Tuesday, August 5, 2014

how far down do you think it goes?

I don’t mean to talk about television again. I really don’t. But, there is more to say.

Regular reader of this blog, Maolshechlann, for example, wrote in his blog a couple years back about television, specifically about being “brought up by television.” An idea I can relate to. An idea I’m sure Samara Morgan in The Ring can relate to, though for her it is almost forced upon her in her loft high up in the barn. Maolsheachlann writes,

So when I claim that I was brought up by television, I really mean that everybody my age was brought up by television... TV was out first window onto the wider world, and one’s earliest influences always imprint themselves upon the imagination. The blank slate is gone forever... Even all my romantic notions of the simple, the pre-technological and the traditional were supplied by television. In setting myself against the cultural influence of television and popular culture, I am in a sense like some post-colonial African leader who was educated at Oxford or Cambridge.

That makes sense to me.

But, I also think it doesn’t necessarily matter what it is that we watch on TV as a kid—at least not entirely. The content and the medium itself affect us separately, per Classical Medium Theory. Gerbner et al (1986) suggest that television can be a homogenizing agent. But, content does matter. According to Cultivation Theory, Cohen and Weimann (2000) write:

...massive exposure to television’s reconstructed realities can result in perceptions of reality very different from what they might be if viewers watched less television. In other words, the highly stylized, stereotyped, and repetitive images portrayed on television have been regarded as an important source of socialization and everyday information. (p. 99)

Television, as I’ve said the last two days, is virtually ubiquitous in the Western world. As Maolsheachlann puts it, “We are rapidly reaching the stage where nobody will remember a time without television.” Gerbner et al (1986) argue, “The longer we live with television, the more invisible it becomes.” This is the very scenario invoked in the balcony scene in The Ring, people with their televisions on but barely paying any attention to them. The television as a part of the background, as “part and parcel of our daily life” (Gerbner et al, 1986).

(I have The Ring Two playing as I write this, by the way. If anything particularly interesting—especially on the television side of things—comes up, I will throw it right in here.)

We are also moving away from television, toward more varied screens, more personal screens. Croteau, Hoynes and Milan (2012) argue, “The new media have produced an era of abundance. There are more information, more media outlets, more mobile devices, more media content, and more communication options than ever before” (p. 306). And, they ask, “But what has this increase in the quantity of media technologies done to the quality of our thinking and communication?” Van Dijck (2013) offers one possibility: “One of YouTube’s problems is that watching videos commonly results in limited attention spans” (p. 121). Croteau, Hoynes and Milan offer this:

In this digital age, where data seems almost limitless, Birkerts (1994) argued that our ways of thinking are changing. No longer do we value unhurried deliberation; quick decisiveness rules the day. We do not need to know about the world; instead, we need to know how to access the data that will tell us about the world. The abundance of information now available electronically and the complex ways of storing and manipulating it put a premium on a new set of skills—retrieving and referencing, rather than understanding. (p. 306)

Hell, even my style of academic writing often plays into this phrasing. I quote so many sources sometimes that it seems like I, too, have let my focus fall on “retrieving and referencing, rather than understanding.” But, the point to all of this writing—to a year of Groundhog Day and now this evolved blog—not to mention each and every one of my actual academic papers, has always been understanding.

(The deer thing was weird, and Rachel “What the hell does that mean?” Keller just proved herself an idiot again. Aidan tells her, “Don’t stop.” So, what does she do mere seconds later? You guessed it; she stopped.)

What I want, even with the briefer blog entries, is to find some sort of understanding of whatever the topic may be. Here, I am stuck on television when I want to move on to other topics related to The Ring because I’m trying to convey something I think is important about how we exist almost in tandem with the entertainment we seek. Clark and Chalmers (1998) use a hypothetical comparison between Inga, who makes her way to a museum based on her memory of how to get there, and Otto, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and has to write down the address in a notebook to retain the information. The implication is that the processes are effectively and essentially the same. So, a) for the purpose of this discussion, television is effectively the same as watching videos on the internet, and b) we are essentially linked to each video we choose to watch. That is why we share the videos we like. It is just like any other piece of ourselves; we want to find its echo in another human being because we are social animals. We want to find common ground between ourselves and others around us. We need to find common ground. Otherwise, life would be far too lonely and dark.

(It’s interesting that—SPOILERS—Samara-possessed Aidan goes straight to watching television; that was, after all, her babysitter/entertainment in her loft.)

The thing is, television brought moving images and stories into our living rooms (and then the other rooms of our houses as television sets became more common). We came to expect these things to be readily available—the networks were provided for “free” and we loved it. We loved it so much that when more stations became available, and we had to pay for them, we gladly did so. We wanted more television, more options to watch, and we wanted it now. With more modern technology, we can have even more options. But, that isn’t something that works only positively; that is to say, having all of that information and entertainment at our fingertips is nice, is useful, and is certainly a thing worth keeping, it creates in us an almost fundamental impatience. We don’t just want information (and entertainment) now, we want everything now.

Half the fun of experiencing the world—as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day could testify—is figuring it out bit by bit. I for one don’t want it all handed to me at once. I love the option of information (and entertainment) readily available, and I use that option often. But, I also think there is plenty of space in our lives for a good, slow discovery, the normal learning process. There is room for everything, including every speed.

I will end today with a bit more from Maolsheachlann:

I have given up television many times in my life, although I always find myself taking up the viewing habit again. Television is just too convenient, too omnipresent, too obliging...

I believe that television, on the whole, erodes the world’s stock of wonder and awe and magic, and stunts the imagination; but I would never pretend that it is itself bereft of wonder and awe and magic, or that it can never spur the imagination, either.

That is all.

Works Cited

Clark, A. & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis 58:1. pp. 7-19.

Cohen, J. & Weimann, G. (2000). Cultivation Revisited: Some Genres Have Some Effects on Some Viewers. Communication Reports 13:2. pp. 99-114.

Croteau, D., Hoynes, W. & Milan, S. (2012). Media Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M. & Signorielli, N. (1986). “Living with Television: The Dynamics of the Cultivation Process. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds.), Perspectives on Media Effects (pp. 17–40). Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

O Ceallaigh, M.T. (2012, May 5). You can Never Really Switch the Television Off [Web log]. Retrieved from http://irishpapist.blogspot.ie/2012/05/you-can-never-really-switch-television.html

Van Dijck, J. (2013). The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford.

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