As Boston University begins to invest its resources and expertise in the emergent field broadly referred to as "big data," BU Today has published a multipart series exploring the promises, consequences, and future of data science. Part Five of this series—titled "Big Data, Big Impact"—features insights from two of the CRC's faculty fellows, Lei Guo (Assistant Professor, Emerging Media Studies) and Chris Wells (Assistant Professor, Journalism).
Both Guo and Wells have worked extensively with big data, both as a research method and as a topic of interest in and of itself. Their research utilizes computational methods to explore online media phenomena such as fake news, filter bubbles, and the influence of algorithms on news consumption.
Recently, the Communication Research Center received an unexpected and exciting email. Attached was a scanned copy of the first-ever CRC newsletter, published in November of 1959 (the year the CRC was established).
We are so thrilled to have this documentation of the CRC's rich history and hope you enjoy learning about the center's early research endeavors as much as we have.
Many thanks to John W. Holman for getting in touch and mailing us the original document, which will be framed and displayed at the CRC.
Dr. DeFleur conducted pioneering academic research in the communications field, authoring over a dozen books—including the widely-cited textbook “Theories of Mass Communication," which has been translated in 10 languages. At Boston University, he served as both a faculty member and chair of COM's Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations department. In 2011, the Communication Research Center created the Dr. Melvin DeFleur Distinguished Lecture Series, a tribute to his groundbreaking contributions to mass communication research and his valued membership at the CRC.
The concept of "screen time" has been long used to understand how—and for how long—individuals interact with their devices. But as more applications have become available to internet users, understanding people's digital experiences and how often they switch between tasks has become more complicated.
"Consider what a person can do in just the time it takes to wait for a bus: text, watch a comedy skit, play a video game, buy concert tickets, take five selfies, each with a different set of cartoon ears," explains The New York Times' Benedict Carey.
As a response to this newfound complexity and fragmentation of experience, Cummings and his co-researchers documented, via screenshots, the digital activity of 30 participants. The resulting digital records, they write, are best conceived of as "screenomes"—adapted from the word "genome."
Researchers reported that, on average, participants switched from one screen activity to another every 20 seconds and spent hardly 20 minutes on one continuous activity. Their findings were presented as a stream of color-coded graphs (shown at left) depicting what kind of activities individuals used their screens for—entertainment, news, or work, for instance—and how they switched between these tasks.
Quoted in The New York Times' piece, co-author Byron Reeves (Professor of Communication at Stanford University) explained the significance of their proposed "screenomic" framework.
“It’s very counterintuitive to say at this stage, but the fact is, no one really knows what the heck people are seeing on their screens. To understand what’s happening, we need to know what exactly that is.”