Mixed Media

I’m consuming media all wrong these days.

I get my television, movies and video from my laptop. I get my music from my phone. I get my books through my car stereo. And I’m playing games on basically everything. I’m pretty sure my SoniCare toothbrush has Angry Birds on it. It’s bizarro world out there these days.

Over the past two weeks I’ve cancelled two services that once seemed absolutely essential. After years with the company, I packed up my DirecTV HD receiver in a cardboard box and said goodbye to satellite television and, by extension, all conventional broadcasts. Even more monumental, I took a similar opportunity to get rid of my phone land line, moving entirely to my cell phone — is “cell phone” even a relevant term anymore? — for communicating with the outside world.

These were hard decisions that were considered in great detail and, I must admit, met with great reticence from my wife. I’m sure for some people the idea of still having a house phone is as anachronistic as having dial-up or a television without HD capabilities, but they are familiar, proven technologies, and who knows what life might be like without them?

Calling to put in the cancellation felt like a Here-There-Be-Dragons kind of moment. Our ship has yet to sail off the edge of the Earth — and I doubt we will — but I still find myself staring back at the receding shore.

The truth is, we’ve barely noticed that the landline and TV signal are gone. The world has turned several times, apparently, since the sun set on their ilk. Thinking on it, I’m not sure I’ve placed a call on my home phone this year, and both Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant were already well established fixtures on the television.

Besides, for the most part the television hasn’t been something I’ve paid much attention to for a couple of years now. Netflix has become a delivery system for my kids to occasionally watch cartoons. Prior to the recent change in Netflix that allowed for multiple profiles, the service was a wasteland to me, because unless I was hankering for a good, solid episode of Bob the Builder, its recommendations to me were not age appropriate.

I have almost completely moved to watching content through my laptop, and usually that isn’t even Netflix. It’s far more likely to be content on Youtube, or streams of gaming tournaments or people playing on Twitch.tv. Where once there existed things like Must See TV and HBO, now there are guitar lessons, let’s play episodes and content from Felicia Day and The Nerdist.

It’s not just that I got rid of my satellite provider. It’s that I had entirely stopped watching the content they offered months ago, if not years ago, and only just now had accepted that the game had permanently changed.

But the shift in my habits doesn’t stop there. No, I’ve also become a listener of audio books. Throughout the first half of the year, the entire Game of Thrones series was my constant companion to and from work. Since then, I’ve been chewing through Audible.com content at a healthy pace. Oh, look at this. David Sedaris reading his own short essays? Yes please.

I do realize that by absorbing books in this way, I’ve inadvertently wandered into a semantic and syntactic debate, where frankly I don’t know where I land. Can I now say that I’ve read the Game of Thrones series, or is the listening experience somehow fundamentally different? One could argue, of course, that the art of storytelling began far earlier with the spoken word than with the written word, but frankly that’s an academic exercise at best and lit.-major snobbery at worst.

However, like the experience of watching video on streaming services, it does change the nature of the experience in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. There is a certain feel that comes from stretching out on the couch and lazily surfing channels on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it’s a feeling that doesn’t really translate to the intentionality of browsing a Youtube catalog. And of course the feeling of listening to a story is meaningfully different from the feeling of getting lost in a book and entering that almost trance-like state of not even seeing the words or the page anymore — just existing in the story as it unfolds in your head. This is not an advisable state to enter when, for example, listening to a book in busy traffic.

The other day I was browsing a local Best Buy and wondering to myself, “Who goes to Best Buy anymore? What am I doing here?!” In this self-critical state I wandered past a refrigerator that had an LCD screen built in where, unbelievably, you could load in and use a variety of apps. I’m speaking here, people, of a refrigerator where you can check Twitter or stream Pandora. I stopped and just gawked at the thing for a full fifteen seconds, imagining what kind of state I would have to be in to simply embrace that my need to check the latest Tweets was so great, so dire, so imperative that I couldn’t lose those precious seconds between the fridge and the phone or computer or Xbox or any of the dozens of devices in my home that allow me constant and interminable access.

Honestly, I don’t actually know if I’m embracing the exponential functionality available and the diversity of experiences I can enjoy, or if I’m grousing about the unnecessary complexity and constant connectivity that has become almost universal. Standing in line at Chipotle the other day, my weakness for chicken burritos having victimized my waistline yet again, I noticed that every person in front of me was glaring down at one device or another. This was a line of ten or so people, and every single one who wasn’t in the process of ordering was either playing a game, checking email, browsing the web or probably tweeting.

Totes gonna get a burrito #hungry #Chipotle.

Now, mind you I had to look up from my own device to notice this event, but the realization somehow horrified me. I could not in good conscience go back to my phablet, and instead tried for a moment to simply take in and experience the surroundings I found myself in. I was instantly bored, and wished I hadn’t been compelled to feel so high and mighty, because I just remembered something I had wanted to check on Reddit.

The long and short is that I’m torn, but I’m also committed. There’s a part of me that misses the old ways of consuming media, and frankly the way you could get away from it. Now I have everything available to me all the time, and as a result I’m both compelled to use it and repulsed by the compulsion. As I lay in bed even now, finishing this article on a cloud-based service where my entire library and catalog of writing are both at my fingertips and entirely virtual, I realize how science-fictiony this would have been to my younger self, excited at owning his first electric typewriter.

My sons will grow up only knowing of the internet, and video, music, media and entertainment as digital content, accessible every-where and every-when. I honestly don’t know if that’s a better or worse way to grow up. My guess is that it’s just a different way to grow up, rather than having an inherent qualitative difference. But for me it’s a weird and occasionally wonderful change, one I’m committed to as I slough off the last remaining vestiges of an analog world, but one that I can’t help being just a little bit suspicious of as well.

Comments

"Reading" on Audible doesn't count. Sorry. Not to say it is terrible or is somehow an invalid way to hear a story; heck I am listening to "The Mote in God's Eye" at the moment. But it is not reading.

I still have a landline. I seldom use it but it is a convenient dumping ground for sales and other nuisance callers. Also, my old home security system requires it and I am too cheap to upgrade the security system.

I still have cable. Shoot, I still have two tube TVs in my house. HDTV has yet to make inroads here beyond the living room. My wife still watches crap on network TV. Getting her to change her ways would be difficult at best, at least until she decides to make a change, if that ever happens. It is easier to just keep paying cable.

I do have a Blue-ray player but only because our main DVD player died and I decided to "upgrade" finally.

I do read books and listen to books, podcasts, and music on my phone. I don't game on it much but I have and will continue to do so when I have time and there is a good game available. I, also, consume most of my video watching on my PC. Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, and Hulu mostly give me what I want for that sort of thing.

I don't think I am some sort of Luddite who hates new technology. I think, instead, I just have so much invested in older stuff that it is hard to change, both financially and psychologically, until I have to make a change.

tboon wrote:
"Reading" on Audible doesn't count.

Doesn't that depend on what you're trying to "count"?

The other day I was browsing a local Best Buy and wondering to myself, “Who goes to Best Buy anymore? What am I doing here?!” In this self-critical state I wandered past a refrigerator that had an LCD screen built in where, unbelievably, you could load in and use a variety of apps. I’m speaking here, people, of a refrigerator where you can check Twitter or stream Pandora. I stopped and just gawked at the thing for a full fifteen seconds, imagining what kind of state I would have to be in to simply embrace that my need to check the latest Tweets was so great, so dire, so imperative that I couldn’t lose those precious seconds between the fridge and the phone or computer or Xbox or any of the dozens of devices in my home that allow me constant and interminable access.

"Hey Twitter, does this sour cream look bad?"

"Hey, refrigerator, find me recipes that will help me use up this cabbage."

"Hey fridge, turn on 'Breakfast Jams 2013' playlist."

Yeah, I'm OK with this.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
There's a typo in the article title.

He might have been trying to be clever, but I'm not going to allow it.

There's a typo in the article title.

The truth is, we’ve barely noticed that the landline and TV signal are gone.

My wife and I were marveling just the other day that it's been three years since we dropped our landline and cable, and we haven't really noticed the difference. It might not have been possible when we first met almost a decade ago, but now it seems a little silly to have those services around.

wordsmythe wrote:
tboon wrote:
"Reading" on Audible doesn't count.

Doesn't that depend on what you're trying to "count"?

Yeah, this - it's purely a matter of semantics. If "reading" is the act of processing textual information with your eyes, then no, audiobooks don't count. (Presumably then, people who consume Braille books are also not readers.) If it's mentally processing the words of a piece of literature, and the sense you use as input doesn't matter, then one can "read" a book via audio.

Or is it interacting with a thing made of paper? In which case do eBooks count?

Or is it about how much attention is required to progress the storyline? If you don't pay attention to a book, the story doesn't "go on" in the background without you. Which I guess rules out skimreading, where you're not paying "enough" attention to what's going on.

I have to admit I am baffled by the assertion.

He might have been trying to be clever, but I'm not going to allow it.

Yup, it's definitely the first part. Definitely.

I have become increasingly ludditical (did I make that up?) in the last two years. I've pared back facebook to a tiny trickle, cut out my RSS feeds entirely, and have often eschewed video games during down time for conversation or honest-to-goodness books.

I don't think this is consciously reactionary, but I would probably be lying if I said it wasn't so at all. I don't like how everyone can see what everyone else is doing, all the time. I don't like how much data of ourselves we are constantly announcing. I don't like that the NSA is more than happy to tap into that stream.

Mostly, I really don't like what has happened to the art of conversation. At lunch this week I looked around and saw no fewer than four tables out of 15 or so where every single person was, instead of engaging in conversation, face-down in their phones. I have seen 10-top tables of high schoolers spend a meal exclusively on their phones to the detriment of each other's company. I have even, far more often than I wish I had, seen many instances where two parents are each on their own portable devices at a restaurant while a child sits there idly swinging his legs, no one to talk to.

This profoundly disturbs me.

It does not seem to be healthy behavior for a society. Maybe it is. Maybe it's the new normal. I rather wonder if we shouldn't expect to see some sort of backlash in the near future that sets things on a more neutral path, but I can't begin to imagine what that would look like. The thing about our digital sidearms is that they're just so damned convenient, and convenience, once obtained, can be a difficult thing to give up, even if has negative consequences.

The thing people tend to forget when looking at, say, other patrons in restaurants looking at their phones, is that those people looking at their phones are very likely engaging with friends and family; they're just not engaging with the friends and family at the table with them. They're texting, Facebooking, tweeting, or otherwise conversing with people they might not otherwise have been able to. Our voices are quieter but carry much further.

This isn't to say that ignoring your tablemates is a good thing, but neither is being on your mobile device an inherently bad thing, either. I'm reminded of articles from decades back expressing concern over the death of conversation because of how often people were listening to the radio or reading the paper instead of having a good old-fashioned chat with the people across from them.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
I'm reminded of articles from decades back expressing concern over the death of conversation because of how often people were listening to the radio or reading the paper instead of having a good old-fashioned chat with the people across from them.

Which still happens, of course, but seemingly much less so. Despite an abundance of pretty good free papers around here, the only time I see people reading them out and about is when they are by themselves. Otherwise it would just be rude, right?

Maybe the issue here is that the technology is still new enough that etiquette hasn't been codified. When cell phones first became a thing that a lot of people had (2000-ish?) I was in college. There was an epidemic of people answering phone calls in the middle of conversations, which naturally implies that the person on the phone is more important than the person right in front of you — doubly so, really, since you're actually interrupting a conversation that is already in progress.

When someone would do this to me, I would just stop talking and walk away (yeah, I was that guy). Nowadays it doesn't seem to be as big of a deal anymore, but the trouble now is trying to hold someone's full attention, because they can be "conversing" with you while texting/tweeting/instagramming/etc. simultaneously.

The person sitting in front of you has to hold a trump card over the person on the other end of a fiber-optic cable. Otherwise, why would you have even gone out to a restaurant or coffee shop with that person, if you plan on having no interaction with them? I guess that's really the crux of it, for me. It's not the constant connectivity per se that bothers me, it's that it seems to hold primacy over flesh-and-blood individuals across the table from you.

Minarchist wrote:
When cell phones first became a thing that a lot of people had (2000-ish?) I was in college. There was an epidemic of people answering phone calls in the middle of conversations, which naturally implies that the person on the phone is more important than the person right in front of you — doubly so, really, since you're actually interrupting a conversation that is already in progress.

And now how do people handle phone calls during conversations? It seems like most of the time, people check the caller ID and then silence their phone or apologize for having to answer it. I get the feeling texting and the like will find a way to normalize as people sort out what's appropriate and what isn't, most likely by resolving to not do the stuff that pisses them off when other people do it.

I read an article on Slate a few years back about smart phone usage and what was appropriate for use in company. Their community kicked it around for awhile and came back with an excellent rule of thumb: it's okay to check your phone without excusing yourself if you're in a situation where you could duck off to the bathroom without excusing yourself, and you shouldn't take longer to do the former than the latter. It's not always a rule I've stuck to well, but it's something I think of often.

Elysium wrote:
Over the past two weeks I’ve cancelled two services that once seemed absolutely essential. After years with the company, I packed up my DirecTV HD receiver in a cardboard box and said goodbye to satellite television and, by extension, all conventional broadcasts. Even more monumental, I took a similar opportunity to get rid of my phone land line, moving entirely to my cell phone — is “cell phone” even a relevant term anymore? — for communicating with the outside world.

Welcome to the 21st century.

I ditched my landline in 2001 and cancelled my satellite TV at least 3 years ago. Good riddance.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
And now how do people handle phone calls during conversations? It seems like most of the time, people check the caller ID and then silence their phone or apologize for having to answer it.

Right, which is why I started that paragraph with "Maybe the issue here is that the technology is still new enough that etiquette hasn't been codified." and then went on to use that as an example.

I get the feeling texting and the like will find a way to normalize as people sort out what's appropriate and what isn't, most likely by resolving to not do the stuff that pisses them off when other people do it.

I hope so, but this time I am not so sure. There are so many tiny little dopamine hits on a modern phone (liked on facebook! RT'd! Reposted my Pin!) that it seems a lot more seductive than past distractions. Purely anecdotally, at least, as I have a few friends who have gotten worse and worse with their phones over time, despite repeated pleadings, warnings, beatings, and even having their phones taken away. (Again, that guy.)

Minarchist wrote:
Right, which is why I started that paragraph with "Maybe the issue here is that the technology is still new enough that etiquette hasn't been codified." and then went on to use that as an example. :)

I must've missed that when I alt-tabbed over to Twi, the nw Twtr w/25 chr lmt.

Floomi wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
tboon wrote:
"Reading" on Audible doesn't count.

Doesn't that depend on what you're trying to "count"?

Yeah, this - it's purely a matter of semantics. If "reading" is the act of processing textual information with your eyes, then no, audiobooks don't count. (Presumably then, people who consume Braille books are also not readers.) If it's mentally processing the words of a piece of literature, and the sense you use as input doesn't matter, then one can "read" a book via audio.

Or is it interacting with a thing made of paper? In which case do eBooks count?

Or is it about how much attention is required to progress the storyline? If you don't pay attention to a book, the story doesn't "go on" in the background without you. Which I guess rules out skimreading, where you're not paying "enough" attention to what's going on.

I have to admit I am baffled by the assertion.

No, it's not semantics at all. Reading is a learned cognitive skill used to derive meaning from symbols, usually, but not necessarily, printed or otherwise written (and I am sure there will be quibbles about what that means too, oh well). Of course e-books can be read. Of course reading Braille is reading. Skim reading too. I am liberal in my definition of what reading is.

On the other hand, listening to an audiobook is just that: listening. Doesn't mean it is lesser, there is no value judgment in my assertion. My assertion is that listening is not reading.

Does watching a movie also mean one is reading?

I am baffled by your bafflement. But that's OK, you are baffled by me, I am baffled by you, it's all good.

Welcome, brother.

We've been without cable so long we don't remember when we canceled it. 5 years ago? 6? My daughter says, "Daddy, can I watch the Xbox? Jake and the Neverland Pirates please!"

We were at a hotel last weekend and she was perplexed, simply perplexed at the commercials. "What are these toys for, daddy?"

Of course I don't sports anymore because of it. I used to sit down on an odd Sunday to a Bears game. But now I figure f*ck 'em, and the Cubs too. They're making too much anyway and not playing well enough. We do miss the Blackhawks broadcasts though. Or at least my wife does.

The constant fight is keeping current. I just can't bring myself to pirate. Not anything. Not music, not TV, and least of all games. That means I still haven't seen past the first season of Game of Thrones.

But without appointment television (save Castle on Mondays) I get a sh*t ton more done now.

Anyway... it's a weird future for sure. Nice article.

On the one hand, sure, texting all the time at the table is a bit rude.

On the other hand, I've been to High School. Most High School kids are not as interesting as the phone, even if I'm at lunch with them.

How do you watch football without cable?

Gave up TV about... 17~ish years ago. Kept the land line for a lot longer due to the military requiring you to have one for calling you up. I think that's changed, or at least they never check anymore so I got rid of that land line years and years ago.

I like reading. So much so that I have read several thousand books. Last time I moved 1/2 of all the boxes were full of books. I got an e-reader a couple of years ago and haven't looked back. It's just too darned simple to use, much easier to lug around than a paperback, and it takes much more of a beating.

I never really got into twitter, used it once during PAX to meet up with you GWJ folks(good times). After I figured it out I primarily use FB to let family know that I am still alive.

Went from a smartphone back to a dumb phone and the only thing I really miss is having the internet in my pocket and never getting lost. Just wasn't worth $120+ per month. WiFi is everywhere now and the old smartphone is useful for accessing that even if I don't usually keep it on me.

I still watch movies on TV, mostly bi-monthly rentals from Red box. I seem to have lost interest in consoles in favor of the wide variety of cheap indie games, especially during steam sales.

So I read my e-book, text, occasionally watch a movie, and play FTP games and cheap indie games on my computer. The rest of my time is taken up with college, homework, house maintenance/fixes, car/motorcycle maintenance/fixes, yard work, taking care of the dogs, my burgeoning interest in photography, guitars, and my rekindled interest in mountain biking.

When visiting one of the family the TV seems very strange indeed these days. Insulting commercials, utterly vapid TV shows, constant show interruptions and "updates", and just plain bad news journalism.

These days some things just aren't worth putting up with, let alone paying for. Especially with all the cheap/free alternatives available.

Audiobooks have become my way of "re-reading" books. For some reason I feel like I still must read, for real, new books. But, once they're read and I think I might want to re-read it at some point, I begin looking for the audio version.

Floomi wrote:
If "reading" is the act of processing textual information with your eyes, then no, audiobooks don't count. (Presumably then, people who consume Braille books are also not readers.) If it's mentally processing the words of a piece of literature, and the sense you use as input doesn't matter, then one can "read" a book via audio.

Actually, evidence from neuroscience shows that the same areas of the brain that are used for reading in a sighted person are used by blind Braille readers for that activity instead. Wonder our marvelous brains!

Minarchist wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
And now how do people handle phone calls during conversations? It seems like most of the time, people check the caller ID and then silence their phone or apologize for having to answer it.

Right, which is why I started that paragraph with "Maybe the issue here is that the technology is still new enough that etiquette hasn't been codified." and then went on to use that as an example.

I get the feeling texting and the like will find a way to normalize as people sort out what's appropriate and what isn't, most likely by resolving to not do the stuff that pisses them off when other people do it.

I hope so, but this time I am not so sure. There are so many tiny little dopamine hits on a modern phone (liked on facebook! RT'd! Reposted my Pin!) that it seems a lot more seductive than past distractions. Purely anecdotally, at least, as I have a few friends who have gotten worse and worse with their phones over time, despite repeated pleadings, warnings, beatings, and even having their phones taken away. (Again, that guy.)

There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.

We got rid of DirectTV about 8 months ago, put up a small antenna in the attic and can pull in most of our local channels. The only time I've missed it is for Monday Night Football, although I'll probably miss it more now that college basketball is starting up.

Also didn't want to get rid of a traditional home phone due to still having children living at home but we did drop the overpriced AT&T land line and went with Vonage. So far so good.

Ditched cable over 2 years ago, and haven't had a land line since we dropped DSL service in 2007.

It's been marvelous getting all our content from Hulu Plus, YouTube, Twitch, and Netflix. In fact, when Netflix tried to split streaming and DVDs-by-mail, we reduced our plan and haven't looked back.

But what I have noticed, at least recently, is that we're having a little resurgence of "appointment viewing" creeping back in. Every Wednesday, for the last 6 weeks, we've been sitting down at some point in the night, firing up the Roku, and watching THIS WEEKS' episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. After spending years being a year+ behind on shows on Netflix, its nice having a serial that we get to watch and comment on in near-real-time.

As for various sportsball events, we'll usually head out as a family and watch games at a restaurant. We ended up watching most of the Bruin's post-season games last year that way, and I was staying on top of the Sox in the World Series thanks to suckers running restaurants with the games on.

Texting etiquette here is starting to be a bit more formal, but I doubt it'll ever be codified. Codification seems to be against our nature. I can't ramble on. Lots to do.

If you get a call, you can check your phone. It's okay to apologize and answer it, but you have to either get back to your conversation shortly, or else beg off because your call is of an immediate and compelling nature (your house is burning down). About two interruptions is okay in a ten minute interval. More than that is rude.

It's okay to text and engage in conversation at the same time, but you have to demonstrate that you're keeping up, generally with occasional eye contact or relevant and specific commentary. Sharing the content of text messages is expected if it's to third parties that are are of relevance to the get-together in question. Occasionally, the device can be passed to others present if they want to send a direct message.

I find all this tech completely comforting, as I am now never alone. However, I am also careful to value the advantages of face communication and real-time experiences. There's a time to put away the screens and enjoy ultra-HD and ultra-3D real life.

I cut the cable when Spanist my house, about 4 years ago. I did occasionally miss having the local channels, so I got clever. I have Comcast Internet, and I heard that they cannot filter TV channels out of those lines. So, I got a coax cable and plugged it into my TV, and Viola. I have the local channels, some sports channels, 42 PBS channels, and 100 Spanish channels. All for free.

By what means are you all without phone or cable service getting internet service and how much does it cost per month?

tboon wrote:

On the other hand, listening to an audiobook is just that: listening. Doesn't mean it is lesser, there is no value judgment in my assertion. My assertion is that listening is not reading.

Does watching a movie also mean one is reading?

I am baffled by your bafflement. But that's OK, you are baffled by me, I am baffled by you, it's all good.

I think the issue here is that your original comment made it sound like this kind of conversation could happen:

Person A: So I just finished reading Game of Thrones. I can't believe what happened to !
Person B: Me too!
Person A: Boy that book is huge, though, I nearly needed wrist braces by the end.
Person B: Oh, I listened to it on audible. Much lighter.
Person A: Oh so you didn't read it? Never mind.

A bit contrived, obviously, but that's my issue with your stance. It's fine to say that listening != reading, but when you say it doesn't count it makes it sound like you are dismissing the idea that the person has experienced the story. Your additional comments seem to be going after something else, but it's reasonable that people were confused.

Gotcha. I am old though and reading means something to me. Personally, I would never consider a book "read" by listening to an audiobook. I may never actually read that content (since I have already experienced it) but I cannot check it off the books I have actually read.

Seems pedantic and probably is, but again, I claim oldness. All you young people with your new-fangled audio books and "phablets" (wtf is that anyway?) just carry on without me.

Double post for oldness.

I could not do without sports. With the exception of just a couple of shows, it's the only thing I use my cable for.

How about that Colts-Titans game on NFL Network last night? SEC on ESPN. Avalanche on ALT. NBA on TNT. Plus... where I live, over the air means two channels: ABC and PBS. Broncos on Sunday night NBC? I could stream a lot of media, but until I have a viable alternative for live sports, I just could not do it.

Sports and Athletes have become that much more valuable in this new world of time and place shifted content. I've argued that athletes aren't paid enough and I think fairly soon we will see the big players jockey strongly to lock up live sports as exclusives.