Ethan Tussey


On his book The Procrastination Economy: The Big Business of Downtime

Cover Interview of February 04, 2018

The wide angle

The New York Times once published a piece that described mobile device users as a “cretins” who “lovingly hug” their devices “with a look of rapt idiocy.” The year was 1965 and the author was annoyed by transistor radios. Long before that, books (the original mobile media technology) caused hand-wringing because they offered escapism, distraction, and disconnection. Mobile devices, whether smartphones or books, cause concern because they offer people the ability to augment their surroundings. My work aligns with the traditions of cultural studies in that I am focusing on mobile media use in specific contexts in order to extrapolate their larger significance. Throughout the book, I provide examples of the way people adapt mobile apps and services to the circumstances of their daily lives. Many of the ideas that informed the book, began when I asked my students about their mobile device usage. I found that deliberate tactics related to the context of use. These findings are at odds with advertisements by T-Mobile and AT&T for plans that offer unlimited streaming of Netflix on mobile devices. The mobile carriers offer a passive viewing experience while my students were much more active and creative in their uses of this technology.

While working with the Carsey-Wolf Center: Media Industries Project (MIP), I was able to familiarize myself with the industry logic that informed these digital strategies. I joined a group of scholars that are championing a media industries studies approach to the study of popular culture. This approach urges scholars to consider the ways creative workers navigate economic realities to produce media content. While working with MIP, I was a part of the Connected Viewing Project that partnered with Warner Bros Digital Distribution to think about the entertainment forms that would define mobile device use. My contribution to the project looked at “second screen” mobile apps that provide an interactive relationship between mobile screens and television screens, like tweeting about a television show by using an official hashtag. Through this research I became interested in the ways that previous industry strategies informed emerging media practices. The research for my book began when I started charting the continuities between television programming strategies and mobile content strategies.