Ethan Zuckerman: Tracking My Media Diet

September 9, 2010

Ethan Zuckerman, the co-founder of Global Voices and the writer of a wonderful blog called my heart’s in accra is doing an experiment, and is asking for advice and collaborators. The experiment is to track his “media diet.” The project is related to Ethan’s argument that we don’t have very reliable intuitions about the kind of media we consume.

I’ve made the case – in my recent TED talk
and elsewhere – that many of us overestimate the amount of diverse,
international information we encounter through the internet and other
communications networks. We run the danger of being “imaginary
cosmopolitans”, convinced we’re encountering information from all
corners of the world, while we might be trapped in homogenous echo
chambers.

One of the interesting, valuable things about this experiment is that Ethan has already had more experience than most people tracking media consumption. Now he is turning his attention to the problem of self tracking media. We will all learn from this.

Media diaries aren’t new – take an intro communications class at many
universities, and you’re likely to be asked to keep one. They tend to
be pretty superficial
– it requires some serious obsessiveness to log the individual stories
you encounter, rather than writing down “NPR – 7am – 7:20am. And the
process of keeping a diary tends to shape your behavior – for the month
Rachel and I were a Nielsen family (years back), we watched vastly more
public television than we do in an average month.

It’s easier than ever to keep a diary with tools like Your Flowing Data,
a Twitter-based service that allows you to send direct messages via the
web or SMS. I just logged “d yfd listened WNNZ 0750 – 0830″, a syntax
that I hope will let me start collecting information on what media I
encounter offline, and who I interact with in the real world.

But what I really want is data on the dozen or more stories I heard
on NPR during that morning drive – coding each in terms of subject and
geography would mean either logging while driving or writing a tool that
turns the name of a broadcast media source and an interval into a
stream of metadata.

If you have tried this yourself, please pipe up with suggestions. For more details about what Ethan is doing read the full post:

Media Tracking and the Quantified Self

Below is a wonderful TED talk by Ethan about how easy it is to make mistakes about the nature of the media we consume. His ideas about “imaginary cosmopolitanism” tell us something important about how errors in how we understand our own behavior may also blind us to important things going on the world. 

 

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