What does ‘exponentially’ mean?

In mathematical terms it means that from two things, two more will sprite, from them four, from four – eight, from eight – sixteen, from sixteen – thirty-two, and so on.
In social terms that’s a lot of people getting connected in a short period of time.
That’s what advertisers and businesses would want – this formula to take them exponentially to as many customers, buyers, viewers, users, as possible.

In fact, Neil Rimer, partner at Index Ventures, explained it this way (more or less) during the FT conference in London a few days ago:
If a person were sitting at the top of a stadium, and a drop of water dripped once every second at the bottom of the stadium, it would take 46 minutes for the whole stadium to fill up if that drop of water started to drip exponentially (multiplying each set of drops by two).
The person at the top will realise that the stadium is filled up completely in the 43rd minute – that’s when it’ll ‘touch’ him.
Meaning that, he’s got only 3 minutes to get out of the stadium.
Of course that is, if he’s very, very distracted and doesn’t see the water filling up way before that.
Or, he’s a plain idiot.
But what with the bustling media and all the gadgets around us, distracting ourselves is actually a real possibility for us to miss the flooding and get swept away (by media, not by water).

Of course, Mr. Rimer meant that for media technology to thrive, it needs to grow exponentially.
Of course, he wants this exponential formula to work because he’s got business to run.
As well as many other businessmen.
And good for them.
But I thought from the point of view of the consumer.
To be more precise – from the point of view of the consumer’s mother.

I applied Mr. Rimer’s theory onto the context of our young and the social media environment they live in.
I could also borrow Al Gore’s example with the frog and the heating water.
I will still refer to an environment, but a different kind than that one.
If we put a frog in a boiling water, the frog will jump – naturally.
If we leave the frog in a cold water which we start heating slowly, the frog is likely to remain inside and, well, boil because it’ll find out that it’s too hot, too late.
From the research I conducted last year, and the qualitative work I’m currently doing in 13 schools (along with so much literature that I’ve covered on the subject), young people and children today, use the internet as a primary source of information, reference as well as entertainment – not necessarily in that order – where social media is the number 1 thing they do in terms of daily media consumption.
Within this context, and acknowledging the exponential growth of media technologies, I asked myself, will our children find out about the  ‘flooding’ only 3 minutes before the tide completely wipes them?
More importantly, do our children know how to swim?
And by that I mean, do they have self-control?
Can they focus on what matters, rather than let Facebook activities and statuses and YouTube random videos sweep them away, waste their time?

I’ll give you an example to explain better what I mean by ‘knowing how to swim’.
During our stay for the FT conference in London, my husband and I had the following items in our hotel room: The Independent and FT newspapers (everyday), Time magazines (two issues), one issue of Focus magazine; I carried with me a book in French and another book I’m reading; a TV set, an iPod; I had my computer (to post and email).
How much time, do you think, we managed to spend on each of the mentioned items, considering that we also had to squeeze in the full-day conference, a museum and a theatre in two of the nights? Guess!
I used to read a book in two days, even with the kids around me.
Today, it takes me about two weeks. And not that I read any slower.
Those 12 more days just get distributed onto so many more gadgets, media sources, media content.
The difference is that, I know how to control myself.
So, while I was at that hotel room for three days, I managed to read the Independent once (but not cover to cover); I read the two issues of Time magazine; didn’t miss posting on my blog (at least 2 posts a day), and read one chapter from the French book (three pages).
I read none from the other book, none from the FT newspaper, none from Focus magazine.
I literally had to impose on myself what to focus on.
I had to control myself not to watch TV and not distract myself with other things like emailing and browsing.
I managed to ‘swim’, my nose just above the water.

How will our kids control their own media consumption?

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