Parents, policy-makers and practitioners are scrambling to analyze and document the rapidly expanding media consumption habits of our children. This effort is in large part due to society's fear that sweet little Jimmy will one day grow up to be a Ritalin-addled media monster with the attention span of a goldfish. Which is understandable, because kids these days consume a LOT of media.
According to a recent study from Kaiser Family Foundation, the total amount of media exposure of an 8 to 18 year old in a typical day has risen to 10 hours and 45 minutes, up from seven and a half hours in 1999. Taking into account the 8-10 hours of sleep children require each night, that leaves a paltry 4-5 hours of their semi-waking life where they're not at least partially engaged in some sort of media experience.
They're also media multi-tasking, with over one-third of their media consumption time dedicated to using multiple forms of media simultaneously. While sweet little Jimmy is listening to a Justin Bieber song on his computer via iTunes, he's also streaming The Annoying Orange from YouTube on his dad's iPad, texting his friend on his smartphone and watching The Hard Times of RJ Berger on MTV. Jimmy's attention is everywhere and nowhere, all at once.
The reason we're preoccupied with understanding how and where our kids use media is because it acts as a kind of crystal ball -- predicting where post-pubescent media habits are inevitably headed. For publishers and advertisers our collective state of continuous partial attention means rethinking how to engage your audience in the limited time you have them. Producing fresh and engaging experiences are the only way to stay alive. If viral sensations like The Annoying Orange and Potter Puppet Pals have taught us anything, it's that sweet little Jimmy and all his friends are quickly redefining how culture is created, content is consumed and attention is spent.
Like every generation, kids today don’t want adults telling them what’s cool and important. They don’t want to be the recipients of our cultural imperatives, but rather the arbiters of them. If grandma and grandpa were scandalized by Elvis gyrating his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show, then so too are we by the viral ubiquity of Rebecca Black.
By looking at our kids to predict the future of our own media consumption habits, one thing becomes clear: while the modes of consumption will continue to fragment and change, the fundamentals of engagement and cultural currency will remain the same. So, yes, to answer our own question: we have created media monsters. But those monsters are merely a reflection of ourselves.