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Of ‘webatitis’, digital goldfish and multi tasking

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Help, I have ‘webatitis’!

Don’t look for a link – it’s not an ailment you can read about on the net. I simply suffer from an extreme case of web addiction. This may not necessarily mean that I trawl the web all the time (wish I could, but life & work come in the way!) but it occupies my mind pretty much all the time. My work involves getting online for catching up on industry news, hunting for advertising work, researching on a subject on so on. It also involves catching up on digital trends – buzz marketing, blogs, viral work. Add to it my interests on all things Apple, advertising and new media I end up being a heavyweight web user.

I rely on the web for news than the news channels, I look forward to writing in my blog if I find a topic interesting and I think nothing of aimlessly stumbling upon stuff on the internet. Recently bought books lie unopened in the book shelf and they start giving me accusing looks. My wife thinks I am wedded to the web. Magazines which involve a full week of reading, like The Economist are merely skimmed through. Even when surfing the net, any or all of this is possible: twiddle around with radio, play with my daughter, channel switch, explore online radio or read a magazine. The downside – I now have an attention span of a goldfish.

Ted Selker, an expert in the online equivalent of body language at the MIT says, “Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things. If we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating’. He could have been talking about me.

Studies show that internet users are multitasking more than ever by incorporating various media into an interconnected media experience. Marketing Charts reports of an online study conducted by Burst Media in October 2007. It surveyed 2,700 web users, 18 and older about activities they engage in, while online. The survey also examined how media fragmentation impacts the ability to market to people online. 82.4 of respondents were involved with another medium, activity or device while online. Interestingly, a large number were visiting the website of the TV show being watched! I too, have checked out the websites of 24 and CSI: Vegas when watching the shows on DVD or on TV.

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In the months & years to come, Indian TV shows too will discover that television programming and online content are complimentary (www.Kis deshmeinHaimeraa Dil.com, anyone?) We are already witnessing it with aggressive promotion of sports programmes linked to the online content (ESPN, T20). Youngsters grown up on a diet of sending a text message, while replying to an email, while listening to music will find multi-tasking easy. In India, we have all seen college kids juggling at least 5 things at a time.

TIME magazine has an interesting article, titled ‘The Multitasking Generation’. It says, kids 8 to 18 are not spending a larger chunk of time using electronic media – that is holding steady at 6.5 hours a day – but that, by multitasking, they are packing more media consumption/creation in that time: the equivalent of 8.5 hours. In other words, multitasking extends their day to 26 hours!

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In such a hectic, multitasking environment, consumers’ attention span is even more fragmented. The implication for us: re-think the idea of ‘surround’ or 360-degree communication. We must simultaneously direct communication to our audiences into a diverse set of media choices. In other words, a TVC for a car may lead traffic to a website, a mobile portal, radio contest and so on…all at the same time. The brand needs to be present across these media with the same voice.

In India too, we can witness this trend. The number of TV channels increase but viewership is down. The number of magazines and subscribers have increased but readership is down. New media and new ‘distractions’ demand more time and the young seem to find a way to fit everything by multitasking.

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A marketing communications professional with a keen interest in all things advertising. I share creative ads and views on the ad industry here. Views are personal. See Disclaimer for more.

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