and students, and a lack of email on my smartphone meant going through the once-normal process of using webmail on my laptop. The horror. I use GroupMe to stay in touch with board members of my main organization on campus. My organization is heavily involved on campus, and thus, to stay in touch with future events and planning, I was forced to use the web application. These are both minor inconveniences, but in an always-connected, instant-on lifestyle, every extra moment spent logging in manually on a computer felt cumbersome.

If I am eating alone at a location without TV, I prefer to watch YouTube videos on my phone. This was, as you expected, impossible without data. I resorted to people watching – spoiler: it was boring. I preferred no interaction to human interaction; this was shocking to me later on, especially as a person who prides himself on being outgoing.

Approximately 1/4 of the applications on the home screen of my smartphone are news apps. I am a news – more specifically tech news – junkie. I strongly feel that I spend more time during the day reading news than I do social networking. Accessing news on my laptop was so cumbersome to me that I was not exposed to any news for 72 hours. That, to me, is dangerous.

I wanted to FaceTime my girlfriend before I went to bed Thursday night. Ever since the dawn of video chat on smartphones, I do not remember video chatting from my computer. Its size made digital interactions impractical. I resorted to texting her goodnight, which was more saddening than one may realize.

The one bright side I noticed from my first day without data was undoubtedly longer sleep time. Because my phone was so limited in its functionality, I had no desire to use it before bed. Thursday night, I had more than the recommended hours of sleep for college student, and it felt amazing.

iCloud allows users to sync their content and messages between their various devices
iCloud allows users to sync their content and messages between their various devices. Image courtesy of Load the Game

Friday, admittedly, was much less of a struggle. Again, it was difficult to manage time without a bus tracker as I prepared for another day of classes. Moreover, that day, I set up a new pair of bluetooth earbuds and needed some support. It was difficult to wait until I opened my laptop computer because it was much less convenient. And when something tests convenience, it also tests my patience. I also noticed that I relied on iCloud to sync my iMessages and my calendar dates across not only my phone, but also my laptop and iPad. When I added an event on my phone, it did not automatically sync to my other devices. Furthermore, if I sent someone an iMessage through my computer or iPad, I had to wait until they replied or check my device later because I could not take the conversation on the go. My key takeaway from Friday was that while I was becoming accustomed to living life without data, I still noticed “subtle” inconveniences. When I could not bring a conversation on the go, or could not receive earphone support on the go, my life was no longer – to a certain extent – seamless. Yet still, the struggle was not severe enough for me to switch on data.

Image courtesy of Tech City NG
Image courtesy of Tech City NG

I also noticed a huge benefit from turning off data on Friday: spectacular battery life. My iPhone 5 has been experiencing weak battery life as of late – well actually for quite a few months now. My battery is likely worn and consumed (which in and of itself probably speaks to my new media use). When I turned off data, my phone was no longer constantly seeking cell towers. The result? Amazing battery life. I ended my day with a little less than 50% of battery life. When I have data on, I go through approximately 50% of data in less than 3 hours. Now remember, my battery is likely worn and consumed so this is not representative of the amount of time I spend on my phone.

You may notice that I did not post any notes from Saturday. This was not on purpose. I just did not have any notes from Saturday. I had gotten so used to not using any applications that require data, and relying on Messages as my primary form of communication that I did not notice anything severely lacking. Of course, intrinsically I believed that data would have “benefited” my day somehow, but I did not experience a disconnect from a mostly connected world.

Step 1 and Step 2 of the Data Diet

My data diet was tailored to my new media habits that I found in my research. Removing myself from an all-encompassing data network forced me to notice my environment, and experience human interaction at a new level. I was no longer walking with my eyes glued to a screen. I noticed my friends walking around campus, and gave more attention to company. I no longer was multitasking. I could write long posts like this without once checking my phone. The benefits were innumerable, yet I still longed to maintain contact through my digital life on the go.

Rushkoff in his 2010 film, Program or be Programmed
Rushkoff in his 2010 film, Program or be Programmed
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Rushkoff’s Ten Commands for a Digital Age describe the effects of modern technology on humanity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Douglas Rushkoff, in his piece, “Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age,” describes my innate longing to be “more concerned with the newest information rather than the most relevant.” Rushkoff warns against our desires to be “always on,” as it reflects on the quality and effectiveness of the information we produce and share electronically. I completely agree with Rushkoff after my testing: we hold the power to decide when we interact digitally. By consciously deciding to stick to my diet and allowing myself to be “turned off,” I was actually becoming more connected than being “always on.”

 

My First Ever Video Walkthrough

I scrolled through Facebook in my first ever video walkthrough, which allowed me to walk through my use of new media
I scrolled through Facebook in my first ever video walkthrough, which allowed me to walk through my use of new media

I was debating how to successfully portray a video walkthrough online while taking into account my personal privacy concerns. It is not that I am shy or ugly to look at; I just do not know if it is appropriate to post my face online. However, despite these concerns, I want to post my reactions to walking a “pretend” audience – eventually you, the reader – through my use of new media. I did this through my Macbook’s convenient webcam, which allowed me to hold up my phone, and scroll through Facebook. What I found as a result of this thought experiment was very interesting.

I began by scrolling through my news feed as normal. My girlfriend had noted a blank, but concentrated facial expression when she observed me scrolling through social media. I saw evidence of this in my video.  Furthermore, as I scrolled through my news feed, I noticed that I spent time analyzing photos more than I did meaningful statuses. My analysis consisted of: who was in the photo, what was the occasion, am I interested in any way etc. Moreover, I spent time clicking through links which friend’s “liked” – mostly news articles. I might call it exposure to popular news. I read comments on photos and statuses, but not necessarily “liked” them. I had a tendency, I noticed, to “like” photos of my friends and statuses – no matter who wrote it – that related to me in some way or amused me. I had realized that many, many of my Facebook “friends” were people – and it saddens me to say this – whom I had rarely ever interacted with in “real life”. And thus, that rarity carried over online too. It made me wonder: why am I following their life? Why am I spending almost 4 hours of my day perusing through the statuses and photos of “strangers”? I could not answer that question, but I assume this issue is relatable.

In addition, I noticed that I did get distracted quite often. For the first time, I am realizing the severity of my short attention span. I quite often followed hyperlinks and forgot to return to my newsfeed. I responded to texts and messages, and carried over that black face to other applications.

My social media walkthrough was eye-opening in some ways. It was interesting to see how complex my thought process was relative to my facial expression. And after a short while, my thought processes would simply disappear as I entered another application, or resumed with another activity. Thinking so much, so hard about portraying myself online and searching for entertainment or appealing news links has characterized my use of new media. And I scroll so often, so many times a day that the process has been repetitive. Can I remove myself from this mundane digital lifestyle? Or simplify my use of digital media? Perhaps a data diet can answer these questions.

Media Diet: My Proposal

Photo courtesy of Business Insider
Photo courtesy of Business Insider

My Media Data Diet

From my test week, I reached the conclusion that my data usage defined my media consumption on my smartphone. Nearly all of the applications I used during my 3.8 hours on my smartphone every day relied on data. So, to test how much I really need my smartphone to capture data, and how much I really need those applications that rely so much on data, I am planning to go on a data diet. Sometime next week, my smartphone will enter a temporary data dead zone for 72 hours, during which my iPhone will solely act as a phone and a text-message communicator. During this period, I will note which apps I actually need to go about my day, what workarounds I can think of, and how my absence from data retrieval affects my knowledge of the outside world. In fact, I will note down as much as I can during this data diet, from emotional reactions to social effects. Will I be able to neglect data on my smartphone for 72 hours? Stay tuned as this college student attempts to do what not many college students do…use a “dumb” phone!

What I Found: The Meaning Behind the Numbers [Summary]

After a week of taking notes on my media usage, I have come to a conclusion. Photo courtesy of the Verge
After a week of taking notes on my media usage, I have come to a conclusion.
Photo courtesy of the Verge

My preliminary findings were a result of a variety of carefully considered tests. I tracked the amount of time I spent on my smartphone with the Moment app. I discovered my data usage over the course of the test week with the MyDataManager app, which visualized both WiFi and cellular data usage. In addition, I noted down some of my most frequently used apps in an attempt to find common denominators. These findings, in addition to the notes provided by my girlfriend and my video walkthrough, are representative of my – what some would consider – excessive use of smartphone and media consumption. But as my girlfriend’s notes may have revealed, the excessive use of data may be the result of my attempts to share knowledge and media in the “real” world. To support this theory, let’s look at each of my field tests individually.

Moment

Moment allowed me to track the amount of hours I viewed my smartphone over the course of the week. While I spent an average of 3.8 hours per day on my smartphone, the majority of time my phone was used continuously was at home, a friend’s apartment, or school. At all of these locations, I was with company. While the relationship may lead you to believe that I am consistently rude among company, it is a clear indication that my smartphone usage peaks around peers. Perhaps I subconsciously need accompaniment to avoid total isolation in the digital world, or perhaps I desperately have a need to share the knowledge I attain from consuming media and communicating.

MyDataManager

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MyDataManager allowed me to position data usage throughout the day

As the title suggests, I managed my data usage with MyDataManager, a free app on Apple’s App Store (highly recommended if you continually exceed your monthly data allotment like I do). The app revealed that most of my data is sourced from WiFi networks, rather than cellular networks. And WiFi of course, relative to its nature, is found at my home, friends’ apartments, and around campus. Thus, I reach a similar conclusion, but I do not ignore the fact that during a typical week, where I have access to the full speed of LTE under T-Mobile, my LTE use skyrockets.

Most of the applications that I use on a regular basis on my phone use data to function to their full extent. Thus, I am not surprised that the amount of time I spend on my phone – as revealed in Moment – correlate with the excessive data use revealed by MyDataManager. MyDataManager successfully convinced me that my phone – and by extension, me – fully relies on data to deliver communication and media content. My media consumption is absolutely reliant on the data sourced by my phone.

Other Testing Sources

I have a tendency to follow hyperlinks from wherever I am to pursue interesting articles or sources of information
I have a tendency to follow hyperlinks from wherever I am to pursue interesting articles or sources of information

By noting down some of my most frequently uses applications, I emphasized my reliance on data. Nearly all of the applications on the lists relied on data. Furthermore, with my girlfriend’s notes, I have come to the understanding that my media consumption is based off of short stints of scrolling through news – be it social networking, and sharing when convenient with the people around me. My video walkthrough revealed that my thought-process when scrolling is largely similar, despite the outlet I am scrolling through. It can be described as judgmental, or in some cases, a search for humor or interest. I also noticed similarities between my desire to switch between tasks – as my girlfriend noted – and my tendency to take advantage of hyperlinks and follow my interests.

What does this all mean?

All these numbers, these “perhaps”s and theories…what do they all lead to? Well, for me, they lead to the conclusion that I rely heavily on data for my media consumption, and that my tendency to switch tasks quickly and follow hyperlinks is representative of my desire to pursue and obtain short bits of information quickly, whether it be through news sites or social network news feeds. But how would my personality, and my desire for constant media consumption, change if I went on a media diet? Let’s plan one. Find out more in my next post!

 

 

It’s Been Awhile

I haven’t posted since September 3rd. What have I been up to since then? I have been looking for the best ways to monitor my media usage. I chose to monitor my smartphone usage because my pocket computer lies at the helm of my daily media usage. However, because I am a devoted iPhone user, tracking my media use became tricky. iOS does not allow developers to release applications that look into your application usage data for maintaining privacy. So, I was tasked with discovering workarounds, and I finally believe that I have found it.

The Moment application allows users to track how many times they pick up their phone
The Moment application allows users to track how many times they pick up their phone

Moment

In order to monitor my usage on my iPhone, I used several applications. One of which is Moment. Moment for iOS allows users to track how much they use their phone each day. The $4.99 application attempts to track how many times you pick up your iPhone each day, where you go each day, and have those locations and usage plotted on a map. The app can be really eye opening. From my use, the app seemed to portray accurate information. This isn’t the most accurate way to track your phone usage, however. There were times when I force quit the app to preserve battery, and when I forgot to resume the app’s tracking manually afterwards. However, generally, the app shows shocking details about how much time I actually spend each day on my iPhone.

MyDataManager conveniently tracks both WiFi and cellular data usage. Photo courtesy of iTunes.
MyDataManager conveniently tracks both WiFi and cellular data usage. Photo courtesy of iTunes.

MyDataManager

The second application I used to track my phone use is MyDataManager. The free application is a convenient tool to track data usage. It tracks both WiFi and cellular data consumption using easy to understand visualizations, allowing me to take a glimpse into my cell phone usage. In fact, during the middle of the month, when I started my smartphone tracking, T-Mobile had recently slowed down my data for exceeding my monthly allowance of 3 GB of data. I knew that tracking my data usage would be effective in painting an overall picture of how much I use my phone daily.

I know for a fact that the majority of applications on my smartphone rely on data, and thus, to complement this application, I manually wrote down the applications I used every morning before school started. I will post the common denominators from the week. This list describes the applications that I rely on the most from my smartphone, and not surprisingly, the majority of them require data use.

Lastly, I requested my beautiful girlfriend to watch me discreetly while I used my smartphone around her, and take notes on how long I used my phone, what applications she noticed me using, and my reactions / facial expressions while I perused my smartphone.

These applications and notes allowed me to keep track of my media usage and present a proposition to take a media diet. How exactly will I partake in a media diet? Keep reading to find out!

Notes from my Girlfriend [In place of Video Capture]

My wonderful girlfriend agreed to pay attention to my smartphone use throughout my test week, carefully and observantly noting down peculiar observations and findings. Below is a picture representative of the quality and reoccurring nature of her notes as she tracked my use. All of her notes were taken discreetly, and only given to me at the end of the week. None of the notes have been altered in any way. They present an interesting, personal account of my media use. It is bizarre and eye-opening to look from the outside inwards, making me wonder…is she alone in viewing me this way? The answer is – in all likelihood – no.

My girlfriend noted her observations of my media usage with her Galaxy S III discreetly.
My girlfriend noted her observations of my media usage with her Galaxy S III discreetly.

Aside from revealing my short attention span, the notes reveal the immediate nature of my tendency to reply to notifications. Furthermore, they reveal a lack of concentration on the task at hand, and a willingness to pursue multitasking. As she notes, there is a constant switching between tasks, as if there is something calling on my smartphone, or as if there is a part of my mind that is thinking about the next thing I need or want to do on my smartphone while I am doing something else, like homework.

Moreover, my girlfriend repeatedly noted my tendency to mindlessly scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter, or through news websites. And in most cases, she notes, I lose interest in a matter of mere minutes.

Most importantly, my girlfriend noted that during this mindless scrolling, my facial expression remains stagnant. I seem concentrated, but not interested. My facial expression did not change until I looked up from the screen to show her something, at which point it usually changed to a smile. This underscores a possible desire to share my digital life with my “real” life.