Colleen Otte

The Mobile Majority: Mind Over Mass Media

We’ve all been there: we gripe and pity ourselves over how late into the night we’ve slaved over our homework assignment, and then once we finally get it submitted, brush our teeth and climb into our beloved beds, what do we do? We grab our phone to “just set our alarm.”

I’m just going to set a couple alarms and then plug my phone in across the room, some of us might think to ourselves. How naïve. Deep down most of us know the temptation is too great. But it starts out so innocent.

Well…maybe I should check the weather to help me decide what to wear tomorrow, we contemplate. Soon, we not only know that it will be snowing when we trudge to class in the morning, but also the forecast for the rest of the week.

Next, we discover that Jimmy Fallon cracked jokes about embarrassing winter stories during this evening’s episode of the Tonight Show, because his hashtag “#AwwHellSnow” was a trending topic on Twitter.

Then we realize we were somehow oblivious that it was National Hug Day, because everybody else and their brother posted pictures of themselves hugging their dogs on Instagram.

Soon, we are laughing sardonically into our pillows at a meme that reads: “Not sure if I can’t sleep because I’m stressed…or stressed because I can’t sleep.”

We are once again pitying ourselves. And questioning the validity of our self-pity. Because after all, it was our not-so-smart choice to scroll through our smartphones for longer than we even spent on that assignment we were originally griping about.


But some say that we are just a product of our generation. We’re the first to have always had such advanced technology at our fingertips, and we’ve become accustomed to that instant gratification. If – rather than catching up on sleep at 2 a.m. – we’d rather find out what breaking news we may have missed from the day, or see what our friends were up to while we were chipping away at that assignment, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

And this is reflected in the Pew Research Center’s discovery that “39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.”

What’s concerning about this is this additional finding cited by Pew: At the same time, though, desktop visitors to these sites tend to spend more time per visit than do mobile visitors. For half of these top 50 news sites – which include legacy print, cable, network, international and public broadcasting outlets as well as digital-only entities – visitors from desktops stay longer than those coming through mobile.”

So more of us are getting our news through mobile, where we spend less time truly consuming and dissecting it. This is what alarms those who feel our generation has an expectation of instant gratification – they feel that it’s even taking a toll on our attention spans.

However, Harvard Professor of psychology Steven Pinker attempts to quell such uneasiness in his New York Times opinion piece “Mind Over Mass Media.”

“New forms of media have always caused moral panics,” Pinker said. “Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of ‘you are what you eat.’”

“Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive,” he concedes. “But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life.”

So, we can’t blame our smartphones for our dumb idea to check the weather, which turned into checking Twitter, which turned into checking Instagram.

We just have to set a couple alarms, and then plug the phone in across the room.

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