COLUMN: Benefits of constant media use far and few between

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:28 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 21, 2010

We live in a media age. The young folks are submerged in a complex media landscape that involves being constantly connected to the Internet. Americans aged 8 to 18 years old spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen, be it television, computer, iPod or smart phone.

Ever watched TV and surfed the web at the same time?  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation study, since more than one medium is being used at a time, a person can actually pack in close to 11 hours of media and Internet time per day.

The Millennial Generation, or those among us who are somewhere between adolescence and late twenty-something, modus operandi is to be hyper-connected all the time. If I am in front of a computer I am also logged into Facebook, Twitter and  both of my e-mail accounts (at least). I often boot up my computer as soon as I wake in the morning, and it stays on and open until I go to sleep at night — closing only when I need to relocate to another class or Internet connection.

I have been wondering lately, however, if this normalization of absurd amounts of screen time is all that good. Sure, there are benefits to online attachments. I can find academic articles in moments for classes, and it saves paper to use electronic textbooks and consume news media online. I also talk to my sister a lot more often than I did before we were both on Facebook. But in all honesty, I am not doing any of these laudable things in 95 percent of my time connected to the web.

For example: have you seen Go Fug Yourself? Two chicks in LA make very snarky fun of terrible celebrity fashion. Could there be a more sublime time waster? Or, when I’m not spending time reading Texts From Last Night, where unfortunate text messages are revealed, I am perusing Overheard in the Newsroom, where journalists' unfortunate conversations are posted. I have more than one list of bookmarks in my net browser, organized by category, where more gems of worthless time suck can be found.

Maybe I just need some new blogs to destroy my days with, but this endless Internet routine is just plain boring. Nothing really exciting happens on the Internet — my friends make meaningless observations on Twitter, I get slews of emails from MU administration, and I obsessively read the New York Times (and not usually the really newsy part).

There is a social pressure not only to be constantly connected but also to be constantly seeking stimulation. There is no just having a coffee, you must be online and having a coffee, or texting and having a coffee. It is infinitely frustrating to want to sit and read a book but feel the necessity to check in online every hour. Nothing is really happening, no one said anything that can’t wait until the book is read, but it is imperative to be present online.

The Internet age has many advantages. An entire generation of Americans is dependent on portable communications devices to stave off the smallest amounts of ennui. The philosophical standard for existence is no longer “cogito, ergo sum” (not that this standard was ever the final word on the proof of existence). We now subscribe to: I am online, therefore I am.

Erin K. O'Neill is a former assistant director of photography and page designer for the Missourian. She is also a master's degree candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Ellis Smith January 27, 2010 | 4:23 a.m.

Both television sets and computers have "off" switches. If someone can't locate them, I'm sure assistance could be found.

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Ben Ten January 27, 2010 | 1:00 p.m.

Hadn't seen Overheard in the Newsroom before - good one! I like TFLN and also since it has printed some of my entries.

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