Flynn effect and CNN

Date: Wed Oct 03 2001 - 18:25:22 MDT

Like most of us I've been watching a lot of TV news this past month.
One of the new features on the news networks is continually streaming
text across the bottom of the page, reporting breaking news and current

It can be distracting and confusing to have two separate sets of reports
going on at once, the text stream and the video news. I am generally able
to follow it although sometimes my attention gets grabbed by one or the
other and then I miss something. Luckily I normally watch with TiVo so it
is easy to hit the backup key and see the previous few seconds over again.

I can't help thinking that this is an example of the Flynn effect
in action. Flynn is the one who first discovered that IQ scores have
been steadily rising over the course of this century. The effect is
controversial but it seems to be gradually becoming accepted.

Today's young people grow up in a multitasking world. My daughter
usually has at least ten windows open on her computer. She'll read a
bit in one page and then switch to another. The very act of surfing the
web involves a form of serial multitasking, pushing one context onto a
mental stack and switching to a new one, going many layers deep before
finding your way back.

Kids do their homework while watching TV, listening to music, surfing
the web, chatting online or on the phone. There are always two or three
things going on. To them the idea of just doing one task until it is
done and then starting another seems intolerably boring and unstimulating.

CNN Headline News switched over to a multitasking format this past
summer and got criticized by reviewers who found it hard to follow.
Obviously they were from an older generation unused to the mental
gymnastics which young people find so easy and natural. Now all of the
news networks are using similar presentations.

I think the networks' reasoning is that you're less likely to switch
away when they've got an interview or background report on. You can
continue to watch and feel confident that if something important happens,
you will see it on the text stream. But this only works if viewers feel
comfortable with the amount of information being presented.

Chances are that a generation ago, this style would not have succeeded.
People were not used to being presented with information in multiple
streams and it would have been too confusing. But today people are
smarter. They can handle it. Flynn is confirmed once again.


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