America's Growing Media Usage Gap

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In previous articles, the Trends editors outlined the growing use of media, especially among GenX and Millennials, even to the point of addiction. Now, new research reveals that the demographically-correlated fixation on electronic media is not merely a function of age and nationality. There are dramatic differences in the level of usage among young people of different races, within the same country.

This phenomenon was analyzed in a study recently released by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) which is based at the University of Maryland.1 This study quantitatively confirms that "digital addiction" is a reality for a growing number of people. It concludes that although "Students' 'addiction' to media may not be clinically diagnosed. . . the cravings sure seem real — as do the anxiety and the depression."

The researchers asked the study subjects to put aside their media devices for a finite period and report on their experience. According to the ICMPA report, "Many students, from all continents, literally couldn't imagine how to fill up their empty hours without media." Boredom was a common complaint, seemingly driven by "short attention spans" and the sudden lack of constant input to which they'd become accustomed.

Kids and Media Use

Kids and Media Use: 8-18 years old

This is consistent with the findings, highlighted previously in Trends, of research by Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA.2 In his studies, Small describes actual physiological changes that take place in the brain when it is exposed to certain types of electronic media interactions. His research confirms that ongoing interaction creates a state of "continuous partial attention."

In this state, people are keeping tabs on numerous unrelated bits of incoming information, while never completely focusing their concentration on anything. As a result, they are always scanning the environment for changes and for incoming signals. These activities include constantly checking voice mails, e-mails, text messages, and chat lists, while navigating inside a web of social connections.

Small's team concluded that people in a state of "continuous partial attention" exhibit a number of adverse symptoms like feeling tired, distracted, and irritable — and they often slip into a "chronic state of stress" due to a false "sense of crisis...

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