Of an evening my family (consisting of my mother, father, grandmother and thirteen-year-old sister) all gather around the lounge-room TV to watch The Chase at 5pm, followed by Family Fued at 6pm. Due to my horrific work schedule I very rarely get to join them in this bonding experience.
The funny thing is, three out of the four of them are never fully immersed in the programs themselves, rather they’re also using their mobile phones, and sometimes even their iPads and phones at the same time.
Upon instruction to set up a small informal test to allow myself to observe what happens to someone’s attention in the presence of multiple media devices I knew the perfect moment to strike. 6pm!
My father was lying down on his phone playing some cricket game, seeming as though he wasn’t watching the TV at all, ‘hi’, I directed towards him. One second passed… no response. Two seconds… no response.
The families on the TV had been asked a question I hadn’t managed to hear, ‘Oranges,’ he looked up and exclaimed. As he looked up he must’ve just noticed I entered the room, ‘oh, hi Paigey,’ he said before looking back down at his game.
I realised that although his focus seemed to be fully immersed into the game he was playing on his phone that he had not even noticed I was there, nor that I had spoken, his hearing was being directed completely at what was happening on the TV. He knew what question had been asked, thought about it and was about to formulate an answer. He was actively listening to the TV, fully concentrating on what was being said there, without even having to watch the visuals – Family Feud could be transformed into a radio program!
My mother had her phone in her hands and I could recognise the Facebook feed open, only she wasn’t scrolling it, it was just sitting there while she watched the show. The program moved to ad and mum turned her attention directly to her phone and started scrolling. That was a quick change to attention. I questioned her on it once Family Fued had ended and she was making dinner. She explained she ‘gets distracted’ by the TV when something interesting happens, but if I were to ask what she was doing she felt that she was ‘looking through Facebook’, rather than ‘watching TV’, I asked why that is and she explained she just felt she was more interested in what was on her phone… but her actions spoke very differently.
What I discovered from this little experiment is that individual’s engagement with multiple media platforms struggle to maintain full attention to either platform. They might be listening to one thing while watching another, and they don’t even really recognise which activity they are really partaking in, whether it is this one, that one, or both.
I asked permission of my family to represent them in my blog… while they were still half engaged on their phones/watching TV. They all muttered words such as ‘yeah’ and ‘whatever’. I laughed and walked back to my room.
Something I found most humorous about this experiment is that my family absolutely LOVE watching Goggle Box together, where various Australian families and friends watch different programs that aired throughout the week together and discuss. I joke that they’d be hilarious on that show… only now I realise they wouldn’t be acting as themselves, because who’d want to watch a group sitting on their phones, looking up occasionally to make one or two comments? Could you or your family be on Goggle Box? Or are you more like my less engaged family?