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

You still had a land line? Got rid of that in 2003 when cell phone started giving unlimited nights and weekends.

Got rid of the TV back in the early 80s, and with one exception, never looked back. After that (other than Babylon 5), if the TV was on, it was because the VCR had a movie in it. Once cable internet became available locally, and the significant other got a cell, we ditched the landline - 10?12? years ago.

Never regretted it. Even less cause for regret these days, with the few things I want to see either being available for rent, or freely (and legally) viewable on the internet.

I never had a land line before not having a land line was cool. I could tell you guys why, but you've probably never heard of the reason.

LarryC wrote:

I never had a land line before not having a land line was cool. I could tell you guys why, but you've probably never heard of the reason.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it has something to do with the fact that things in the Philippines are shockingly not exactly the same as they are in the US.

Nah. I'm just naturally cooler. It's me.

but Sean

What about The Packers?

http://www.engadget.com/2013/11/18/m...

Semi on topic..not surprised in the least to see the NFL join this battle.. the "Free TV" providers are paying a sizable amount to the NFL to show the games regionally and nationally.. and with sports becoming all the more important for the battle against the cord-cutters its a logical move.

Hockey is the one thing keeping me paying my stupid cable bill. I got rid of the cable a few years ago figuring I could just stream the hockey but even with the paid subscription to the NHL for streaming the restrictions on when you could watch forced me back to cable.

Maybe streaming has improved since then, but for now I'm still paying for 3 different tiers of cable packaging because of course it's natural that the Wild get played on 4 (5 if they make it deep in the playoffs!) different stations, which are in 3 separate tiers. I'm sure that's for some important technical reason and not just a money grab.

For those looking for a viable NFL option, Amazon sold an edition of the annual Madden game this year that came with a digital version of the Sunday Ticket package. For $100.00, you get all the Sunday games on pc and mobile devices. I've been able to aim my browser at the pc version of the website and get a serviceable version of Sunday ticket through an hdmi cable.

Victory.

Yeah most of the streaming sports packages black out the local games even if said local games are on a cable channel.. So for hometown cord cutters it's usually not a viable solution except for football which still shows your local game on free (except I believe the Thursday NFL network game) where if it's your home team you don't get to see it

Localgod54 wrote:

For those looking for a viable NFL option, Amazon sold an edition of the annual Madden game this year that came with a digital version of the Sunday Ticket package. For $100.00, you get all the Sunday games on pc and mobile devices. I've been able to aim my browser at the pc version of the website and get a serviceable version of Sunday ticket through an hdmi cable.

Victory.

I did look into this. I couldn't figure out if I still needed to have DirectTV, though. Now that I know, I may start getting that and selling the game back to Gamestop.

Outlandish wrote:

Hockey is the one thing keeping me paying my stupid cable bill. I got rid of the cable a few years ago figuring I could just stream the hockey but even with the paid subscription to the NHL for streaming the restrictions on when you could watch forced me back to cable.

A subscription to NHL Gamecenter Live and a $5/mo subscription to an IP privacy service allows my very non-technical fiancée to watch Avs games in an area where they're not available without an extortionate package from the local monopoly. She gets to watch games, the cable company gets paid for internet services, and the NHL gets paid for streaming games that they otherwise would not have seen a penny for from her.

Everyone wins.

Great article Sean! I'm behind a bit on reading the site, and almost missed this one, which would have been a shame as it hits pretty close to home for me.

Minarchist wrote:

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.

You hit the nail on the head in that giving up that constant connection is difficult. You're also not the only one who is starting to feel the need to give it up, as difficult as it may be. I believe that combination is actually creating a market for a service to help people get away from the electronic connections, if only for a little while.

Those of you who've been to Ravenwood know we don't have guest-accessible internet, nor do we have television or radio. We do have DVD players and movies, but those are really rather downplayed. Occasionally we have guests who are upset about having to go cold-turkey from their electronic crutches, but far far more often people comment on how wonderful it was to be able to reconnect with their friends or family in an analog sense and enjoy some peace and quiet. We've even started marketing that specifically as one of our strengths, and that's resonating with people.

Now we ended up here out of necessity - we can't get internet or television in a reasonable manner and therefor can't offer it to our guests. But like I said, it's resonating with people. I would be surprised if more business people don't figure this out over the next few years.

It's not a backlash per se, but I expect one of the results of the constant-connection world will be a new trend in "analog" vacations and get away services. Think about that for a minute. Paying someone specifically to get you away from your tablets and devices. How's that for a reversal of the last decade or so?

Teneman, when i finally get a chance to stay at the Castle, I'll sure as heck have my iPad with me - but just pre-loaded with the PDFs for all the games I plan on playing