Multi-screening: it’s everywhere you look

Preamble: this article is something of a babushka doll of experiments. All text in this colour is my self observation.

In the beginning there was one television screen…well maybe two…well maybe a television, a wireless and a record player and they were all switched on in the same house at the same time. In the kitchen my grandmother had Bishop Fulton Sheen preaching about the evils of modern society, in his bedroom my grandfather was blocking out the world with The Pipkin’s ‘Gimme dat ting’, in the lounge room I sat with my ear and eye pressed up to the television, so close that Sesame Street had become an assortment of coloured squares.”Marguerite! She’s too close to the telly.” my grandmother would yell at my mum. (got up and put on a load of washing)

Global geek news

Flash forward thirty years (no I’m not exaggerating), I’m watching a Netflix movie, writing a blog on my macbook and carrying out a conversation by SMS with my friend who is at work in a factory somewhere else in Sydney. (Timer for 5min break went off – put away dishes and made toast) All this is building towards proof that multi-screening is just a natural progression of past behaviour.  Please note it has not been listed as a good progression, just a natural one.

Our task for this week in BCM240 was to construct a small experiment to observe someones attention in the presence of many devices (just toggled to another screen & touched my phone and started my Pomodoro timer) . Given that I have a house of guinea pigs that I gave birth to, their normal behaviour was prime for observing.

Friday afternoon – OBSERVATION BEGINS

15:00 – Picked subjects up from school

15:08 – Subject 1 (10) picks up iPad that was left in car from this morning, commences playing games.

15:08:01 – Subject 2 (6)  – commences complaints over Subject 1’s possession of iPad and continues for entire 10 min drive to residence.

 15:20  – Subject 1 walks into residence without lifting head from iPad. Subject 2 turns on only television set in the lounge room and grabs mothers phone to stream youtube to television.

15:26 – Subject 1 & 2 sit in lounge room watching streamed television. Subject 1 is STILL playing games on iPad. Subject 2 continues to to complain about not having own device.

15:28 – Subject 1 is affected by subject 2’s whining and fetches old iPod for subject 2.

15:36 – Subject 1 & 2 are both playing games on handheld devices whilst watching Youtube on television.


During this time there was complaints about hunger, requests by me to get dressed for afternoon activities, none of which can been done whilst occupied with an electronic device.  All other activity slows or stops when occupied by the device. I’m not alone as shown by the Dolmio family swap experiment below.

(Took a 15 min break away from computer…. checked my phone of course, took out compost, brought in bins & local paper – apparently there’s issues with the NBN).

Hypothesis’ around multi-screening and multi-tasking has traditionally taken the opinion of you can only do one thing at a time well. But is that factual or is that my grandmothers ghost whispering in my ear about the idiot-box of a new-age?  In a 2013 report by Pashler, Kang and Ip from the University of California they discussed different types of multi-tasking, separating it under labels such as ‘divided attention, task switching, interrupting and dual-task performance.’Pashler, Kang & Ip (2013, p.598) Whilst showing that interrupting had almost no impact as opposed to dual-task performance showing significant impact. Of most interest was the impact of time on the person performing the multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking produced a marked and substantial reduction in information acquired from educational materials when the materials were presented in spoken form and played without waiting for the learner. On the other hand, when the learner read the materials at his or her own pace, there was no sizable or significant reduction in information acquired. This was true even when the interruptions occurred at the moments chosen by the experimenter, rather than the learner. Finally, listening to the materials and pausing to do the concurrent task were also relatively harmless.”Pashler, Kang and Ip (2013, p.597)

(kids just came home, kissed them, deposited them in the lounge room with their  devices and television) The possible ‘non-harm’ idea is explored further in a 2016 article titled ‘Negative bias in media multitasking: the effects of negative social media messages on attention to television news broadcasts.’ The article itself is focussed on research into the belief that negative attention draws more attention than positive. Relevant to this discussion however was the observation that ‘[P]revious studies have typically examined distractor tasks that have been irrelevant for the primary media task. In contrast, the attentional processing of two complimentary media tasks could benefit from the semantic similarity between the tasks.’Kätsyri, Kinnunen, Kusumoto, Oittinen and Ravaja (2016, p.3) The paper goes on to reference how the brain processes two related tasks as one semantic matter.

(Have to interrupt a fight, apparently miss 6 is not giving miss 10’s iPad back… made peace by giving miss 6 the iPod)

I would like to clarify that both the papers mentioned do not recommend multitasking and do not shy away from research that has shown the negative effects on activities such as study. They also mention that studies on the effects of multitasking with reference to multimedia on memory will be useful. (What was I talking about again?)

As shown above my own ability to multi-task is severely impaired by my circumstance and possibly learned habits of switching between tasks. This did not originate with new media devices, but is definitely enabled by them. It will be interesting in years to come to see  longitudinal studies that have the benefit of long-term data, which I don’t think is possible when so much of this technology is relatively new.

There is a lot of data against multi-tasking or about multi-device use from the perspective of an exciting commercial opportunity for retailers. It will be interesting to see the neural studies as time moves on as brain plasticity acclimatises to (interrupted by miss 6 to spell something on youtube search) our new ‘normal’ way of using electronic devices for more screen hours per day.



Pashler, H, Kang, SK, Ip, RY 2013,’Does multitasking impair studying? Depends on timing’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 27, No.5, p.p.593-599

Kätsyri, J, Kinnunen, T, Kusumoto, K, Oittinen, P, Ravaja, N 2016, ‘Negativity bias in media multitasking: the effects of negative social media messages on attention to television news broadcasts’, PLoS ONE, vol.11, No.5, p.p.1-21

Feature image taken by Fougerouse Arnaud in Koh Chang Thailand. Used under non-commercial creative commons.



Identities adopted or created by media

Let me be honest, I’m only halfway through reading Nick Couldry’s article ‘Constructing a digital story circle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’. But, I know what I want to research for Media, Audience & Place, therefore I will put digital pen to digital paper now, while I am still filled with the spirit.

As usual, in an effort to be reflexive in the foundation and inspiration for my research I will submit two examples if I may. Which will also start some sort of narrative.

Example One

John Pilger filmed a documentary called ‘The War Behind the War’.  The documentary exemplifies how during the Iraq War the commercial media in the UK, USA and Australia was complicit in creating a false identity for the allied forces by reporting propaganda and censoring what information was broadcast to the public.  So the media was framed in a way that was not objective or balanced. And we are still experiencing the fallout from that in the form of Islamophobia as we were not allowed to feel compassion for the Iraqi people, or to see them as human.

Of the many outcomes of this misinformation is cultural identities being changed or upheld in both a negative and positive capacity.

Example Two

My Dad lives in Tennessee, so you can imagine that when I visit from Australia, I’m something of a novelty.  When I would go to shop or talk to people on the street, after the shocked “Oh my God! Where are you from?”  I informed them that I was from Australia (Austria? No Australia), I would immediately be greeted with “OH! Just like in Crocodile Dundee”, yeah.

The phenomenon that I’m steering towards is the ability of television, film and other medias to create identities globally, real or imagined.

The Research Proposal

Taking this idea of media creating identities and making it specific to minority identities. Using peoples memories I would like to create a story circle with people from different minority communities. Using their their memories and experience of media overtime to create a narrative on how the portrayal or absence portrayal off the minority group affects them.  Nick Couldry explains how, ‘Three main dimensions of a digital storycircle are explored: multiplications, spatializations (or the building of narrative around sets of individual narratives), and habits of mutual recognition.’Couldry (2013, p.1) I will do this by also including the experiences and memories of members of the dominant culture in relation to the media’s portrayal of minority cultures.

As part of the narrative existing data, such as the research study quoted below, will be used to supplement my small research project. I’ll be sourcing other projects from around the world with larger sample sizes.

Research findings using college students’ perceptions have consistently
shown that negative exposure to African American portrayals in the media
significantly influences the evaluations of African Americans in general (Ford,
1997; Mastro, & Tropp, 2004; Power, Murphy, & Coover, 1996). Other res-
earch has shown that Black depictions on television have an effect on view-
ers of all ages and of all races (Bryant & Zillmann, 1994; Dates, 1980). Punyanunt-Carter (2008, p.242)
The way minorities are portrayed on television, film and other media has changed over time is an important facet of research. The below study looked at white peoples reactions to watching black comedy, ‘Stereotypical television portrayals of African-Americans in a humorous context increase the likelihood that whites will perceive an African-American target person in a stereotypical manner.’ Ford (1997, p.266) So there are some very clear studies showing the impact of the portrayals of minorities on audiences.
This cartoon today is so offensive to me. But, it would be interesting to have the discussion with someone who has the capability relaying a history. It may even be interesting to make a compilation of scenes of television and film over time and have my subjects give their impressions of each one.
Looking at how violated do minority people feel in their own homes may be a point of discussion. Do they turn off certain music or advertising because of the portrayal of minorities? What do they let their children watch? Why? If they have white friends or family over, do they watch different things in order to not offend?
Given that this will be a small study I will have to make it smaller and more specific. I do think that affect of minority portrayals on media on audience identity or perception there of it is a worthy area of media research.


Couldry, N, Macdonald, R, Stephansen, H, Clark, W, Aristea, L, Aristea, F, 2015, ‘Constructing a digital storycircle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, p.p.1-29
Ford, TE, 1997,’Effects of stereotypical television portrayals of African-Americans on person perception’, Social Psychology Quarterly, vol.60, no.3, p.p.266-278
Punyanunt-Carter, NM 2008,’The perceived realism of African American portrayals on television’, The Howard Journal of Communication, vol.19, no.3, p.p.241-257

I like to watch…with permission, of course

I have spent a life time watching people. Intrigued by their idiosyncratic movements, I have gone from being chided by my mother for staring at people, to my university lecturer giving me a pad and paper and saying go watch… then come back and write about it. Yes! I have arrived.

Diagram of indoor pool complex

My university sanctioned voyeuristic adventure

Despite the downfalls of multi-tasking, as a single mother-of-two who is half way through a double degree, the only way my research gets done IS by multi-tasking.This past week I multi-tasked my observation of people using media in public with taking my children to their swimming lesson.

Now the area in which I was conducting the observation is an indoor swimming pool. As per my diagram the building has two main areas, the 25 metre heated pool area where there was lessons and squad training and the small recreation/baby pool (as per above diagram). First I started with the 25 metre pool area.  There was about 13 parents scattered around the metal and plastic seats.  Of the 13 people seated, about 9 of them were on their smartphones.  Most of them never looked up at their children at all.  If people were sitting in pairs rather than alone they tended not to be on their phones and preferred to engage in social interaction with another person.

Interestingly when we finished the lesson and moved to the recreational pool everything changed.  As I observed the recreational area almost no parents were on their phone. Out of about 9 adults there was only 2 people who looked at their phone continuously.

 The Photo


Shown above from the stadium style cold metal seats are the subjects of my observation.  The woman closest to the camera who is on her phone did not look up at all from her device in the 30 minutes that I observed.

The above photo was taken without anyone’s permission and without their knowledge, which is totally legal.

Before I published this photo I consulted the  Arts Law Centre of Australia’s information sheet on street photographers rights  . The Arts Law Centre advises that it is completely legal to photograph people in public without their permission, “It is generally possible to take photographs in a public place without asking permission. This extends to taking photographs of buildings, sites and people.” Australian Government (2016) There are many other subtleties involved in this subject such as using images of children without their guardians permission.  The taking of photographs for commercial requires permissions of councils and individuals on a case by case basis.

The Australian Law Reform Centre of Australia pointed towards public photography or street photography possibly coming under the Privacy Act.  However Australian Privacy law is unlikely to apply,’The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) is unlikely to apply in this circumstance [photography of individuals], as it does not cover individuals acting in a personal capacity.’Australian Government (2016)

The Australian Law Reform Commission expresses concern of privacy issues around photography of children and adolescents, there seems to be no existing law around this other than when photos can be deemed lewd and sexually inappropriate.

69.106 The taking of photographs and other images of children and young people without consent has raised significant concerns in recent times. While the issues are not limited to photographs and images of children and young people, recent controversies have included: the taking of photographs of young male rowers and footballers and posting them on a website containing links to what the media described as a ‘gay website’; discovery of a website containing hundreds of images of children taken at recreational sites in Queensland, and thought to be used for sexual gratification; and examples of ‘upskirting’—the covert taking of photographs underneath clothing—in a number of public places. Australian Government (2008)

In regards to  my photograph  – although I was in a public pool, once I entered beyond a boundary fence and inside a building the space legally becomes ‘private property’.  As instructed on the Arts Law Centre’s website I went to Campbelltown Council’s website to view their policy on photography.  There was no photography policy, however they did have an application form for commercial photography and film within the region.  I searched the grounds of the pool complex for any signage relating to photography and found only instructions not to use smartphones within the change rooms (instructions which I disobey regularly).

Although taking photographs such as the above may be completely legal, they may not be completely ethical.  But, therein lies the conundrum.  The subjects above may change their behaviour if they are aware of being recorded.  For these purposes I was consciously took a photograph of peoples backs and was confident that I could Photoshop their faces to obscurity.

So I have checked with the law and the local council and I am free and clear. But, then I have to check in with my conscience. Being a mother of two young children, no matter with what the law says, publishing pictures of my children online without my permission is an issue. The image above doesn’t show any identifying signs, the children are clothed and the adults pictured have been blurred, but the subject (which is the mobile phones) can still be seen clearly. So confident that I have been sufficiently caring with my subjects I am happy to press publish, confident that I can sit and watch my phone at my kids swimming lesson without retribution.



Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 2016, Photos of Individuals, Australian Government, view 15 September 2016 <;

Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) 2008, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108), Australian Government, Canberra, Viewed 15 September 2016, <;