History Repeats Itself

30 Nov

Both Lynn Spigel and Max Dawson’s “Television and Digital Media” and the introduction to Amanda Lotz’s The Television Will Be Revolutionized, draw attention to the crucial historical moment when television was primarily considered to be an appliance or piece of furniture. The implication is that with this type of change comes a shift in social and cultural functions of the medium. Lotz points to the movement between radio and television as one example of this: television merely adding pictures to the sounds of the existing medium of radio, while retaining its framework of network broadcast. While this was a major shift, it largely left the social aspects of viewership intact. However, with television’s ongoing transition into the “Post-Network Era” (mid-2000s to present) and its time-shifting technologies (DVR, VOD, portable devices, mobile phones, slingbox, digital cable), it is undergoing an extreme social change – one that should feel familiar to music enthusiasts.

It seems to me that television is following the same worn arc of the music industry in its increasing accessibility and consequent individualization. Before the rise of the mp3 player, or even before that of the Walkman, there existed the record player – a medium that you very decidedly cannot carry around and listen to with headphones. Like early radio and television, the record player was (and remains to be!) an appliance or piece of furniture. The result is a more social listening experience (read: listening parties) that also allows for songs to take on a new life in the minds of their listeners after the fact (when a song gets stuck in your head, taking on subtle changes through imperfect memory) without instantaneous access to content on portable devices – both qualities applicable to television and endangered in a similar fashion to music. 

One can still make the act of listening to music or watching TV into a social experience relatively easily in a world saturated with private, portable, or time-shifted means of consumption, however, given the impact of portable mp3 players, the prevalence of this mode of social viewership looks unlikely to continue. Social viewing seems to be trending towards the fringe of consumption. I think it can be interesting and useful to consider this shift in television in light of the earlier transition in music – particularly given our class conversation concerned with the idea that distinct media could be moving towards convergence in the contemporary world.   

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One Response to “History Repeats Itself”

  1. ambailey9113 December 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    While I agree with your assessment that time-shifting technology have changed the way we watch television, I don’t think that these advancements mean that television watching is no longer a communal activity. Technology such as Twitter and Facebook, in addition to the comments sections of streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube, have helped to create a different mode of communal viewing. Even though these technologies don’t require people gathering in front of a television set, they still foster group viewing and imagined communities around shared interests or tastes.

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