The other night the little lady and I were having the great debate over watching either Lost or American Idol live. Exciting times around the Norrie house. It got us talking about the generational shift occurring in television viewing these days. Again, exciting times around the abode. We wanted to watch both, but didn’t feel particularly pressed towards either. We love these shows as they are two of our favorites, but the consensus was that either one could wait until it proved convenient to watch.
Part of this stems from the general ease associated with television watching these days considering the popularity of DVR, On Demand, Hulu and the like. But from these advantages in technology, I think a shift is occurring in the way we think about television. In the past, I would have never considered going to bed without watching both. What if someone wanted to talk about it the next day? Not anymore because we don’t speak television. Television isn’t a big part of our daily, societal conversation. It is not dead by any means but gone are the days you went into work wanting to talk about the big twist in X-files the emotion of ER or the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld.
Consider, Thursday morning for example. Besides my lucrative contract with CinemaBlend, I also hold a not so lucrative 9-5 job. I work with a bunch of other people who all generally enjoy watching television. Wednesday night Lost had a fairly significant “WWHHHAAAA?!!” moment. You know how many people I heard talking about it the next morning? Zilch.
Why is this and what does it mean? Firstly, programming has reached such a diluted state that folks are just not all watching the same kind of shows. It’s inevitable considering the number of options out there. We aren’t all confined to the four big networks and crappy PBS. That alone assumes we are all watching different things.
In addition, the common viewing experiences aren’t all necessarily coming at the same time. Often when I ask someone if they saw Lost, for example, I will get the, “SSSShhhh, don’t tell me, I DVR’ed it.” (This works reciprocally for me when I don’t catch the show right away) By the time we all get around to watching it, we have either forgotten or have moved on to more interesting and timely things.
Where the television world has a fuzzy meandering focus though, the internet world brings it into stark clarity. Want to “discuss” Lost? Hit up one of the ten billion forums out there with people giving their ideas instantaneously. Mad at the choices made on American Idol? Complain right to Fox themselves by emailing or posting online in a discussion thread. The instant gratification of having one’s ideas read immediately supplants the desire to have those same ideas heard in conversation. You also know you won’t be disappointed. I am not here to debate the merits of face-to-face conversation versus online conversation. What I am merely saying is that television as a conversational topic is shifting the same as the viewing itself.
Does it mean we, as a society, have moved on to more thought-provoking and deeper areas of conversation? Nope. I hear ludicrously bland talk all day long about the kids, traffic, or how work stinks. What it does mean is that television programming and viewing has diverged to a point outside of where we can all relate together. It is just no longer the entertaining topic to fallback on when all other small-talk options run dry. Television talk is dying a slow, Seattle Grace death. Next time you see me we can just talk about the weather.