I’ve been thinking a lot about how we consume media these days and how this transformational shift is affecting us all.
First, I should tell you that when it comes to technology trends in communication I tend to be an early adopter…not quite on the cutting edge but close enough. I also tend to be enthusiastic about these changes, most of which are happening online, viewing them as a positive step forward in how we engage with content, how we learn and how we obtain our news. But as sources of online content increase in number and scope, coupled with the rise of social networking, it looks as though we may also be in for a future of increasingly balkanized information and fragmented content consumption…something I’ve referred to in the past as info snacking or media snacking. But before I get too deep into an explanation of what I mean by that terminology, let me first describe what my self-created media ecology looks like .
Several years ago we stopped almost all of our magazine & newspaper subscriptions (I still have a couple that I can’t let go of…like Harper’s and The Atlantic…and my wife still gets Washingtonian Magazine). We did this partially in an effort to be “greener,” and partially because we had become increasingly used to getting our news, educational and arts & entertainment content online. So I now read The Economist on my iPad, as well as browse through Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Huffington Post and Slate. I get a digest of the Wall Street Journal in my email inbox every day. I also get e-newsletters from Government Executive, Nextgov, Washington Technology and several other government related publications.
A few months ago, I also decided that we would cancel our cable TV subscription. We had already been getting used to watching movies and documentaries via Netflix (by mail) and other programing fare via Hulu, so I canceled our cable subscription but kept our cable modem, and bought a WiFi router and a Blu-Ray DVD player instead. The router lets me access the speed of the cable modem via various of the WiFi devices we have at home (via our iPads and laptops) and the Blu-Ray DVD player lets me view Netflix and Hulu movies and programs on my TV.
While proud of our move towards more media independence and control, I also wonder about two trends that have accompanied this new state of affairs. Increasingly, both my wife and I can sit in front of the device of our choice and watch (or interact) with whatever content, information and programing we may be interested in at the time, which includes what our friends, colleagues and others may be saying or doing via the various social networks we belong to. It also means that although we have narrowed our own fields of interest, those funnels are now capable of presenting me with almost unlimited choice within that narrower scope. Let me explain. I love documentaries. And furthermore, and more narrowly, I love political and social justice documentaries. Netflix now knows this (better “suggestion” engines, a la Amazon) and has managed to recommend no less than a hundred political and social justice documentaries of all types…and since they make it so easy to add a title to my personal instant “queue,” I’ve got more than a hundred documentaries patiently waiting for me to decide to watch them.
Now multiply similar access to various other passions and interests (via smaller screens on multiple devices) and it’s not hard to imagine that the Aldo Bello media universe is a fairly large space. Not only that, it’s got so many goodies, all of them pre-selected and waiting to be sampled, that it’s hard to stay with only one thing…hence, my media snacking comment. I have found myself sampling and accessing content of short duration from many different sources. The social media networks actually function best in this manner…Twitter being the most extreme example…but Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media spaces function very similarly…short bursts of content, often devoid of larger context. Additionally, when I got rid of my magazine and newspaper subscriptions and began to sample news and information via selected online sources, I have been reading more but not as deeply, another problem associated with media snacking.
So one trend is towards media snacking which I believe, forces one to sample, and which often implies that deeper understanding is out of the question. But I’ve observed an even more disturbing trend, and that is towards the balkanization of information. Aldo Bello’s universe of online media is so attractive that it tends to present me with the things that I want (hurrah for that) but keeps me from accessing other information, in a way that hardly ever happened with print magazines and newspapers…or cable TV (even though I could always choose to ignore certain channels, and did). Increasingly, I hear people talk about the content that they access in a way that is different from the recent past: favoring certain channels and altogether avoiding others. I am beginning to think that it’s this trend that is contributing to a lack of civility in political discourse and the resulting lack in bipartisanship.
What do you think?