The year was 2007. The place, my school. The last bell rang. We rushed out of the classroom like bubbles of well-shaken soda bottle and headed for bicycle stand. A debate started heating up about the current form of Yuvraj Singh and the upcoming T20 world cup as we headed back home.
Although I was enjoying the discussion, I peeked at my watch and knew that the debate needed to end. Afterall it was just 10 minutes to 5:30. And you know what starts at 5:30? BEYBLADE G-REVOLUTION ON TOONAMI. We ended the debate and rushed back home. Obviously, the next adventures of Tyson and his friends was more important than any debate we could have.
In the evening my mother’s cooking and the family dinner time was dictated by the daily soaps she used to follow and my sister’s weekend plan depended on TV premiere of latest Bollywood films.
And we were the Family that doesn’t watch enough TV. I knew people who would miss social events such as birthday celebrations and weddings just because of their TV commitments. Hell, One of my uncles was seriously considering changing his wedding time just not to clash with the “Ramayana” serial.
Some network television executive was inadvertently responsible for the family time of millions of families. Apart from the monthly fees and our attention span that was being sold to advertisers, We all traded our control over our own time for few hours of daily entertainment.
Apart from sleep and work, most of us get about 8 hours of free time per day. What TV was doing was taking control of how these 8 hours are divided and that severely constrained what you can do with your free time. You cannot do anything that takes 3 hours if you never have a single stretch of 3 hours of free time.
And we never questioned this authority that these vacuum tubes in our drawing room had over us. Maybe that is because we were raised that way. Most of us had a TV in our homes for as long as we remember. I believe this is a classic case of learned helplessness(check out the link, it is pretty interesting). We never questioned the authority because for the most part we were never aware of it.
But that is not the case now, right? Afterall we live in the age of On Demand Economy. You don’t have to be in front of the TV at exactly 8:30 at night to catch the latest episode of GoT. You don’t have to cut your social time short to watch the next Beyblade episode and you certainly don’t think about rescheduling your wedding for Ramayana.
You can just pop open Netflix or Amazon prime or n number other streaming services at your convenience and enjoy the content. Want to see the latest episode of Mr. Robot, it’s on Netflix. In the mood of some good old Mr. Bean check Prime video. For majority of the content, we also have freedom to choose the pace of viewing. We can binge the entire season in a weekend marathon or watch one episode per week.(no one watches one episode per week though).
So this on-demand streaming era seems to be much better than the old TV era right?
I don’t know. Streaming services seem to be much more convenient than the old tv at first glance. But, sometimes I find the streaming world a bit too overwhelming. I mean it’s just always there. Got ten minutes of free time? Youtube just knows which video you want to watch. Not feeling sleepy at night, just rewatch another episode of friends. Haven’t planned your weekend yet? Too bad now you will spend the entirety of it binging the new Marvel series.
As it is becoming easy to watch stuff online, somehow it is becoming harder to “not watch”. After all your attention span is the most important currency for almost any consumer internet company. All the variables that these services have in control are optimized to keep you from looking away from the screen. We were trading control over our schedule earlier, we are now trading our free time. And for better or worse this is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
I do miss some aspects of the old TV era. Things like flipping through hundreds of channels again and again to kill boredom or an entire family or some time even the neighbors gathering together to watch the finale of a reality show. But now it is just Some TV that I used to know.