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Sabbatical week 3: second screening and media multitasking

In recent years there has been a profound shift in the way that people consume television programmes. We’re no longer constrained to 4 or 5 channels on the single TV in the living room. With the rise of internet TV we can use a mobile device, such as laptop or tablet computer, to watch our favourite television show whenever we like.  But look around the average living room and what are people doing? They’re no longer glued to the box in the corner but are shifting their attention across multiple devices: keeping up with others through email and social networking sites, as well playing games and looking up information (Müller, Gove, & Webb, 2012; Stawarz, Cox, Bird, & Benedyk, 2013).

  Encouraged by a friend who loves x-factor and her husband who works for a (competitor) UK TV channel, I subscribed to the x-factor app on Saturday (for research purposes!!!).  There’s loads of video content on the app which I’ve not looked at. The bit that I played around with, the 5th judge, only appears when the show is live.  As each act does their audition the app offers you the chance to vote. If you log in via facebook then you can also see whether your friends voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

But I guess the truth is that I don’t really watch x-factor, in fact I don’t often really watch any TV.  More frequently you’ll find that it’s on in the background whilst I sit on the sofa and do my emails. But what I discovered yesterday was that this app is working really hard to stop me doing this by demanding my attention.  It talks to me and tells me what the majority of 5th judges have decided, thus prompting me to interact with it.  And just when the adverts come on and I think I can dedicate my attention to my email, it asks me questions and makes a ticking clock noise that suggests that I only have a limited time in which to give my response – who can resist that?? Companion apps like this are really successful in keeping the viewers attention on the TV programme and preventing them from switching to their email or social networking sites. 

This week I also came across a startup called CanFocus http://www.canfocus.com/ .  They’ve designed a button that switches all your email, phone and IM statuses to “do not disturb” so that you can focus on work and “become a productivity superhero”.  There’s been many a situation where I’ve sat down with the idea of watching something, only to be distracted by a desire to engage with a digital device.  I think I need one of these to help me resist temptations to engage in work when I’m supposed to be doing non-work!