Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coming to a Close

Rapidly changing technology will continue to cause the devices and media in our lives to change, but I believe there will always be a need for a “window” to the media, which (for now) is the screen.  Through the “Screen Addiction” blog we have explored the role these devices play in modern life and have discovered how the growing presence of and interaction with these technologies effects daily life and human behavior.

Exploration Summary and Conclusions

Research shows Americans have a large appetite for consumer electronics and screened devices, particularly the television, computer and mobile phone. These high levels of consumption have created  problems with Internet addiction, and has been most recently broadened to include device or technology addiction as well. 

Theorists believe as people continue to have these high levels of interaction with devices deeper, intimate relationships referred to as “humachine” (Poster) are formed. In searching for evidence of the “humachine” a survey of daily device usage and perception revealing what resembles a working partnership with the technology as opposed to a deep relationship. Survey respondents reported interacting with no less than two and as many as eight devices in the typical day resulting in fragmented usage divided among gadgets. I believe this fragmentation dilutes the intensity of interaction and dependence that could develop and nurture a deeper connection or  “humachine”.

The evolution of the smart phone into what more closely resembles a mini computer is quickly consolidating varying device functions into one piece of technology. Through the smart phone I believe  people will become increasingly reliant on one device, focusing and intensifying the interaction.  This may result in a deeper, more intimate connection needed for realizing the “humachine” in the near future. 

Examination of my own device usage revealed a great dependence on my mobile smart phone and overwhelming feelings of stress and loss of control as related to technology. A 24-hour device detox brought to light a habit for constantly “checking” the devices, concerns regarding the deterioration of face-to-face communication and a struggle to balance relationships in both the physical and virtual worlds. I concluded that in going without I longed for the ability to easily multi-task and search for new information (i.e. functions of the device) and not the device itself. 

This is Your Brain on Devices

As advancements in technology promote increasing human attachment to and interaction with a device(s), I believe this is an area that warrants further exploration. I think  “humachine” relationships will be realized, but we have to be able to recognize them and prove existence. Moving forward, I believe device dependence and “humachine” research should look to Neuroimaging or Brain Mapping with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tools to truly uncover deep human connections to technology and devices. Traditional research methodologies such as surveys and focus groups can have difficulty uncovering the subconscious thoughts and feelings of the respondent. Brain Mapping, however bypasses any conscious interference by measuring response activity in different areas of the brain and ultimately decoding the thoughts of the respondent. 

At the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at SUNY Stony Brook, Drs. Arthur and Elaine Aron perform studies focusing on cognition in personal relationships and have been active in several research efforts using Brain Mapping technologies. In 2005, Dr. Arthur Aron in partnership with anthropologist Helen Fisher and neurologist Lucy L. Brown studied romantic love using fMRI. Brain activity was measured as respondents were  shown photographs of the person they were in love with for a short period, distracted, and then shown a photograph of a person with whom they had a “neutral” relationship with. Suppose, this study were repeated adding the device the person interacts with the most in between the photographs. Would the fMRI reveal similar brain activity images to the response associated with love? Perhaps addiction? Or maybe similar to the attachment and nurturing responsibility a parent feels for its child? I believe Neuroimaging and Brain Mapping can provide us with the answers that will move deep device relationships from theory to scientific fact.

Please find an Exemplary Literature Review supporting the information presented in the "Screen Addiction" blog.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Just Me, Myself and iPhone

I believe examining one's own behavior can provide important insight into human nature – looking at the part to make inferences about the whole. Therefore, I wanted to include in the “Screen Addiction” blog an exploration of my personal experiences with devices and the relationships and rituals I have developed.

In a typical day my device usage centers primarily around a desktop computer and a smart phone (iPhone). I interact with both of these devices more than 20 times in a day. As a student, I tend to spend periods of three to five hours at the computer, taking short breaks here and there – but always carrying my iPhone with me so as not to “miss” anything important. When I actually took the time to pay attention to my behavior I realized my iPhone is on hand at all times. I could almost say I use it continuously (at home, on-the-go, etc.): from the time I roll out of bed until closing my eyes at night I am intermittently interacting with this device, some times once every 10-20 minutes. I am using it like a small, portable computer: accessing information and keeping in contact with friends and family via text message and email. My smart phone is rarely used for making actual phone calls. When a call is made, I have typically scheduled a time to speak, mostly to avoid unexpected interruptions during the day. The television is the device I interact with the least in a day. It is usually only on when the few TV shows I watch are scheduled, or when I need to try to relax before going to sleep. I will also turn on the television when I find the house to be too quiet and I need a little background noise, or should I say, “company”?

While most data in my life is housed and organized on the computer or iPhone, I do still like to keep paper lists for my “to do” and grocery. There is something about writing out a “to do” list that helps me to remember my agenda and I feel a greater sense of satisfaction when I write that check mark next to an item. A written grocery list on the fridge allows my husband to add items to it, and I find a small piece of paper much easier to hang onto when I'm pushing a shopping cart! I would much rather drop a piece of paper than my iPhone...

The effects of my daily device interaction are certainly a sense of being well-informed, highly organized and very connected to my network. But, I found when I was interacting with the computer for long periods I was wanting to break away, maybe to simply eat something or use the rest room, but so many times failed to do so. Too often I would be “sucked in” by new email alerts (I can't resist looking), which provided information and links to more information, and next thing I would know more time had gone by and I wasn't even focused on the original task at hand. This is how an intended hour or two at the computer typically turned into these marathon sessions due to distraction. 

I have also realized I am a chronic multi-tasker. I have always had this tendency, but the devices and Internet only feed this impulse to be doing several things at once. Again, another reason I am constantly on my iPhone. Why only run errands when I could also be paying bills, texting family about the things that are happening in real time, checking email and more all on my iPhone at the same time? It makes me feel efficient and accomplished, yet also causes me stress. 

The 24-Hour Experiment 

I figured the best way to understand what the devices mean to me and how they truly effect my behavior would be to go without them for a 24-hour period. I assumed that if there were some deeper underlying relationship with the devices I would “miss” them, they way I might miss a friend who has moved away. I wondered how not having access to the devices would make me feel? How would it effect my behavior?

I began the experiment by logging of the computer (which I was using at the time) and powering off my iPhone. I knew if the phone even had power I might be tempted to use it. Funny enough, after turning the phone off, several minutes later I reached for it and hit the button out of habit to “check in”. The screen however remained dark and I remembered my new circumstance. 

I made an effort to keep myself busy with house work, physical exercise and making dinner, but the house was eerily quiet and I wished I could put the iTunes on shuffle or turn on the TV as I went about my activities. One thing that was particularly frustrating was not being able to text message my husband. We are constantly sharing the things that are happing in our days in real time when we are apart. If something good happens I send a text, if something bad happens I send a text, if I have a question...you guessed it, I send a text! During this period several things occurred where my first reaction was to “tell” him with a text message. I actually worried that I would forget all of the news I wanted to share by the time we were able to talk face-to-face. This did turn into a positive however, as we actually had more to talk about that evening and probably one of the better conversations we've had in a long time. 

Several times my husband grabbed his iPhone because he heard an email or text message alert when we were talking and again later when eating dinner.  Now, under the normal circumstances I would have been doing the same thing, but for the first time I saw it as rude and asked him to stop. I have always been very open-minded about the use of devices in most social contexts, but now felt ignored and that what I was saying was unimportant. I ran into a few other difficulties throughout the experiment, such as not having access to a calculator (typically use computer or phone), stress caused by not being able to multi-task like I normally would, and having some trouble relaxing without the entertainment of television or games on my iPhone. 

 During the 24-hour period I noticed I felt a frequent impulse to “check” the computer or phone. In “An Archaeology of Cyberspaces: Virtuality, Community, Identity” Shawn Wilbur describes this phenomenon so characteristic of the virtual community as, “a semi compulsive practice of checking in with (unseen) others who are checking in occasionally in all sorts of online forums.” (50) I was well-aware of the fact that I was unable to look at the devices, but this was something subconscious that popped into my head at least once an hour; a habit ingrained in my day-to-day behavior.


In the end, I survived. Nothing fell apart without access to my treasured devices. I would have to say that it was actually nice to have a mental break from all of the device interaction I have on the typical day. I learned interesting things about myself and my behavior that may be similar to the device experiences of others. My conclusion reflects the “Yes, but...” attitude of this blog's research respondents.  I agree, that yes, the devices (and their functions) are to my overall benefit, but several effects leave me with cause for concern:

  • I believe I am at times on multi-tasking overload. I find it is increasingly hard to relax and the relief I felt when I powered off the devices may indicate that the non-stop interactivity with devices is taking its toll. Stanford University recently studied 100 media multi-taskers. Researcher Eyal Ophir reported this FOX News story below, “They're letting the information control what they pay attention to rather than they being in control...My speculation is that our brains probably are being rewired in some way.” This conclusion hits very close to home for me. 
  • I realize now that I'm not so much addicted to the technology, but rather the search for and access to new information: whether that be an email, text message, Facebook status, news article,  etc. Without the media and services provided by the devices I found myself feeling “left out” and uninformed. Interestingly enough, I feared I would “miss” important emails or announcements during the 24-hour period, but did not. The proves to be an unnecessary and  irrational fear.
  • I have certainly developed the physical habit of “checking in” with my devices. During the day I wonder constantly about about what the “unseen others” are doing, reporting, etc. in the various media I participate in. This is a very time consuming and distracting ritual in my life that I believe puts an enormous pressure on myself to keep up with two realities: my physical, present world, and the place inside my devices (unbound by the limits of space and time). Not an easy task.
  • Surprisingly, after this experiment I now better understand many people's uneasiness about the overall effects devices are having on communication. I am without a doubt more “connected” to people than I have ever been. But, for the first time I really saw how the distraction caused by attempting to juggle communication in both present reality and the online world has confused my relationship priorities. I now realize that I tend to ignore face-to-face interaction to attend to my devices, and give in to the device that demands my attention “now” with non-stop alerts and notifications.  I put people sitting right in front of me “on hold” for a buzzing device and I need to be mindful of how this effects relationships. 

What's Next?

I recommend to anyone reading this to take the time to pay close attention to your own behavior patterns and feelings, and if possible try the 24-hour experiment. I learned a great deal from my self-examination. The purpose is not to demonize the devices, as they are certainly to our benefit, but to become aware of the role devices play in day-to-day life and take control if necessary. Personally, as I move forward there are several changes I intend to make to relieve stress and restore relationships.

A perfect example of this comes from Peter Bregman of the Harvard Business Review, who writes about his own personal choice in the blog entry: “Why I Retured My iPad” 

Bregman found that for him, the iPad was just “too good.” He explains that, “The brilliance of the iPad is that it's the anytime-anywhere computer...Any free moment becomes a potential iPad moment.” Bregman realized that he missed “boredom”. He believes the “busyness” generated by iPad use took away his time to think and to be creative. And, because he could not curb his usage he decided to return the device and spend more time with his daughter in those moments he regained.

Now, I have to say that think the iPad is an amazing tool and plan to purchase one for myself – but, I am happy to have read about Bregman's experience. And, to have gained through writing this blog a fresh perspective on technology in my life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Power of One

The objective of conducting the "Screen Addiction" blog (findings revealed in last post) was to examine daily device usage and gain insight into the personal interactions that occur with devices. The hope was to uncover some evidence of the “humachine” or the intimate relationships with technologies described by theorists, Mark Poster and Sherry Turkle.  While the survey results are certainly interesting, to say they point to the existence of human-machine intimacy with screened devices would be reaching. What I do think is evident from the survey findings is an indication of a trend toward the “humachine”. In other words, we are not there...yet.

I interpret the survey results to reveal more of a working partnership with the devices, as opposed to an intimate relationship. The survey respondents made it clear that they are passionate about their devices. They “cannot live without” and even “love” their gadgets, but the expressed rationale behind this attachment was largely related to the service(s) provided by the technology – not a deep or emotional reason indicative of intimate attachment. If I had to describe the type of relationship alluded to by respondents, it would be similar to that of a CEO who depends on his/her Administrative Assistant. One person even called their laptop the “organization manager for my life” and another said their mobile
phone, “assists me with EVERYTHING”. This leads me to believe people see their devices as partners in life providing entertainment, connectivity to their network, and making tasks such as organization, and finding information easier and more convenient. The devices are highly interacted with and valuable because of their functions we have become so dependent on.

The results of the survey research indicate we are living out the “partnership” envisioned by computer scientist Dr. J.C.R. Licklider in his text “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, published in 1960. Dr. Licklider described a “cooperative interaction” between human and computer, in which computers will help “perform intellectual operations much more effectively than man alone can perform them...preparing the way for (human) insights and decisions...” (1) It appears that half a century later today's technology has fulfilled Licklider's vision facilitating a true partnership with our devices. 

As mentioned previously, I do believe the survey findings indicate a trending from partnerships toward intimate “humachine” relationships. Currently, a person's device interaction and dependence is fragmented. In a typical day people are using two or more devices for different functions causing the division of a person's attention across many gadgets: watching movies on a television, listening to music on an MP3 Player, getting directions from an in-vehicle navigation system, working on a computer, making calls from a mobile phone, etc. No matter the number of interactions a person has with each these devices, how intimate can one really be with a certain piece of technology when there are as many as eight devices to pay attention to? And, how truly dependent on a device someone be when there are other devices readily available to substitue and perform similar functions? I believe this fragmented use of devices prevents developing deeper relationships.

It makes me wonder, what will happen when those multiple, repeated interactions are focused onto ONE device? When a person has one all-important piece of technology as a partner in life? I believe that until people become reliant on one device the deep, intimate connection needed for a “humachine” relationship will not be realized. 

I foresee this type of relationship developing in the the near future however, as technology is quickly moving toward device consolidation. This was illustrated by the recent release of Apple's iPhone 4, which the EE Times reported actually closely resembles a mini version of the Apple tablet computer, the iPad. Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, as well as the survey research for this blog have revealed overwhelming use of the mobile phone above all other devices. The smart phone (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) in particular has become the must-have, all-in-one device with increasing affordability and availability. Further reflecting this incredible demand, CNET reports that in its first day of sales Apple sold an estimated 1.5 million iPhone 4's and people reported waiting in line for eight hours to get the new device!

As the wildly popular smart phone evolves into a mini computer, the myriad of functions performed by multiple devices will be consolidated onto this one piece of technology moving people closer to reliance on and intimate interaction with one device. I believe the intense focus on a sole object will foster the deep connection described by the theories of Poster and Turkle. There will be evidence of the “humachine”...eventually.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Daily Dosage of Devices

Take four and text me in the morning...

To tap into daily device interaction I created and administered a survey consisting of ten questions exploring: 

  • What devices are used daily? 
  • How many devices are used in a typical day and how often? 
  • Where are devices being used? 
  • Which devices are most valued or important? 
  • Are we addicted/dependent on devices? 
  • How does one's belief about their “Technological Identity” affect usage?

The survey questions (view survey) focused on the same screened-technologies covered in previous “Screen Addiction” posts: television, computer, eReader, mobile phone, portable MP3 or media player (PMP), global positioning system (GPS) and hand-held game system.
The survey was hosted by Survey Monkey. Respondents were recruited online through social networking on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and email. A total of 51 completed surveys (n=51) were collected over a period of 12 days. 

 Executive Summary 

  • Users interact with no less than two devices and and no more than eight daily. On average, four devices are used in a typical day with the television, laptop computer and mobile phone being the most used on a daily basis. 
  • Of all devices examined the mobile phone was the only gadget to be used daily by 100% of respondents and was reported to have the most intense usage at 20+ interactions per day. The desktop computer also showed high levels of daily interaction, presumably during the work day where most activities are all computer based. Devices primarily associated with entertainment or leisure (television, PMP, etc.) have the least frequent use at only 1-5 interactions per day. 
  • As can be expected, as a person uses more devices in a day, the number of interactions per device decreases as they divide their activities between many different technologies. The converse is also true, as users who only use a few devices tend to interact with those particular devices more often.
  • Devices said to have had the biggest impact on the life of the user are the mobile phone and laptop computer, not surprisingly two of the most used devices on a daily basis. 
  • Daily device usage occurs equally at home and work/school, with few users reporting usage “on-the-go” or continuous use at all places.
  • The majority of users are distracted by devices in social or work settings, but don't believe devices cause them to work longer/more hours. 
  • Users are undoubtedly attached to their gadgets. Three-out-of-four report becoming stressed or panicked when their devices are not functioning or they forget to take a device with them.
  • People who have strong Technological Identities, or positive beliefs about their skill level, access to, the importance of, and motivation to learn more about technology are likely to use more devices and have higher levels of device interaction in a typical day. Those who believe they have lower skill level and little motivation to learn more about technology will most likely interact with only several (2-3) devices and/or have lower levels of interaction with the any gadgets they use. 
  • The overwhelming majority of people believe the use of devices has some overall benefit. While perceptions are primarily positive, many users do express concerns with societal and behavioral issues such as the deterioration of face-to-face communication or relationship quality, inappropriate usage and distraction by or addiction to gadgets. 

 Overview of Findings 

The majority of survey respondents are in the age groups 25-34 years (49%) and 35-54 years (29%) and primarily female (71%), with nearly 50% being married.  Over 69% of respondents are college educated having completed a 2-year Associate's degree or higher and approximately 65% percent work in white collar or professional occupations. An estimated 18% of respondents have annual household incomes of $25,000-$49,999 and nearly 76% earn $50,000 or more each year.

It should be noted that because the survey was administered primarily through my own social network the demographic largely represents that of my own social circle. Additionally, the online methodology also skews the data toward a more tech-savvy respondent. The findings should therefore be considered within this context as anecdotal evidence. It is recommended that a more comprehensive study be conducted to collect a larger sample representative of the general population. 

Daily Device Usage
In the typical day respondents report using anywhere from two to eight devices. The average user interacts with of four devices daily. It is interesting to note, not one respondent reported using only one or no devices.

When it comes to the types of devices used on a daily basis, the mobile phone is being used by every single respondent (100%). Not far behind are the television (90%) and laptop (84%). Interestingly enough, the laptop computer is used by far more respondents day-to-day than the desktop (59%). Survey verbatim alludes to laptop preference due to portability. 

The MP3 or Media Player (65%) and GPS (31%) are both popular on a daily basis, while newer devices like the Tablet Computer (2%) and eReader (4%) are the least used. The hand held gaming system is only reported as being used by 6% of respondents on a daily basis, but we can assume usage may be higher if the teenage demographic were captured (see Pew Internet and American Life Institute research).
Of the devices used daily, the most intense usage (20+ times per day) is more likely to occur with the desktop computer and mobile phone. Devices used only 1-5 times per day are those typically associated with entertainment/leisure or car trips: television, eReader, PMP, hand held game system and GPS. Laptop users report moderate usage ranging anywhere from 1-10 times throughout the day.
As can be expected, there is a negative correlation between the number of devices used daily and intensity of device usage. As a person uses more devices during the day, their interaction per device decreases. The converse is also true: people who only use a few devices will interact with those particular devices more times during the day. This implies a certain amount of time being allocated to devices in a day – regardless of the number of gadgets.

Device Impact on Day-to-Day Life
When asked to name the device that has had the biggest impact on their life, nearly half of the respondents indicate the mobile phone, followed by the laptop computer (28%). These devices are two of the most used on a day-to-day basis, suggesting a relationship between a technology's perceived impact and daily usage. 

When asked why the devices have had the biggest impact, common reasons are portability, convenience, making life easier and being connected to people and information. Respondents' passion for their devices is evident as they use language such as, “love”, “cannot live without it”, “outlet/connection to the world” and “changed my life” when describing the impact. 
Examples include:
Mobile Phone (iphone). It connects me to a lot of things at all times. I'm constantly looking at it and interacting with it everywhere I am.
The mobile phone has changed my life the most, with the primary difference being the convenience I've become so dependent on.
Cell phone - it has become an all-in-one device and eliminates 80-90% of the need for a computer.
My iPhone- it keeps me connected to my business when I'm not at my desk and assists me with EVERYTHING including directions, phone numbers, social media etc...
Cell phone/iPhone. It helps keep track of my life and is so much fun.
Television. It has entertained me since I was a little girl. Couldn't live without it.
My laptop probably has the biggest impact on my life. When I am at home it is pretty much on my lap most of the time. I use it for information and entertainment.
Laptop computer because it acts as the organization manager for my life.

Where Does Interaction Occur?
Nearly an equal number of respondents indicate the majority of device usage occurs at home (40%) or work/school (38%). One-in-six report primarily using these devices “on-the-go” and 6% report usage at “all of the above”, suggesting continuous use throughout the day.

Indications of Dependence or Addiction
The majority of respondents (80%) agree that they sometimes find themselves distracted by devices at work or in social settings. Yet, more than half do not believe they work more or longer hours due to the devices. Respondents seem to be emotionally attached to their devices, with three-out-of-four saying they have become stressed or panicked when these devices are not functioning or they forget to take the device with them.

Technology Identity
The survey sample as a whole has a very strong Technology Identity. Nearly 60% of respondents either agree or mostly agree that they have advanced technological skill. The majority (61%) agree that technology is readily accessible to them and over 70% agree that technology plays an important role in their life. Three-out-of-four respondents either mostly agree or agree they are motivated to learn more about technology. 
In looking at how the Technology Identity relates to daily device usage, there is a positive correlation between one's own belief and usage. Users interacting with with many (6-8) devices and those with high levels of daily interaction (20+ times) agreed or mostly agreed with all four belief statements. While users who only interact with 2-3 devices or with lower levels of interaction (1-5 times) are more likely to believe they have lower skill level and little motivation to learn more about technology.

Is Device Usage Perceived as Beneficial?
Lastly, the survey poses an open-ended question, “Do you see the types of devices listed in this survey as being to people's overall benefit? Why or why not?” The objective of this question is to get in-depth insight into the perception of device usage. In reviewing responses the answers can be categorized not only into “Yes” and “No” categories, but also into what I am going to refer to as “Yes, but...” and “Yes and No”. The majority (64%) answer in straight-forward agreement, while others (54%) agreed the devices are a benefit then continue to elaborate with an underlying concern or perceived issue expressing mixed feelings. 

Overall benefits reported are similar to those listed as reasons for impact: connectivity and communication, access to information, saving time, and security/safety. 
Examples include:
Yes because it gives people access to information on a broader scale and data and information leads to more informed decisions in a work situation.
Yes it makes life more convenient. If you do not want to interact with it you can simply turn it off.
Yes, I've been lost many times in scary areas and my phone saves me.
Beneficial - easy access to information, portability, convenience.
Expressed concerns are largely focused on societal and behavioral issues such as the deterioration of face-to-face communication or relationship quality, inappropriate usage and distraction by or addiction to gadgets. 
Responses falling into the “Yes, but...” and “Yes and No” categories include:
I have mixed feelings. While I love my iPhone, iPod and e-mail, it does seem that we are all attached to technology too much and don't have quality one-on-one relationships with others. On the other hand, I communicate more with people through e-mail than I would otherwise.
Yes, but it a double edged sword. The more readily we are able to communicate on a global scale then the more that is expected of us in terms of work production.
Yes and no. They help us to stay connected and obtain knowledge, however, they also have taken a lot of the social aspect out of society. More people would rather send an email then make a phone call or meet someone face to face.
Only one person (2%) surveyed believes devices do not have some overall benefit. Their explanation echos the societal concern of the others. They state, 
No - I think by providing constant access most people do not ever disconnect and just spend down time with their families.

Survey findings reveal the intensity of device interaction on a daily basis. We conclude that the levels of interaction do vary in regard to both number of devices used and number of device interactions, which can be linked to one's own Technology Identity. While not all people are heavy device users, the fact that not a single person reports not using some type of device in a typical day, and no person uses less than two devices indicates these technologies are very much a part of our lives and routines. It is important to note the significance of the mobile phone as the only device used by every respondent on a daily basis, and one of the most interacted with and valued technologies covered in this survey.
People largely feel devices are to society's overall benefit, but have concerns about cultural side effects, particularly the deterioration of face-to-face communication. This fear seems to have a presence in most public opinion and media today, and was therefore not surprising when it made an appearance in this research. Interestingly, this fear has been recently challenged by The Pew Internet and American Life Project and I want to share their related findings. 

The study, "Social Isolation and New Technology" actually proves there is no linkage between the use of new technologies and the shrinkage in Americans' discussion networks (key measure of important social ties). This study found that "ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of Internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks." (3) Additionally they report that today face-to-face contact "trumps all other methods" of staying connected to friends and family. "On average in a typical year, people have in‐person contact with their core network ties on about 210 days; they have mobile‐phone contact on 195 days of the year; landline phone contact on 125 days; text‐messaging contact on the mobile phone 125 days; email contact 72 days; instant messaging contact 55 days; contact via social networking websites 39 days; and contact via letters or cards on 8 days." (4)
Now that we have a better grasp on micro level device usage, next time on "Screen Addiction" we'll piece together all of the findings thus far and attempt to answer, "What does it all mean???" 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cyborgs and Humachines

The purpose of “Screen Addiction” is to not only explore device ownership, but to also examine consumption on a micro level and how intensive interaction is creating new connections to our digital gadgets.

Thus far, we have been able to take the nation’s temperature on a larger scale (annual purchases, etc.), but studies of the micro-level or daily interaction with technologies have been few and far between, or focused on extreme cases. Additionally, most of the existing daily usage research evaluates the media, i.e. what the device is used for, rather than the technology itself, and rightfully so. 
Nancy K. Baym, addresses the issue of media vs. technology focus in a 2009 article, "A Call for Grounding in the Face of Blurred Boundaries." Baym explains that in a time of of rapidly changing technologies, “Chasing the next innovation would be futile…it will be out-dated by its publication date”. (720) Even in this blog, I believe most of what I have written as it relates to specific technologies will be obsolete in the next six months to a year, which is a problem in new media theory and research. Baym, presents a call-to-action and solution to this issue however stating, “We must acknowledge the ‘everyday' nature of much human communication and technology…we should examine how people simultaneously integrate multiple media into their daily communicative experience.” (721) I intend to employ this remedy by focusing on the nature of human-device interaction (connection, relationship, etc.) in addition to the specific technology. 

The human-machine relationship has been widely theorized, especially as it relates to the interactivity created by the Internet and new technologies. Donna Haraway's 1991, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the late Twentieth Century" uses the Cyborg metaphor to transcend social and physical identity, while addressing an increasing blurring of the separation between human and machine, saying, "Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial…" (152) Haraway identifies a resulting consequence as a heightened sense of connection to our tools (178), claiming, "For us, in imagination and in other practice, machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves." (178-179) Today, I believe this is descriptive of the connections we feel to our televisions, mobile phones, and computers and other devices so ingrained in our daily lives. 

Moving beyond cyborg imagery, theorist Mark Poster, in “The Information Empire” (2004) specifically addresses the human-information machine (i.e. computer) relationship referring to it as “humachine…an intimate mixing of human and machine…outside the subject/object binary.” (318) And, in 2006 Poster further explores this concept in his book Information Please, again using the term “humachine” to explain that we are relating to our interactive digital devices not as objects or tools, but more deeply as you would another subject or person. Ultimately, we are evolving from relationships “to” machines to relationships “with” machines. 

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the founder and current director of the MIT Initiative of Technology and Self has dedicated her work to the study and research of connections between people and objects, with a focus on technology and computers. In the clip below from the ZDTV (later Tech TV) series, "Big Thinkers" Turkle discusses her theoretical perspective and the idea of "intimate relationships with technology".

The intrigue of the “humachine” led me to create a daily device usage survey to attempt to uncover or infer intimate attachments and relationships, or what Turkle describes as, “Not what the technology is doing for us, but what it is doing to us.”

To tap into daily device interaction the survey consisted of ten questions exploring: What devices are used daily? How many? How often? Where are they being used? Which are most valued or important? 

The survey also asks questions related to Technological Identity as defined by Joanna Goode in “The digital identity divide: how technology knowledge impacts college students.” Goode constructs this identity out of one’s beliefs about technological skill, opportunities and constraints to use technology, the importance of technology, and motivation to learn more about technology. (498) The article uses the technological identities of students “as a framework to explore how formative experiences and social context influence skills and attitudes toward computing.” (498) The survey incorporates four questions to define the respondent’s Technological Identity and determine any correlation between technological beliefs and levels of daily device usage, dependence and perception.

Watch for the next "Screen Addiction" post: survey details, results and conclusions.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Macro Conclusions and Consequences

"Screen, screen, everywhere a screen..."

The Big Picture post confirmed that our environment is indeed saturated with screens. Televisions, mobiles phones and computers dominate all other screened devices and household ownership of multiple machines and gadgets is now common place. With levels of ownership at 80% or more in most of the categories examined and spending on consumer electronics up in a down economy, we can infer conclusions about the importance and priority of these devices in American life. It is clear we demand them and want to have them. But, are we “addicted”?

For more than a decade Internet addiction has been a hot topic, but device addiction is a concept that appears to be in the early stages of conversation and exploration.

In 1996 Kimberly S. Young presented a study titled, “Internet Addiction: the Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder” at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. This study introduced anecdotal evidence that people were showing signs of Internet Addiction, much like the cravings and lack of impulse control exhibited by drug addicts or alcoholics. At that time Internet addiction was not “formally identified” as a disorder and Young then argues for further research to recognize the problem and develop protocols for diagnosis and treatment of this emerging addiction.

Fast-forward to March 2008, in which an American Journal of Psychology editorial by Dr. Jerald J. Block argues for the inclusion of Internet addiction in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). In “Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction” Dr. Block defines Internet addiction as “a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and or offline computer usage and consists of at lease three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and email/text messaging.” He supports his argument by citing research from both South Korea and China where Internet addiction is a recognized and growing problem. In 2006, 210,000 South Korean children ages 6-19 years were diagnosed addicts, many requiring treatment with psychotropic medication and in some cases hospitalization. China has experienced problems as well with nearly 10 million Chinese teens estimated to be addicted to the Internet in 2007 leading the government to institute usage restrictions. Dr. Block explains the magnitude of addiction in the U.S. is not as extreme as in South Korea or China, but concludes similarities in existing case studies show “we appear to be dealing with the same issue.” As of today, the jury is still out on whether Internet addiction will be included in the DSM-V set for release in 2012.

In July 2009 reSTART, the first Internet addiction recovery program in the U.S. opened at the Havensfield Retreat Center in Fall City, Washington. The reSTART program, co-founded by Dr. Hilarie Cash, Ph.D. and Cosette Rae, MSW offers a 45-day individualized treatment plan to wean people off of the excessive use of Internet, gaming and texting. Their program includes counseling and onsite detox and stabilization in a “natural family setting designed to feel like home”. The reSTART website offers a diagnostic survey to determine addiction, resources for parents, patient testimonials and a virtual tour of their facility. To date, reSTART has received over 100 applicants (primarily male) from all over the world. The 45-day treatment costs $14,500, plus $1000 in application fees.

I attempted to find other onsite clinics or facilities like reSTART in the U.S., but did not have much success. Resources such as The Center for Online and Internet Addiction founded by none other than Dr. Kimberly S. Young and The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction created by Dr. Dave Greenfield, Ph.D. offer literature, counseling, training, consulting, and even telephone or outpatient support in some cases. The reSTART program does appear to be one-of-a-kind today, but I think we will see other clinics and programs like it begin to pop up throughout the U.S. as there is more demand/need.

When researching this addiction I found there is a clear shift in recent years in the language used to define this type of disorder from simply “Internet addiction” to the incorporation of the word “technology” or “device”. For example, Dr. Greenfield chose the name, The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and on the reSTART website the title of their diagnostic survey is, “Are you Internet or Technology Addicted?” and nearly half of the usage questions referred “digital devices”. While Wikipedia has yet to have an entry for "technology addiction", a Google search for the term results in 2,630,000 matches and “device addiction” turns up 3,330,000 results. I believe this is more than a change in semantics, but an indicator of an additional concern now rearing its head: addiction to not only the new media, but also the device. 

Further illustrating this shift in focus was a recent New York Times series of articles, "Your Brain on Computers" (June 6, 2010) covering the topic of the heavy use of and interaction with screen devices and other technology. The most shocking was an article titled, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price” which tells the tale of the Campbell family whose life has been overrun by their use of technology. The Campbell’s give an intimate look (complete with photographs and video) into the role devices play in their day-to-day activity and the resulting mental stress and strained relationships.

After this research I’m left wondering, is this common? Are reSTART and the New York Times only illustrating the most extreme cases to draw these sensational pictures of a dependent, addicted society? What about the typical, average, every-day user – how intensive is their daily device usage? Is this device “addiction” or “dependence” evident in a random sampling?

Stay tuned to the following posts that will attempt to answer these questions through the results of a custom survey and exploration of my own experience.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Big Picture

The previous post mapped the path for discovery and defined the types of screen devices that would be our focus. Here, I plan to establish a framework for discussion by providing a context or in other words a macro view of our current environment relative to this exploration. How many people are using the screen devices, really? What trends are apparent? To answer these questions, I have taken inventory of the consumption and usage of screen devices in the U.S. and what I found paints an interesting portrait of American life: by design and by choice we are in fact surrounded by screens – and this shows no sign of slowing.

Before I dive into my findings I would like to state the parameters used to help sort through the information available on this topic and ensure we are only using accurate, relevant research: any research cited must be published no earlier than 2008 and is traceable back to a reputable, documented source. The findings are sorted by device category and vary due to different sources and availability. Links to the full document sources are provided throughout.

Look for the next "Screen Addiction" post: Macro Level Conclusions and Consequences

According to the Consumer Electronics Agency, in spite of an economic downturn American spending on consumer electronics is up 10% from the previous year, with the average U.S. household spending $1,380 on consumer electronics. Spending by women on this category has increased, but men continue to spend more overall.

The Internet
In an Internet usage study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found of American adults who connect to the Internet, 55% do so through a wireless device such as laptop or mobile phone and believe the biggest benefits are being able to “stay in touch easily with other people “ and “easy access to information online”.

Nielsen Research reports the average American spends nearly four hours each week using the Internet on various devices, with every three-out-of-five saying they multi-task using both the Internet and TV simultaneously.

Losing Our Landlines
A 2009 National Health Interview Survey has found an increasing number of U.S. households substituting mobile phones for the traditional landline. Their survey revealed nearly 25% of American homes only having mobile telephones and no working landline, and an estimated 15% of American homes that still had a landline received all or almost all calls on mobile phones. This has consistently been an upward trend and is expected to continue.

Of all screen devices researched, the television came out on top with a whopping 98% of households in the U.S. owning a television set according to the 2010 Nielsen TV Report. And according to the Media Industry Facts Report, the average household actually owns 2.93 television sets and 29.9% households own four or more TV’s – that’s a television in nearly every room! With all these TV sets, it’s no wonder Nielsen also found that today the average American spends over 35 hours watching televisions each week.

The High Definition (HD) Television first hit the market in the late 1990’s and has since been the more technologically sophisticated and typically more expensive TV on the market. The Consumer Electronics Agency reports that today 65% of U.S. homes own at least one HDTV. The average household has 1.8 HDTV’s; meaning more are being purchased as secondary sets most likely due to steadily dropping prices.

Mobile Phones
Trailing hot on the heels of the television in terms of ownership is the mobile phone. A 2009 Marist Poll revealed 87% of Americans own a mobile phone, with the majority of owners being under age 45. The same poll showed a smaller segment of Americans, 16% owning a smart phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) such as an iPhone or Blackberry. However, most recently, 2010 data from Pew Internet and American Life Project mobile phone ownership among teens (age 12-17) is on the rise with 71% owning a mobile phone. Older teens (age 14+) are significantly more likely to own, and 38% of mobile-phone-owning-teens say they send text messages daily. now indicates 25% of households own a smart phone. According to

The Computer (Desktop and Laptop)
According to the Consumer Electronics Agency 86% of U.S. households own at least one computer – driven largely by the increases in more affordable Notebook (+12%) and Laptop (+55%) subcategories. Nielsen reports that of U.S. adult computer owners, 57.7% own two or more computers, and 12.9% have purchased a laptop in the past 12 months. More teens (age 12-17) are claiming to be computer “owners”. A 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project study found 60% of teens “own” a desktop or laptop computer. As can be expected, there is often a debate between teens and their parents as to who actually “owns” the computer.
Tablet Computers
The Tablet Computer is the “new kid” on the block when it comes to wireless devices. Apple made a big splash in this category with the release of the iPad this year and the competition is scrambling to get their tablets to market. While today little information has been published about the consumption and usage of this young device, this is sure to change. The International Data Corporation forecasts 7.6 million tablet computers will be shipped worldwide in 2010 and is expected to grow to 46 million units in 2014. 
The e-Reader
At the end of 2009 approximately 2.1 million U.S. adults owned e-Readers such as the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader according to Mediamark Research and Intelligence (MRI). This number is sure to increase in 2010 as more e-Readers hit the market and gain popularity. MRI reports the average e-Reader user is male, age 35-54 years, college-educated and are more likely to have a household income of $100,000 or more.

Portable Hand-Held Gaming Device
Hand-held game systems have come a long way since the green, monotone screens of the boxy Nintendo Game Boy circa 1989. Today these systems like the Sony PSP and Nintendo DSi are full color, loaded with memory and highly interactive with wireless Internet capability. Today, 23% of U.S. households own a hand-held gaming device according to Nielsen's media research. And, as can be expected these systems are most popular among teens. The 2009 Teens and Mobile Phones study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 55% of teens (age 12-17) own a portable gaming device and are predominately owned by younger teens (age 12-14).

Portable MP3 and Media Players
The portable MP3 player, now often referred to as a “portable media player” has evolved from simply playing audio or music files to now playing video, having wireless Internet capability, hosting games and other applications, organizing personal data and more. Nielsen recently reported 49.1 million U.S. homes own MP3 players, and the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 74% of teens (age 12-17) own an iPod or MP3 player – higher than their ownership of the mobile phone, and much higher than adult MP3 ownership at only 45%.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
According to ABI Research, the market for in-car screen displays such as navigation, audio, Internet, etc. known as “automotive infotainment” is expected to see a revenue decline of 3.4% over the next five years. Why? Due largely in part to navigation/GPS that is now so readily available after-market via affordable, portable devices like the Garmin or even free with smart phone applications. ABI reports that the while the demand for in-car navigation is predicted to drop, other forms of “infotainment” are expected to grow by 20%. Further supporting ABI’s forecast is recent Nielsen’s Mobile Apps research revealing one of the top downloaded application categories for smart phones (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) is Maps/Navigation (55%). This application is only third to categories, Games (65%) and News/Weather (56%).