by John Fraser, PhD
Dr. Fraser is the President & CEO of New Knowledge Organization Ltd, and a Fellow of the Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center. This is the final in his series of guest blogs on social media use among millennials.
.Savvy digital consumers are skilled at parallel processing. Despite the many criticisms that suggest that young people have difficulty focusing, the research is now starting to suggest that younger people have developed neural processes that accommodate parallel content processing. NewKnowledge Organization, in collaboration with The Media Impact Project at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, has been working with PBS NewsHour to study how early career adults under age 35 are choosing to engage with media news consumption, with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Unexpectedly, we are learning that early career adults are more likely to consume an entire news story as it appears in their multimedia stream. What may appear as distracted browsing may actually represent more attentive reasoning to content surrounding them.
Being raised as digital natives seems to have helped early career adults hone the craft of editorial control. They simply switch channels when the content is not timely or relevant. The volume has helped to finely hone their ability to filter and cut without regret of loss. The passive broadcast model assumes that a story arc must first establish context, describe the challenge, the public face of people struggling with the problem, and then finally lay out a solution or opportunity. Our studies suggest that this time-honored tradition no longer fits with a parallel processing learning ecology.
A good story today dives directly into a conundrum, a paradox, a declaration of threat, or quite simply a good set-up for a joke. The content that has a “hook” is often created with a staccato promise of a future, and an A-B-A-B structure that highlights the known and the aspirational finding to carry the story forward.
Appealing news media, especially the content that may not be breaking and timely, such as scientific discoveries or processes, seem to be more palatable to a young audience when they anchor back to social process and daily experience. We’re starting to speculate that a fundamental element for consumption of STEM stories may be intrinsic motivations to consume what is purposefully linked to life’s processes and strivings.
As we drilled down through the comments surrounding a Facebook Live event that focused on emerging robotic technologies, we quickly found that many of the comments that at first appeared as sarcastic actually outlined a moral conundrum that was not present in the main story. We suggest that the quick commentary from viewers in Facebook Live or any other running commentary first appears as if it’s a good joke, a contrast or comparison that seems at cross-purposes to logic of the presentation. Closer examination of light humor online suggests a more deep-seated humanities inquiry that sits below the surface of a joke. These in-jokes may not be as transparent to the reader as the sender. But, at the heart of these commentaries, jokes, sarcastic exchange, or even a belligerent comment may reveal questions of how the user is questioning the nature of life today.
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