Category Archives: television

Why LOST is Annoying Me

So last night was the big premier of the final season of LOST. I watched it.

And I am annoyed.

As a fan of the show, I’m used to not knowing what the hell is going on all the time. But…this is the final season. And we’re supposed to get some answers.

Not only that, but the producers of the show told us, we are going to get answers:

“Normally the thing that you have to execute is coming up with fulfilling endings and resolve the fate of your characters,” said Damon Lindelof, an executive producer who, with Carlton Cuse, oversees the series and is writing the key episodes for the coming season. “But we also have the added weight of how are we going to resolve this mythology.

“The show is so predicated on questions. So now we’re in answer mode, and have been for quite some time.”

…Viewers will not have to wait until the last moments of the series finale to get many of their answers, they say. Beginning with the season premiere, revelations about some of the most fundamental mysteries will come fast and furious.

Oh really?

(spoilers below…)

Continue reading →

Punked

Balloon boy, all a big hoax, it seems

The Original Couchable Media

A new study is out, from the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence, and it dispels some of what we think we know about new media:

…younger baby boomers (age 45-54) consume the most video media while confirming that traditional “live” television remains the proverbial “800-pound gorilla” in the video media arena.

In addition to the revelation that consumers in the 45-54 age group average the most daily screen time (just over 9 1/2 hours), the VCM study found the average for all other age groups to be “strikingly similar” at roughly 8 1/2 hours — although the composition and duration of devices used by the respective groups throughout the day varied.

The research also found that:

– Contrary to some recent popular media coverage suggesting that more Americans are rediscovering “free TV” via the Internet, computer video tends to be quite small with an average time of just two minutes (a little more than 0.5 percent) a day.

– Despite the proliferation of computers, video-capable mobile phones and similar devices, TV in the home still commands the greatest amount of viewing, even among those ages 18-24. Thus, in the eyes of the researchers, this appears to dispute a common belief that Internet video and mobile phone video exposure among that group (and the next one up, age 25-34) were significant in 2008.

For those of us steeped in the virtual world of the web, it’s easy to forget just how important television is to our culture. But that said, I think studies like this miss an important point about what “television” actually means today.

I’ve been writing a lot about Boxee, and in my last post called it “couchable media,” and this study only makes me like that term even more. It’s true that users/audiences want is media that is easily consumable, that they can enjoy while kicking back on the couch. On one hand, there is an element of escapism; on the other, I think there is a very social element at work. Far from the bowling alone metaphor, television is quite a social thing. It’s true that we view television programming from within our homes, but it’s not always that we’re sitting alone. We often watch together, and we then talk about what we watch with other people.

And increasingly, new media, such as blogs and Twitter, allow us to liveblog and livetweet, making the experience of television even more overtly social. And sites such as YouTube allow us to share what we’re watching on television with others, in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Today, couchable media doesn’t have to mean bowling alone. When I watch BSG with Boxee, my friends there get alerted to the fact that I like that show. And with my iPhone handy, I’m hardly ever watching TV without twittering what I’m watching.

Framing these types of studies, then, in terms of “800-pound gorillas” is really the wrong approach — media is never used in isolation. The world is increasingly participatory, and net-based media such as blogs and twitter don’t replace other media, but simply add to them.

Hulu and Boxee Split

In a previous post, I discussed Boxee, a terrific new home media app. Today, Boxee announced that they would no longer provide access to content from Hulu, per Hulu’s request:

two weeks ago Hulu called and told us their content partners were asking them to remove Hulu from boxee. we tried (many times) to plead the case for keeping Hulu on boxee, but on Friday of this week, in good faith, we will be removing it. you can see their blog post about the issues they are facing.

Hulu has more:

Later this week, Hulu’s content will no longer be available through Boxee. While we never had a formal relationship with Boxee, we are under no illusions about the likely Boxee user response from this move. This has weighed heavily on the Hulu team, and we know it will weigh even more so on Boxee users.

Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes. While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence — bumps and all — we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand in hand with content owners. Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites.

I don’t see any reason for this, other than Hulu’s content providers — television networks like NBC and Fox — don’t at all get what new media is all about. I think these groups see Boxee as a replacement for “television,” something that allows people to drop their cable companies and grab content off the web.

Of course, Boxee is that. Exactly that.

But that’s an argument for television networks to remove their content from the web, and not from one particular front-end that provides access. Why is a browser OK, but Boxee not OK?

Doesn’t make sense, other than the people making these decisions just don’t get it.

Something to watch…

Check out identi.ca, an open source CC twitter-like microblogger.

Supports openID, too.

Stupid’s Not Quite The Right Word…

It’s unfortunate Nicholas Carr’s new article in the Atlantic is titled Is Google Making Us Stupid?, because the headline is inviting some pretty easily-dished-out ridicule. The title should have been, Is Google Making Us…Different?, as that’s the argument Carr is putting forward. So when Carr points out the Internet makes it much easier to “skim” articles, Blaise Alleyne asks why this is “chilling” (a word not even used by Carr, but instead comes from a snarky post on Radar Online) and “problematic.” Carr doesn’t say that — he doesn’t say skimming is “bad.” What Carr says is:

But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think.

…Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.

Similarly, Mathew Ingram questions the “skimming activity” reference as well:

So let me get this straight — students skim things when they’re researching topics? Wow. That’s a real bombshell there. And the news that people skim information on the Internet doesn’t seem all that earth-shattering either; after all, there’s about a billion times as much info out there (broadly speaking) as there was a decade ago. Of course people are skimming.

Both critiques miss an essential element to Carr’s argument: medium theory. The simple version of this is McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” and as Carr points out, it’s not just the act of “skimming” that’s the issue, but the media through which we conduct this activity:

Reading…is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains…We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

Carr points to another example of how another technology (McLuhan, in fact, viewed all technology as “media”) , the mechanical clock, changed our sense of self:

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away…In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.”

I actually don’t think there’s much controversy about his overall premise — is there doubt that technology changes us, the way we think, and they way we think of ourselves? The work of McLuhan and Walter Ong is especially insightful here. The advent of the printing press, for example, transformed the act of reading from something “oral” and outward (even after writing, during what Ong and McLuhan call “manuscript culture,” reading was often done aloud) to something “interior.” Ong, in Orality and Literacy, describes the world of orality by asking us to “imagine a culture where no one has ever ‘looked up’ anything.” For oral cultures, phrases such as “look up” or “take a note” or “read through” are empty, as they are visual metaphors, rooted in literacy and writing.

Technologies of literacy have always impacted our subjectivity, and today’s digital media are no exception.

This is what I think makes Carr’s article so powerful, that he’s articulating something we all know and sense. Can we really spell all that well anymore, when our spell-checkers do it for us? Can we write in cursive, when we now type our expressions (danah boyd has noted this…)? Can we continue to remember, when wikipedia does it for us?

Carr:

The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.

…Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us.

That’s the essential argument. That’s the question Carr is asking — how are we being reprogrammed?

In the end, I have no problem with critiquing Carr’s work. In fact, he asks his readers to be skeptical of his skepticism, likening himself somewhat to a modern-day Socrates, who bemoaned the advent of a new technology (writing), but missed the many ways literacy would expand human knowledge. But if we’re going to critique his work, we should at least not miss the essential message, even if the headline stupidly uses the word stupid (Carr never uses this term in his piece…). Carr doesn’t “hate the Internet,” and I think to set this article up as a Keen-style piece of pessimism is a bit unfair, and misses the point.

Yes, the headline is bad. And yes, Carr is something of a professional contrarian, but he’s asking the right questions, and provoking a discussion that’s not really happening outside of academic circles right now.

If he is a professional contrarian, he’s one I don’t mind having around…

[Update] Carr points to a thoughtful response from Jon Udell.

Spoiling LOST

Don’t worry, no spoilers in this post. But apparently they’re now out there for Season 4, on the fan site DarkUFO:

Apparently he has received very specific spoilers for the season finale, and has posted the synopsis of the first hour of three, apparently a very detailed scene-by-scene reveal…Andy, the proprietor of DarkUFO, says he received the information from a source claiming to call himself Lostfan108. If you don’t remember, Lostfan108 was the person who gave Dark the spoiler for the finale of Season 3, perhaps one of the biggest mindfucks in television history.

The Washington Post recently ran a story on spoiling, focusing on the idea of our need for instant gratification. Our “lizard brain” at work.

Rather than gratification, though, spoiling can be seen in the context of participatory culture, a term MIT’s Henry Jenkins uses in his text, “Convergence…” Jenkins calls the act of spoiling “collective intelligence in practice,” meaning that the new media paradigm today is two-way, that when fans act together to look for clues in media texts (and LOST, if anything, is about clues and reading-in-depth…), they are playing a role much different from a passive recipient of culture. Collective intelligence is about agency, it’s about empowerment, and it’s about play. And as Jenkins notes, “play is one of the ways we learn.” (Jenkins goes on to suggest the learning involved in spoiling television shows can also be applied to politics and civics, something we see realized in the political blogosphere.)

The question here, though, is what kind of “spoiling” is being done in the case of DarkUFO and Lostfan108? DarkUFO seems to have taken some care in announcing this turn of events:

Just to let you know that I’ve just been contacted by LostFan108 again and he has provided me with the main synopsis points for Episode 4.12 Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Tomorrow we will be posting a high level synopsis for 4.12 Part 1 and then sometime before 19th May we will post the key highlights from Parts 2 and 3. This will include all the main cliffhangers and talking points, including who the kiss is between, who is in the coffin (It shocked me) and what the Frozen Donkey Wheel is, along with any deaths.

I’m making this post to warn as many of you who don’t like the big spoilers to stay clear of this section of the site as well as any other unmoderated message boards as there will certainly be idiots who will post it wildly around the net.

Still, this is much less about “collective intelligence in practice” and more like simply spoiling the ending, giving credence to the lizard brain pleasures discussed in the WaPo article. For people who just want to know the ending, sure, that’s all about instant gratification.

But for fans sites such as Lostpedia, which is my go-to site for all things LOST, the fun is in the journey. There, episode synopsis pages each contain an “Unanswered Questions” section, such as this, from the most recent program. Each episode also has a corresponding theories page, where ideas and explanations are passed back and forth. Still rules about spoiling are enforced.

Lostpedia is spoiling-in-practice, much less about gratification than a journey, a quest for answers. This kind of spoiling is a way to move beyond passivity and shape media into something we discover, and make our own.

LOST

Discuss.

(Spoilers inside, of course.)