TrendWatch: The "M" Word

At the Stanford Media X Conference last week, Communications Professor Clifford Nass announced that he’d reveal (in six minutes) the most important trend affecting the future of media. Nass, always insightful on matters of media and technology, pointed not to a particular tool, but rather, the way they’re used. That is: simultaneously. Among teenagers especially, no one uses a single gadget anymore; everyone multi-tasks, consuming several media at the same time.

TimemagThis isn’t a big surprise, of course. But it bucks a long-term trend. Each medium introduced over the last century has stolen time from the old, while simultaneously increasing the overall time spent consuming media. Today, there are simply no hours left. So we read the news while listening to our iPods, juggling IM sessions, Googling, emailing and talking on the phone. New media, it seems, are no longer unseating old media; they’re all sitting side by side.

Needless to say, Nass isn’t the only one tracking this trend. This week’s Time Magazine cites a number of cross-discipinary studies watching “Generation M” and their multi-tasking ways. It’s a refreshingly even-handed piece, and TED favorite Steven Johnson tips the balance with his essay, “Don’t Fear the Digital,” targeted at parents.

Nass, however, had a different audience mind. He relayed a conversation with one of his corporate clients, in which he’d urged them to run more realistic usability tests, with subjects juggling tasks and technologies. “No one can do that many things at once,” the client protested. “Welcome to the world your software lives in,” Nass replied.