Filling the Silence with Digital Noise

Researchers from the Nielsen Norman Group share findings from a study on the introduction of digital media to fill our lives. The summary? “Many people use digital media to avoid silence or empty time.”

They clearly were not interested in the plot of the movie itself. The movie was a place for them to rest their attention in between other activities.

Some reported feeling an almost compulsive need to have some audio on, effectively filling the silence in their lives.

While many participants reported feeling the need to have some sort of audio in the background during their silent moments, others reported a more intense version of this phenomenon: the need to fill all the empty moments in their lives with some activity to avoid boredom or downtime. This behavior fills the ‘silence’ in a figurative way — people use their devices to keep their minds constantly occupied.

In many cases, this desire to kill time contributed to frequent interactions with a device, even when the user had no specific task in mind. The content users turned to wasn’t just social media: it also included activities like checking email, the weather, or the news. The content itself didn’t matter — users felt compelled to be doing something.

More on this to come, connecting to a few books I read recently, including Michael Harris’s Solitude.

4:23 pm on January 13, 2019 (via issue #4 of Alan Jacobs’s newsletter, Snakes & Ladders)