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noun [uncountable]

the activity of using a device such as a smartphone, tablet, etc. to do something unrelated (e.g. browsing the Internet) whilst watching TV


noun [countable]

'We're quickly becoming a world of multitaskers … In a study of the multiscreening behaviors of audiences in 30 countries, the U.S. ranks first in stacking, spending on average 91 minutes a day watching TV while also doing something unrelated on a second device.'

The Economist Group 25th April 2014

'Smartphones, tablets create a nation of 'meshers and stackers' who won't just watch TV … Watching TV is no longer enough – we're tweeting, shopping and texting while we do it, according to a major survey of UK technology use.'

ZDNet 1st August 2013

Are you reading this article on your smartphone with the gentle hum of the TV in the background? Maybe you're not even concentrating enough to read this sentence, but are currently enjoying your favourite TV drama whilst seeing the flash of the BuzzWord logo appear from the corner of your eye. If so, then you're most certainly not alone, as it seems we're increasingly occupying our down time with a spot of electronic multi-tasking, now known as stacking.

stacking is a whole new take on the concept of multi-tasking, and it's an activity of burgeoning popularity

There was a time, not actually that long ago, when watching the TV was very much an exclusive activity, something that usually consumed our full attention, even if we were doing it with others. Then along came wi-fi and the laptop, and better still, the smartphone or tablet, light and handy devices bringing the online world to nestle alongside us right amongst the sofa cushions. The upshot is an apparently irresistible urge to grab that other screen and have a quick dive into the online universe whilst the TV programme is airing, especially if the broadcast is annoyingly interspersed with advertisements. It's a bit like the digital equivalent of 'putting the kettle on' – we might browse the Internet for a potential purchase, check out train times, catch up with our friends over social media, or countless other things, all whilst the action is happening on the alternative screen in the room. In short, stacking is a whole new take on the concept of multi-tasking, and it's an activity of burgeoning popularity. The dear old telly doesn't appear to have the hold on us that it once did, no longer claiming our undivided attention and withdrawing us from other activities. And stackers, it seems, are becoming an increasingly significant proportion of the TV viewing population – research undertaken in 2013 by Ofcom (the UK's regulatory authority for broadcasting), suggested that 6 in 10 adults now engage in the practice.

Background – stacking

The word stacking as a reference to use of multiple electronic devices first appeared in 2013 in the context of the aforementioned research undertaken by Ofcom in the UK. Also sometimes known as media stacking or screen stacking, the usage quickly gained currency both in the US and Australia amidst a flurry of commentary on how hand-held devices appeared to be creating a propensity towards media multi-tasking. The same research also drew an interesting distinction between stacking and what's now known as (media) meshing or second screening, in which electronic devices are used in direct relation to what's being watched on TV, rather than for an unconnected activity. It seems that there's a gender divide in this respect, with men more likely to be meshers, commenting on or searching for information about what they're watching, and women more likely to be stackers, engaging in activities which have no direct connection to what's on the TV.

There's also some evidence to suggest that the word stacking is now being used more broadly to refer to the simultaneous use of any two or more screen devices, not necessarily including a television.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord article. Hedonic treadmill.

This article was first published on 9th December 2014.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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