Swimming in an Ocean of Media

A new report confirms that Americans “swim in an ocean of media” The study of media use in the sociological Mecca of Muncie Indiana found that more than two-thirds of people’s waking moments involved some sort of media usage. A third of the day is spent exposed multiple types of media at the same time, which the study calls Concurent Media Exposure, though I’d suspect most of us know it as “multitasking.

The results of this study were widely reported in a USA TODAY report.


The USA TODAY report was based on an article originally published in the Christian Science Monitor.


The Christian Science Monitor report was triggered by a report issued by the Ball State Center for Media Design. The study, which is available for sale on the center’s website, used 150 trained observers to gather data using naturalistic methods. USA Today describes the study methodology:

Researchers watched the behavior of 394 ordinary Midwesterners for more than 5,000 hours, following them 12 hours a day and recording their use of media every 15 seconds on a hand-held device.

Key findings:

The newspaper reports of the study called into question some of the key assumptions of much of the writing of Net Gen, Generation M, and Digital Natives that only the young engage in “Concurrent Media Exposure.”

One theory the study lays to rest, Mr. Bloxham says, is that this media multitasking, which the researchers call Concurrent Media Exposure, “is the province of only the young or the tech savvy.” All age groups multitask, he says, though the pairings may differ. Those over 50, for example, were more likely to combine TV viewing with newspaper reading. Younger people might listen to music while sending instant messages.

Television remains a key part of the media mix.

Watching television remains by far the most popular media-related activity. More than 90% of those studied viewed TV, for an average of about four hours per day. About three-quarters used a computer, for a little more than two hours per day.

Thanks to: The Kept-Up Academic Librarian for a lead on some valuable additional information from Campus Technology magazine.

4 thoughts on “Swimming in an Ocean of Media”

  1. It doesn’t surprise me that TV is still a major media outlet – it’s cheap and you can still get good reception without traffic interference unlike the web.

  2. TV’s convenient, but it’s also wallpaper much of the time. The last stats I saw suggested students would rather leave their TVs at home than their computers. Perhaps a skewed sample, but still….

    Thanks for this blog, Gene. Fascinating stuff.

  3. My own TV viewing has changed dramatically with the installation of wireless in my house and with the arrival of Tivo. I half-watch quite a number of TV shows but my laptop is always on and getting most of my attention. In the unlikely event that I miss something important, I can always zip back with the Tivo to catch it.

  4. I concur with Gene. I have a wireless network in my house and am constantly on the computer. Through a satellite provider I have a DVR and record any show I wish to watch. What I don’t record, I pause and walk away for 15 minutes then come back and forward through the commercials cutting about 20 minutes or more off an hour long program. Not a lot on TV is worth my time anymore. What they think is good they create about four different versions of so you watch the same show everynight of the week. Producing the programs is more costly now so you get about half the season you used to get which brings in mid-season shows or reruns. Most of which aren’t worth watching. I also think that when we watch TV we are really doing something else with our mind. In other words, mindless TV viewing which is another sign of multitasking.

    How many of the people did what they normally do and how many started doing something else because they new they were being watched? This is a hard thing to calculate and this study tried to answer a question. The world has changed and so has TV viewing and technology use. As a society we do things differently than we did in the past and we do more things at once.

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