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About 45 percent of Americans who own tablets and smartphones are like Beckerman, watching television while watching something else at the same time, according to a forthcoming study by Nielsen. About 36 percent of smartphone owners engage in the same behavior, the company said. The behavior is most common among teenagers (with about 53 percent of teen tablet owners doing it daily), but about 38 percent of tablet owners older than 55 do so, as well, said Don Kellogg, Nielsen’s director of telecom research.
The trend has spawned a sub-industry of apps designed to bring TV shows and computer devices together. Advertisers, meanwhile, are scrambling to keep up with the split attention of their would-be customers. Sunday’s game could be the first “second screen” Super Bowl, with a number of advertisers seeking not just the attention of TV viewers but “engagement” with them online. Coca-Cola, for example, will provide an online stream of its animated polar bears — one in a Giants’ blue scarf and the other in Patriots’ red — “reacting” to plays in real time, along with a Twitter feed in which the “bears” comment and answer questions.
Double-screen multitasking isn’t just a technological change; it suggests a revolution in social manners, too. Many of those tapping away on screens Sunday will be at parties or family gatherings. Which means that even on occasions designed for social interaction, there’s likely to be less face-to-face social interaction, though watching two screens facilitates plenty of give and take among people who are electronically connected.
“We always seem to be more interested in the person who isn’t there,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Interrupting a conversation with another person in your presence to check your smartphone or laptop has become commonly accepted behavior, he said.
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