Reflection

Writing a blog about my digital life experience has been both rewarding and enlightening.  At first I was worried that I have nothing to write about my digital life as I don’t know much about computers besides surfing the net.  And then I realized after writing the first blog post that almost every aspect of my life is mediated in a thorough way and I do actually have different materials to talk about.

Out of my four blog posts, I consider the fourth one “Multitasking? No, doesn’t work for me” to be the most effective one.  The first reason is because our attention is the foundation of all learning and social interaction; everything we do or think has to do with giving our attention to something else.  With all the new gadgets blossoming in the market and almost everyone has a cell phone or a laptop or easy internet access anywhere, it will be interesting to find out whether people can actually multitask or is it just an urban myth that people fool themselves to believe in. And the results or answers are clearly illustrated by the two videos I embedded in the blog post.  I like the combination of these two videos because the first one is a hilarious and vivid portrayal of an ordinary office worker’s attempt at multitasking, while the second one is a more serious and detailed description of what multitasking is and whether people can really multitask.  The ideas presented in these two videos coincide with what I learnt in class, for instance what Gloria DeGaetano says that “Computer use distorts brain development, causes hyperactivity, reactivity, lack of impulse control and the general shortening of attention spans in children”.  This matches what the second video asserts that “no one really shares attention between two tasks, we are all switching attention between two tasks”.  Because multitasking essentially means switching our attention from one task to another in a swift manner, for people to engage in multitasking would mean a shorter attention span for each task we are focusing on.

The second reason is the use of graphs and comics.  The first graph I embedded is a clear and powerful display of what do people usually do when they multitask.  The data is a powerful one because 86% of people multitask while using their cell phones, and most people can relate to the results, for instance using the Internet and watch TV.  This piece of data can be related to some new literacies in digital media, for example the attention problem, where people need to learn how to get attention, give attention, manage and distribute attention.  I think that having all the gadgets around also creates one sort of polyfocality, that as long as my cell phone is within my reaching distance, I will always reach for it and check the messages as long as there’s a flash of light or a notification “beep”.  In this case, I am the player (as in a video game), the TV in front of me, my cell phone within reaching distance, and my laptop on my lap are the multiple foci where I have to distribute my attention to.  This further proves the graph’s usefulness in depicting a day in the life of an ordinary cell phone user, and the multiple foci he or she distributes attention to.

Here is a comic I would like to add to support this point, and it is an illustration of what I just said about multiple foci in real life:

100themes-multitasking

One can see from the picture that because of the proximity of all the gadgets and distractions, it is impossible for people to ignore any incoming calls or messages or newsfeed, even if most of them are not urgent or important.

In my third post, “Fantasy, Reality, and Identity: Why I Love Playing the Sims“, I talked at length why I love playing The Sims.  The main reason is that by playing The Sims, I can submerge into a fantasy land based on reality, and I can have full control of my Sims, how they look like, what tasks are they engaging in, what kind of house they live in etc.  Also, as James Paul Gee mentions, playing The Sims allows me to create more identities, namely real identity, virtual identity, and “projective” identity.  To me, the most attractive function is indeed the “projective” identity where I can put my own aspirations onto the Sims and achieve what I cannot in the real world.

I still think what I said in the blog post is true, because that was exactly how I feel when I started playing The Sims FreePlay.  Here is what i wrote in the blog post:

‘Jane McGonial says “In today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy”.  In the Sims, while I fulfill the Sims’ needs by feeding them, making them take a shower, or telling them to go to work, I’m not just fulfilling their needs.  Instead I am also fulfilling my needs, my desire to live in a fantasy world where I can have control of every aspect of my life, which is the most satisfying part of my Sims experience.’

While it is true that playing The Sims satisfy my needs to escape and live in a fantasy world where I can play god and have control of all aspects of (Sims’) life, still it cannot entirely replace genuine human needs.  I find that I cannot just sit here and play The Sims for hours without sending a text to someone or visit the washroom, even when I am directing my Sims on my mobile phone to talk to each other or go to the washroom.  It is just not the same, and no matter how satisfying it gets at first, eventually the game starts to get boring.  The constraints of the game become obvious once I have played for several weeks: the first one is that the tasks are growing monotonous to me.  I have to feed the Sims, tell them to go to work, make them engage in conversations with one another, go to the washroom so they don’t pee on the floor etc.  And I have to repeat these processes to eight different Sims each and every day, as if taking care of my own real life needs is not boring enough, in all seriousness.  At first being realistic is a fascinating aspect of the game, as if I can control the Sims or even make them my friends who share the same experiences.  Now it is just turning into a kind of nuisance, me having to fulfill extra responsibilities for them.

The second constraint is that once the principal goals and tasks have been fulfilled, there seems to be nothing left for me to do, no motivation to go on, because there can be no new breakthrough or advance in levels.  The most frustrating example is that the fictional town that I place my Sims in can never expand like those in real life, and the rules are set that players must build certain architecture (e.g. schools and supermarkets) in designated spaces.  In real life one can never stop fulfilling responsibilities and advancing in life (e.g. getting a promotion, or getting good grades in school), or there will be consequences.  However, even if I get bored and abandon the game for a week, the Sims are not going to die like normal people in reality; they just slowly wander around with a deficit in each bar indicating their needs.

After several weeks of playing The Sims I started to realize that the constraints in the game is more influential than the affordances of the game.   So while I think the game is fun, it only lasts for a week and afterwards it is not as fun as it seems, and it frankly does not benefit me in any way possible.  I would now say that playing The Sims cannot actually satisfy genuine human needs in the long run, that the game is for short term pleasure only.

In my second blog post “Information Overload: Why Would We Know Stuff We Don’t Even Want to Know“, I discussed some possible reasons why many people are suffering from information overload, namely tagging and extensive exposure to hypertexts and links on different websites.  Now that I have learnt more about our attention structure and multitasking, I would like to add another reason to the cause of information overload.  Again it has to do with our prolonged exposure to various types of gadgets, namely our mobile phones, laptops, TV etc.  What Linda Stone describes as continuous partial attention applies here perfectly, that it is because we do not want to miss anything, any news from our friends and family, therefore we had our electronic devices switched on at all times and kept within reaching distance.  As a result, we are paying partial yet continuous attention to the communication devices; it is inevitable that we may get more data than we intend to, and because we are only paying partial attention to it and not thinking it through, judging whether it is useful enough, we tend to turn it all into information first and decide later, thus resulting in information overload.

By discussing different issues in digital media and relating them to different theories, I realize that many useful theories can be derived from our daily practices and explained in ways I have never thought of before, for instance our attention structure, tagging, and multimodality.  Next time I indulge myself in a new video game or the next time I check my messages while doing homework, I will have more to think about than merely using the gadgets.

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