In the northern hemisphere winter becomes a faded memory as the days get longer and we rediscover the rituals of daylight-saving season. One of these is clearly the ritual of planning what we’ll watch during the summer as our favourite shows go dormant.
In the end of television I had ventured into a world where we were no longer forced to sit in front of the television set at a specific time to join the collective trance that was prime time TV. While it was written almost three years ago, it reads as a note from the recent news:
If TV has been so engrained in our culture, what does the BitTorrent revolution means? What can we infer when corporations decide to take action by targeting TV Download Sites [Pirate Bay]? They were obviously nervous about how much attention was being taken from them. It took a gutsy move by Apple [and YouTube, Hulu, Boxee et al] to admit that there was no going back to the television set and that content producers had to find ways of leveraging the Internet as the new distribution channel. While we can debate that downloading shows to a computer is pretty much the same as watching them on television, I believe these are the early attempts by some enterpreneurs to end the addiction to TV. We should only expect this trend to grow as a new aspect of our global culture as the alternatives and mechanisms become available across all layers of society.
After three years of unplugging the cable, I’m still plugged into the collective culture by virtue of a number of venues that provide ongoing access to the most relevant items of the daily digest: a larger number of sites have made some of their content available in streams, a larger variety of appliances are able to connect to the web to offer alternative content, torrents are available for a very large number of prime time shows, some networks have signed exclusive distribution deals to make their content available through specific channels. In short, there is a lot of content out there.
In fact, I’ve noticed I don’t download much music anymore. Not because I’m getting it for free at some underground website run by pirates, but because the amount of media available continues to grow at such an overwhelming pace that there is no space for one more download. I realize I’m nothing but one particular case, but so I was when decided to unplug the cable.
Television has been a powerful factor in shaping our behavior as a society over the last few decades. Marshall McLuhan pointed out well ahead of most that while the print had forced people into the abstract world of letters and words, accelerating the diffusion of ideas, television was going to reverse the process by leveling access to culture by means of simple images, creating along the way a univeral language of very concrete symbols, enabling what he called the “Global Village”.
And while television played its levelling role quite well, we now find ourselves at a point where the amount of content greatly exceeds the capacity of humans to consume it and so we must be selective in our watching. This means that while all those simple images could be available to everyone, the fact is that only a small percentage of them will be.
Or put in other words: what good is to have access to so much content if you can’t decide what to watch? There is a famous snippet of TV history from the show Max Headroom where a broadcaster had figured out ways to compress lengthy content into just a few seconds of watching. I don’t believe such technology has been invented just yet (maybe it will be 20 minutes in the future), but in the meantime we’ll have to figure out how to get better at selecting the content we watch. The curation processes that we put in place next will be critical to the shaping of our culture. The immediate collective consensus that was brought up by television will now be diluted by the multitude of possibilities, redefining the concept of multiculturalism. Nothing wrong with that.
Leave your fears of running out of shows to watch this next summer. Chances are that there will be plenty that you haven’t discovered and they will all be available upon request.