Television: A Shift from Communal to Convenient

Family_watching_television_1958Throughout its history, television had been a communal experience in which families would sit in front of their household TV-screens, and watch a program together at its specific air time. Even if a person were to do this alone, it was still communal in the sense that millions of others would be tuning it at the same time, to watch the same program, on the same network. Whether catching the 8 o’clock news, or a brand new episode of a television series, tuning in to a nationwide broadcast was a moment shared by millions. If one were to miss a show, there was nothing to do other than hopefully catch a rerun. In their book Console-ing Passions: Television as Digital Media, Bennett and Strange discuss the shifting trends of how television is consumed, in regards to its digitalization. Consumers now have the power to dictate when, where, and on what device they want to watch a film or television show. To label television as just that “box in the corner,” is no longer as appropriate as it was once universally understood to be (Bennett & Strange, 2), because it can no longer be understood that simply, as there are now various different viewing options and capabilities. Bennett and Strange start out their introduction by arguing that:

“Television as digital media must be understood as a non-site specific, hybrid cultural and technological form that spreads across multiple platforms as diverse as mobile phones, game consoles, iPods, and online video services such as YouTube, Hulu, Joost, and the BBC’s iPlayer, as well as a computer-based media players such as Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and Apple TV” (Bennett and Strange, 2-3)

Cuddling with multiple devicesThe list in the quote above does not even cover all the different platforms that are available to consumers in today’s society. With the emergence of digital technology, it seems natural to digitize television, but many see issues with the implications that may come along with it. One implication raised in this weeks reading, and which I find to have some underestimated importance, is the way in which consuming television as a digital media could potentially change the entire experience. I’m not sure that confidently predict whether that change would be a positive or negative one, however, I can say this shift has clearly already begun to take place. Most households no longer need to fight over who gets control of the television, and additionally, nobody needs to sit through a TV show that they would not choose to watch themselves, just for the sake of being able to watch television. (Side note: this comes from personal experience, as my older brother use to think it was hilarious to turn on the Christian channel when he got to choose what we’d watch, just for the sake of irritating me–even though we both grew up with no affiliation to any religion). The alternative is now one of convenience. Different members of the same household now have the ability to split up into different rooms or spaces, to catch up on favorite shows, making the experience an individual one, rather than communal. Heres where I find it to get tricky–although television as digital media is increasingly becoming an isolated experience, in terms of consumption, this does not prevent people from discussing that experience with others who watch the same television shows. We have seen a rise of fandom sites, in which fans come together to discuss all aspects of a certain show. While it is likely that many fans consume each episode in solitude, according to their own self-schedules, the discussion is what upholds the communal experience.

Although I’ve been a Netflix subscriber for 4 years, I rarely find myself using it. Maybe it’s because I’m now an off campus student, but I personally find myself watching cable television much more than I use any digital platform. There is something that still excites me about catching a new episode when it premieres on cable TV. I definitely had my fair share of binge watching my favorite shows on Netflix when I lived in the dorms, but that was the extent of it. It was convenient when there was no other option. To be honest, I found it to be distracting and a waste of my time. Sure, we now have the ability to watch a whole season of a show in one day, but must we? These hit shows on digital platforms don’t seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon (granted we have seen classics disappearing from Netflix). Don’t get me wrong, I see the perks of television as digital media, and I definitely find it to be convenient. However, I guess I worry about a complete switch to television as digital media, because for me, it would take away from the traditional experience of television.  I’m interested to see if I am the only one who feels this way, or if there are any others who might agree with me.

Bennett, James, and Niki Strange. Television as Digital Media. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

Images from Creative Commons.

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