The Pusher Man

November 1, 2010

I have two teenage kids, and every once in a while, I watch how they consume media, and I start to freak out.

So much variety washing over them, constantly,  and they don’t ever seem to really engage. I am not talking about 1 sentence status updates.  I mean engage. Focus.

My knee-jerk analysis is that my kids, and all their friends, and all their friend’s friends, are just so bored with it all, they need to flit from screen to screen. Thumbs flying, the motion makes them feel as though they are doing something, and gives them hope that with any luck they might stumble into the combination of media sources that engages them in the moment for the moment.

But I freak out because, the motion and movement between the sources seems to substitute for them actually doing anything.  So I bite my tongue.  And I impose a time-limit after which they are mandated to unplug. My goal is to at least temporarily have them unsnarkify themselves within some reality that isn’t virtual.

And I console myself with the old saw (can’t be too old, can it?) that they are learning to cope with the media overload they will face – an overload that can only get worse – they are developing strategies to efficiently multi-task.

Lots of simultaneous inputs.

It got me to thinking about what we all deal with on a daily basis (below is a list in case you live in a cave).

At work: – writing and reading emails,  face-to-face meetings, taking and making phone calls from at least two phone sources (cell and office), texting, checking work product, managing a staff, reading news updates from opt-in communications, responding to instant messages from work-mates, and more or less participating in the constant streams from tweetdeck, facebook, foursquare, linkedin, and  whatever other widgets that help us navigate the ever-changing world in which we live.

At home: – I can find on my TV right now – Multiview – allowing me to mash up multiple broadcast/cable streams. But if I wanted, I could purchase web Enhanced TV that would enable me to watch internet content along-side the other streams, as well as all the other widgets we currently see on our computers and handhelds, as well as individually addressable commercials tailored especially for me (Yippee!) with options to buy on the spot, play video games and a whole host of other apps not yet considered, discovered or invented. Add a laptop and all the media I want from that appliance, a mobiler device (I am talking about my web enabled phone, which in theory is mobiler than my laptop), old school things like books, magazines, music, guests, a fire, a family, some friends and, of course, the dog.

And then of course, all of that stuff from work (do I dare ever wade out of the stream) and home (bills, plans, personal work) overlap and mix and somehow recombine as my fingers fall off or my eyeballs fall out or my wife loses her understanding of my wacky obsessions.

So much to see and do. So little time.

But experiencing all this stuff all the time ultimately makes me better at understanding the content of the various media I am consuming… right?

Not Really.

Turns out that all this constant fidgeting and flipping is NOT a good thing.

The more multitasking you do, the WORSE you are at knowing what you are looking at.

What about kids, the ones most at home in these environments – the digital natives – the ones who flip media sources most, what is happening to them?

“I think the phrase for the future is that these kids are addicted to choice. And if you can capture an addiction in society, you’re the pusher man,”  says Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks. She goes on to say ” Right now we are testing giving them a little taste for free, but then they have to go buy it on Hulu or Netflix.  This addiction to choice is the new market.”

Wow – so much for networks operating in the “public interest” – I guess that is concept is long dead and gone.

And if the future of content is about choice – then the distribution points that offer choice in the easiest to viewse, most attractive packaging have lightning in a bottle.

And all we really get good at, when we consume all these multiple streams simultaneously, is yearning to consume even more.

Forget the war on drugs.

The Pusherman is here to stay.

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