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This post is about the growing problem of “second screen addiction” and corresponding growth of “viewing communities” responding to media signals. Its also a response to a day listening to clinicians talking about ‘game addiction’. I had to disagree with much of it, but it did lead me to think – there an addiction that they need to be more worried about (even though Internet and Game Addiction is not a recongnised pathology in the DSM-V).

It’s insufficient to talk about “social media” as something all people do at the same level or layer of the Internet. At best this results in binary opinions about what is “good” and “bad” uses of it – which implies certain people are also “good users” and “bad users” in order to reinforce or weaken subjective social norms.  For example, teachers tend to see themselves as “serious” users, where as almost everyone expects famous people will ignore everyone, Tweeting about how important they are. There are exceptions to this of course – William Shatner is highly engaged with everyone, as is Sutter and most of the cast of SOA (even when no on the air). There are those foolish educators who believe they too have rock-star status, ignoring anything and anyone who can’t add to their bottom line. Spend enough time online, and I’m sure none of that comes as news.

Here’s what might be news. Ridiculous as it sounds, millions of adults take part in what are called ‘second screen networks’ in order to add their unique commentary, in unique clusters. They are not connecting to solve world problems or advocate for a better world, most of it is about whether or not Jerry Falliwell is past it or why Fandilands is still walking the streets with no obvious talent. With content being beamed at them, 24/7 TVs dogmatic insistence on controlling the viewers attention has shifted their attention to the second-screen. Why: Well because people are addicted to it – and it’s a brilliant way to get them to endorse a brand (or kill one). Even better, the second-screen dweller will willingly hand over metrics about their location, habits and preferences at levels “old school” media-bookers and demographers would have never thought possible. Did you know it takes about a minute to scrape every Facebook ‘fan’ list into an txt file, and then upload it though the interface Facebook provides to sell directly to them? Did you know you have a Facebook email address? Most people don’t know just how open for business ‘viewer networks’ are when it comes to their privacy and information and I suspect most don’t care (yet).

Having time and belief in television seems motivation enough for millions of people the zombie-hashtag around a wide narrative during just about any given show these days. In doing so they give away a piece of privacy and get a little more addicted.

Second screen addicts can’t watch TV without holding their phone in one hand and tapping the screen with the other these days. It’s an active goal to get “your Tweet” on the TV during #qanda. These “virtual viewer communities” are so new, no one’s had time to study them in any detail. For those who like (and trade off) ‘internet addiction’, the idea of ‘second screen networks’ is a bonanza.

Rank ordinary citizens group up in visible, measurable ‘viewer communities’ in yet another complex layer which can be influenced, shaped and sold to. The media of course love it. They can slag off anyone using social media (and then deny it) or incite a crowd of zombies to attack on their behalf.

So why then are children encouraged to download apps for the Block, Australia’s Got Talent, Big Brother and so on without a health and wealth warning? Why do parents consider these things ‘serious’ and ‘safe’ yet Call of Duty continues to be hammered for being anti-social, violent and un-reaslistic?

What needs to be stated in games research is whether or not, we’re talking about ‘small world’ communities – where who we know are immediate (such as your friends list on Xbox, or Warcraft) or whether we’re talking about “big communities” where people who like a particular game are happy to simply play with anyone. The problem for researches with ‘small world’ communities is that they stand so far from the centre of that community, it is barely visible. This leads to people conducting small-experiments (even 2000 players is small) in order to scale outwards to the edge. One problem with that is that in network clusters, the nearer the centre of the network you are, the more dense, frequent and encoded the communication becomes.

Why blather on about this?

Well, if you are a parent with a kid playing Minecraft (or other) – your kid is playing a game with millions of players. Unlike second-screeners, they are developing a ‘small world’ cluster of players around them, which is actually really powerful, supportive and rewarding. They are escaping the media apocalypse of second-screen addiction.

“Second screen addiction” to me, describes the use of smartphones, laptop and tablets to engage in peripheral, often counter-narrative discussions with people for whom their only connection is a #hashtag. These viewer communities (to me) appear to uphold the worst of digital behaviours and de-sensitising participants to the point where rape-threats are seem as ‘offensive’ but somewhat expected. Then there is the endless counter-activists rounding on ‘the other stupid people’ using their snarky-verbose reworks of 16th Century French Philosophers.

Even more alarming to me is that TV and Radio in particular positively encourage it – without any thought to their whole-society impact or responsibility. I can only think, journalists and producers see this a way out of their decline.

Mass media generalisations will continue to be made in the media about games being ‘bad’,. What important to know is that this has little relevance to the important value gained by knowing how to thrive in ‘small world’ game communities can be the most productive, supporting and useful networks online. They can be the polar opposite of viewer-networks tapping their X-Factor app and Tweeting “Who’d tap that?”. The problem is, parents don’t know where to find them and right now, don’t seem to think second screening is a real problem either.

Parents who believe they avoided games because they are bad – may have allowed their kids to become second-screeners, exposing them to the absolute pond-life to gushing-fans of any given show, or actor. They are immersed in a repetitive good/bad, love/had endorse/kill behaviours that cause so much harm online and perfect for kids – as binaries are the way kids make sense of the world.

Kids and parents getting addicted to ‘second screener’ lifestyles, participating in “viewer networks” are far more worrying to me than kids who are playing COD with their ‘small world’ friends. One is a world of binaries and the other … well, you figure it out.

What do you think? Is Second Screen addiction a growing problem among children and adults?

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