NPR on the Media

BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. This week, a new study offers a few surprises about how Americans use media. It comes from Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, and it’s called “Middletown Media Studies II.” It builds on a smaller study from two years ago, when the Center sent researchers out to shadow residents of Muncie. Researchers literally spent all day in the homes and workplaces of their subjects, entering data every 15 seconds about whether and how the subject was interacting with media. In a world where most media research relies on self-reporting, this study stands alone and could yield the most accurate insights yet into our increasingly media-centric lives. Telecommunications professor Bob Papper, co-author of the report. Bob, welcome back to OTM.

BOB PAPPER: Thank you very much, Bob. I appreciate being here.

BOB GARFIELD: Let’s start with what was surprising about your findings.

BOB PAPPER: What we found is media use is clearly the number one activity that people engage with. Over two-thirds of the observed day people were using at least one, if not more than one, media.

BOB GARFIELD: So people are consuming media more than they – they eat-


BOB GARFIELD: – than they talk on the phone.


BOB GARFIELD: Than everything.

BOB PAPPER: Than they sleep. It is far and away the number one activity in people’s lives.

BOB GARFIELD: People have spent a lot of time observing how the television is becoming less central to our lives and – and giving ground to the Internet. Do the statistics that you’ve gathered support that analysis?

BOB PAPPER: Not necessarily. Computer use has certainly gained. It’s now number two overall in terms of how much time people spend with different media. But television has almost a two to one margin over computer use. Common sense may tell us that as new media comes along, it replaces old media. But what we find is that people are just piling media on top of each other. Over 30 percent of the time, people are using two or more media at the same time. And in time spent, one of the most common pairings is TV and the Web.

BOB GARFIELD: Behavior according to age was actually one of the bigger surprises, it seems to me.


BOB GARFIELD: For example, I would have guessed that the 18- to 24-year-olds would have been, you know, total Internet junkies.


BOB GARFIELD: But turns out that’s not so.

BOB PAPPER: It isn’t so. The biggest computer users are clearly 25 to 64. Technically only 65-plus use the computer less than 18- to 24-year-olds. It’s work. That’s what it’s about. What we have is TV is easily the dominant medium at home, the radio is the dominant medium in the car, the computer is the dominant medium at work.

BOB GARFIELD: One of the more interesting findings involves the differences between men and women and how they use the computer.

BOB PAPPER: Yes. Men and women are virtually identical users of the computer in terms of how much. It’s that they do different things on the computer. Women are much more likely to be involved in surfing the Web and they’re way more likely to be involved in e-mail, whereas men are more likely to be involved in software use and much heavier users of instant messaging.

BOB GARFIELD: And, of course, because [CHUCKLES] you did have researchers in the room with the subjects, you probably saw a bare minimum of Internet porn downloading, which probably would have skewed your findings a little bit.

BOB PAPPER: Bob, once again we observed no use of pornography.


BOB PAPPER: And we [CHUCKLES] – as always, of course, we attribute that to clean Midwestern living.

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. [LAUGHS] I’m sure that’s the explanation.


BOB GARFIELD: So as you sit back and look at the data overall –


BOB GARFIELD: – are there any clear conclusions that you can draw from them that – that tell us something about our society and in what direction it is headed?

BOB PAPPER: It looks like people are just going to be using more and more media. And I’ve been asked, “Well, you know, what’s the limit?” Well, you know, it’s kind of like hours of the day. You used to say there’s 24, but if you’re going to use two or more media at the same time, you can really stretch that out.

BOB GARFIELD: Five-thousand hours.


BOB GARFIELD: Three-hundred and ninety-four study subjects.


BOB GARFIELD: At any point, was any of those 394 people listening to On the Media?

BOB PAPPER: [LAUGHS] You’re going to have to give me probably a few months and we’ll know the answer to that. But I have no doubt that they certainly should be listening to On the Media.

BOB GARFIELD: All right. That’s pretty much the answer I was looking for.


BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Once again, thank you very much.

BOB PAPPER: My pleasure, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD: Bob Papper is Professor of Telecommunications at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and co-author of “Middletown Media Studies II.”
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