Consuming media with a purpose: Why it’s time to stop and think about what we think about

We are always ‘on’. Especially millennials, which happens to be the category I fall into. The age of ‘double-screens’ is here, with overlapping in our media consumption such as the ease at which we can scroll through a Facebook feed while simultaneously bingeing on the latest episode of The Bachelor. In fact, Gen Y spend roughly 18 hours a day in front of different types of media (often viewing multiple devices with media hours not being mutually exclusive). Couple this with the decline of the human attention span and you have to ask yourself, am I really learning and absorbing the material? Or simply going through the motions to satisfy an artificial desire, projecting an outward perception of how ‘clever’ we aspire to be?

A constant thirst for knowledge and self-improvement in most aspects, is a positive trait. However, the pressures of a 24-hour news cycle on top of alternative media, blogs, reddit, podcasts, audiobooks and other online and offline sources create a honeypot of information to choose from. This stirs the quality v quantity paradox, and it had never been clearer after a recent interaction with my very own mother.

Hearing v Listening

Being guilty of hearing and not listening to podcast number five for the day, I wanted to share a 12-minute clip about the property market with both my parents due to ongoing discussions about potentially co-investing (in an apartment for myself) providing a little more clarity. If it weren’t for all the smashed avocado and $4 coffees I could go it alone but that’s another topic of discussion. Anyway, as with any parents with a joint Facebook account, mine suffer from technical deficiency disorder and were unable to navigate how to play the soundbite, which is when I was asked the question that has haunted me ever since… ‘Can you just tell me what it was about?’ Uhh, stumbling and bumbling over the answer as I tried to mask my failure to fulfil the request, and just like that I couldn’t summarise what I’d just heard.

This red flag signalled a major flaw in my daily media consumption and getting caught in the trap of hearing rather than listening as a result of attempting to digest too much information and becoming too comfortable in my daily consumption behaviour. More importantly, three vital steps of the learning system were missing; processing, interpreting and articulating. As difficult as it was, I begun to categorize the noise into conscious and subconscious media and decipher what I would actively pursue rather than passively hear. The chosen criteria based on the scale of negative to positive impact on my learning, knowledge and development. For example, who Sophie Monk last voted off on The Bachelorette — seemingly low. Gaining a better understanding of the property market upon making one of the biggest financial decisions of my life — surprisingly quite high.

Why this matters

Recent psychological studies have revealed that although we generate the perception of productivity in multitasking, our measured efficiency can diminish up to 40%. In many ways, the brain functions similar to the body, and we experientially notice a loss of efficiency when we physically move around between tasks. There is a ‘cost’ every time we change, this ‘cost’ in efficiency is referred to in psychology as a switching cost. A switching cost is the loss of productivity due to the time/energy taken to move from one task to another. Every message, notification, email or skipping a song causes a switch, and a loss of efficiency. Unfortunately, as technology and saturation increases so does the potential cost and without actively pursuing ‘single-tasking’ we are resigned to having our attention pulled and pushed in every direction. Sadly, it could be hypothesised that our productivity and knowledge will be inversely proportional to the amount of information and technology we have access to. Unless we make a change.

Taking control with the conscious mind

The amount of media we consume does not look like slowing down with this issue likely to become worse as our next generation of little learners enter this world with a smart phone in their hand. Taking back control and delegating focused brain power on the things that matter has been the key take away for me — thanks mum. In order to keep the brain from becoming overwhelmed by the steady stream of data competing for attention, brain cells work together to sort and prioritise information. Step out of auto-pilot and into the driver’s seat, cut out the noise and consume with purpose.

It is a question to ask yourself whether you are ‘on’ when it comes to the information that counts, or perpetually chasing the shiny new toy moving from article to article, video to video? Technology has given us the ability to give life to mundane tasks like easing the burden of ironing your shirts while learning a language, or cutting onions over a few minutes of your audiobook. Put yourself to the test — share your new findings and learnings with friends or family to see how you fair and alter your behaviour to improve next time.

And just so you know, I went back and re-listened to the property podcast and delivered a short, concise presentation via telephone followed by an in-depth Q&A to both my parents… apartment pending.