Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Rise of the Mobile Screen


One day those I-walked-10-miles-to-school-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways stories may include the following:
When I was a kid, we would watch our shows on television—not on our phones. Oh, television! Back in those days, we paid for someone to run a cable to the house so we could watch shows and commercials on these boxes. Well, they started out as boxes, and they were pretty small, but then they got bigger, and less boxy, and soon they were just screens that we mounted to the walls. But they were still stationary, so we wound up putting them everywhere—bathrooms, kitchens, spare bedrooms, waiting rooms, even some restaurants had them. Yep, those were the days.
Nielsen is reporting a decline in television ownership in the US that can be traced back to the 2009 shift from analog to digital. It seems that more people are watching TV shows and movies on their computers and smart devices, taking media with them while in transit.

Nielsen does acknowledge that the recent economic downturn may be a factor in television sales, but also reports that media consumers are increasingly giving up subscription services in favor of online and mobile viewing—so called "cord-cutters," who are using services like streaming Netflix and Hulu to access the shows they're interested in following.

The television has been a focal point of home life for many people for a long time: it has been a babysitter, a social point, and a companion for some. I'm trying to imagine my family members watching the Thanksgiving day bowl games on their phones or huddled around a computer screen. It likely isn't a shift that will happen soon.

How frequently do you use your portable devices for streaming video? Has anyone out there cut the cord? Tell us about your liberating experience if you have one to share.


5 comments:

  1. Bunch of weirdos!

    By extension of this, we are going the wrong way in technology size. A few years ago, the razor was awesome because it was so thin. Now, we are heading back to the Zack Morris phone.

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  2. We’ve been talking about this very thing in our household. I’m a lying on the couch, cable watching, television is my relaxation Zen, die-hard addict. It’s how I grew up and it’s my biggest pleasure after a long day – cuppa tea, feet up and Corrie Street on the tube.

    My husband and children however, are internet downloaders. This week, because I’ve downgraded our cable (since I’m the only one really watching it), I actually went online to watch this season’s Dr. Who. I sat at my computer – in a chair, with the screen inches from my nose. And it didn’t suck too much. To be sure, I would prefer the couch but for one show I can manage – maybe I’ll see if I can download the 2nd episode to my phone on the way home tonight. And maybe we aren’t too far away from cutting the cable cord.

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  3. Oddly, this reminds me of punctuated equilibrium - or possibly allopatric speciation.

    The basic idea is that while the main population of a species does not significantly change over time, peripheral populations of a species will experience distinct cumulative changes.

    Eventually there will be a major environmental change under which one of the peripheral populations experience a distinct advantage and "suddenly" take over.

    Why the biology background? Well, this is what I'm seeing regarding TVs. Over the last two decades, we've slowly shifted away from the TV being our primary source of entertainment - that role has been taken over by the personal computer and its successive technologies. During that time, the TV remained significant and moreover enjoyed a considerable inertia: it was just a given that you'd HAVE a TV. But especially among the younger and more technologically savvy, it's just been a lower and lower priority.

    Enter the switch to digital TV. This is the environmental change. Suddenly, continued traditional TV usage has a significant price tag. You may need to outright replace your TV - or multiple TVs! Dedicated TV viewers of course paid this. But a surprisingly large number of people seem to simply not care - finding that they can get what they want in other methods. And, significantly, the inertia of the TV as the entertainment altar of the living room has been broken.

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  4. @Kira - Any chance we could get an update as to where you are with the cord cutting? :) We definitely aren't cutting the cord anytime soon. I have seen people who use their commutes to watch programs on their smart devices, but it's not something I find myself doing. I will sometimes watch a news clip or video that I find via a friend's post on social media, but for the most part, I need that time to catch up on other things!

    @Hasufin, that is simply one of the best connections to biological processes I have read. The switch to digital does appear to have been a trigger, compounded by changing lifestyles and the rise of alternative media. Family time is no longer time in front of the television, but perhaps family time is also each person on a personal device in the same space?

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  5. Well... I wonder if this is concurrent with reconsideration of what "family time" means - and, for that matter, what "family" means. My own experiences are not necessarily representative, but it seems to me that we're accustomed to more frequent connections over a broader geographic area than has been the case in the past, and while I see no particular indication of MORE connections as a result, they're not limited in the ways they used to be. If family time were to consist of multiple members of a family sharing a space and using their own devices, I think you'd find they're not interacting with the same groups of people.

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