Understanding digital distraction: a longitudinal study on disruptive everyday media multitasking among diginatives

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph

Abstract

During the past decade, mobile technology has transformed our media behavior and ur relation to media as part of our everyday lives. The media user today has unprecedented control over what content to consume, when and where to consume it, what channels to use and for how long. One consequence is an increasing trend in media multitasking (i.e. simultaneous use of more than one media). At the same time, the rapid technological development seems to outrun the development of our human brains. Our brains are simply not capable of handling the constant stream of media and information that we encounter every day. Prior research on the expanding phenomenon of media multitasking is the starting point of my dissertation. Despite vast prior research on cognitive processes, challenges and negative consequences of media multitasking (stemming from the fact that the human brain is not equipped for simultaneous processing of several tasks), prior research efforts on media multitasking in the everyday context are quite scarce. New perspectives are needed to understand what triggers media multitasking in the current volatile media landscape and to better manage the seemingly endless stream of information and impulses.The aim of the study is to develop a new conceptual framework that helps us understand media multitasking and digital distraction in the everyday context, focusing particularly on the diginative generation (young adults born in and after 1990). The longitudinal empirical diary study that the dissertation builds upon is inspired by Grounded Theory and encompasses a total of about 800 media diaries collected among university students in years 2013–2019. The study highlights four key emerging trends in the participating young adults’ media behavior, which are explored via the theoretical concepts of materiality, routines, addiction and media multitasking. In accordance with Grounded Theory logic, media multitasking is chosen as the core concept. The identified trends and the way the informants describe, relate to and justify their own media multitasking behavior in the diaries indicate that a wider perspective than the traditional cognitive approach is needed to enhance our understanding of the phenomenon.The study shows that most of the informants’ everyday media multitasking is performed unconsciously, in a routine-like manner, and that this behavior is perceived by the informants as problematic and disruptive. The aggregated theoretical dimensions of disruptive everyday media multitasking and digital distraction are introduced to capture this type of problematic, at times even destructive, everyday media behavior. Digital distraction is at the core of the conceptual framework developed to map out and explore different individual, technological and contextual dimensions that impact the decision to frequently engage in disruptive everyday media multitasking activities. The conceptual framework, “Dimensions of Digital Distraction”, is developed based on the longitudinal empirical study and the parallel literature review on media multitasking patterns, consequences and predictors. Inspiration for the dimensions is drawn particularly from Activity Theory, which emphasizes the role of and interplay between the individual, technology and context in any activity.The central dimensions in the conceptual framework are also linked to the concept of digital metacognition. Digital metacognition is introduced as a strategy to enhance awareness for one’s own (problematic) media behavior, and thereby create new strategies for coping with everyday digital distraction. This is something that would need to be further established among youngsters and young adults to avoid stress and other forms of mental and physical disorders related to excessive, habitual, addictive and unconsciously performed everyday media activities.The relevance, and the practical implications of the study and the results are discussed at the end of the dissertation from 1) a generational, 2) an educational, and 3) a marketing perspective. The dissertation provides a cross-disciplinary theoretical and methodological perspective on media multitasking. This novel approach allows for widening our knowledge on everyday media activities, underlying decision processes and how these are experienced by diginatives (and other generations). The study complements prior theories and research and offer new and exciting entry points for further exploration into the phenomenon of digital distraction.

Original languageEnglish
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-951-765-957-4
Electronic ISBNs978-951-765-958-1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

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