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16 May 2010

How Unaware Are People of Their Television Viewing?

Post 6 is about how unaware people are of their television viewing behaviors.A special report on television viewing in the May 1, 2010 edition of the Economist stated “. . . people seem unaware of their own behavior. In surveys they almost always underestimate how much television they watch, and greatly overstate the extent to which they watch video in any other form . . .”

One of the important assumptions underpinning intuitive approaches is that people are largely unaware of their behavior. This implies that personal descriptions of behavior are heavily laced with personal and collective emotional drivers. A similar effect occurs when different people describe an accident; descriptions vary.

This example is particularly fascinating for two reasons. First, for most people television viewing occupies a large chunk of daily activity (4 to 8 hours). Second, they tend to watch over 40% more television than they think, and tend to think they watch other video formats almost four times more than they actually do! Therefore, we are not talking about insignificant activities or variations.

However, here is the important question unanswered by the article: What are the emotional drivers causing people to underestimate television viewing and to overestimate the viewing of other videos formats so drastically? Could television viewing, while popular, still be viewed as the “idiot box?” Could other video formats, because of their better interactivity, give the user a greater feeling of control and thus greater cultural acceptability? If so, perhaps people want to believe they aren’t idiots and they have their viewing under control?

A similar effect commonly occurs in business – but perhaps more consciously – when subordinates will overestimate the time spent on approved activities and underestimate disapproved ones. Regardless, the point is that applying an intuitive approach means having a handle on all emotional drivers – individual and collective – lacing any communication.

5 Responses

  1. One reason for the statistical difference could be attributed to the format in which one is watching. I hardly used to watch TV at all, mostly because when I did, I always combined it with another productive activity (ironing or mending).

    This past year I got a laptop computer and my teenage daughter taught me how to watch TV series on-line. So now, while cooking each day, I keep my laptop in the kitchen and watch series on line.

    So many more people these days are watching TV on the computer (especially people under 30) that they may be counting it as computer time, as opposed to TV time?

  2. So relevant! The fact that Americans watch so much TV each day without seeming to realize it, speaks volumes about our culture and — as you point out — this same dynamic is applicable to many other areas of our daily lives, such as business.

    To improve personal productivity, the first, essential step is to increase one’s awareness about how time is actually spent (forget for a moment the “right” of “wrong” of how one spends time, the point is only to become more conscious of it).

    { twitter = @danenow }

    1. Yes, Dane, raising consciousness is the point. Our feelings for things like these will create biases in our decisions and increase the likelihood that we won’t make good decisions for ourselves. Thank you for stopping by and paying a visit. I appreciate it.

  3. Enjoyed the post and the comments ~ I watch about 4 hours of television each month (yes … I said month LOL) and typically, this will be an on-demand episode of a series that interests me. I will honestly admit that my ‘online’ time mirrors most people’s TV habits. Is this bad? Is it productive? I would, with some reservation, lean to the latter; I communicate with others in Social Media, create and develop business results, stay in touch with news and events.

    The caveat is, of course, that awareness of time spent does dim if I’m not focused on a particular task. Like some TV habits, my mouse becomes my ‘remote’ and I do ‘channel surf’, resulting in more time -> less productivity. I would be interested in your thoughts around ‘multi-tasking’ and if it is ever a productive pursuit. Thoughtful, and enlightening, post. Thank you!

    1. You raise some good points, Tobey. As Dane pointed out, it’s not so much determining whether it’s good or bad but rather just raising our awareness. Only we can be the judges of how well our time is being used. Also, it really depends upon how you define productivity. Is doing something fun and enjoyable productive? As for the productivity around multi-tasking and surfing, I’d like to address that in a post. I’ll be able to use it as a springboard for a related topic. Thank you for the great question and for stopping by. I enjoyed it!

      Here’s the response: In Defense of Channel Surfing and Multi-tasking

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