DVR vs. Twitter
New media technologies introduce new temporalities of experience. Most recently, I am finding that the temporalities of two of my favorite new TV technologies are at odds with one another. The DVR is an anytime technology, dispersing the television audience by letting each of us plan our own schedule according to individual needs and desires. Twitter is a now technology, uniting us in a common media moment.
New technologies promising us increased agency in choosing what to experience and when and how to experience it have all nudged television away from “flow.” Remote control devices, cable and satellite, VCRs, DVDs, VOD, and Hulu, in addition to DVRs, have brought about a new kind of TV temporality cut loose from the broadcast schedule. In place of the old way of watching what’s on, when it’s on, we timeshift and binge. We watch our shows on trains and airplanes and at office desks while breaking for lunch. Technologies of agency have disrupted the collective experience of television by making our consumption more like that of movies and books: private, asynchronous, on our schedule. (Of course, “we” is a privileged minority. A sizable portion of the television audience still watches the old way.)
Twitter and other forms of online social media might not seem at first blush like new television technologies alongside iPods and Rokus. But if you have ever watched TV with a web-connected gizmo on your lap, checking in on real-time reactions and conversations, you probably know that watching among a network of online acquaintances adds value and interest, and enhances the communal experience of broadcast media. Even if, like me, you aren’t really into posting frequent messages with your own thoughts, keeping up with others’ conversations can be pretty fun — especially for “event” television like an election, Olympics, awards show, or Survivor finale. (I’m @mznewman on Twitter, btw.) But unlike technologies of agency, Twitter and other online networks bring everyone together at once and return us to the synchronous network-era temporality of a communal now. (Maybe in this sense — pardon the pun! — we can think of our current predicament as a new network era?)
I find myself more eager to watch “live” TV these days and one big reason why is the social experience of watching along with everyone else on the internet. But I also feel compelled to watch on the broadcasters’ schedule — TVittering certainly serves the interests of the broadcasters whose business model is threatened by technologies of agency — because I can’t stand to be spoiled. Now it seems the only way to safely keep yourself from being spoiled is just to stay off the internet, or at least the social web.
As an assistant professor and parent of two young children, I can’t find more than an hour or two most nights for watching TV, and TVitter has done nothing to make commercials more appealing, so some timeshifting will always be desirable. But if you don’t watch #glee when it’s on, it’s hard to avoid hearing all about the numbers. I find myself staying away from the internet for hours while timeshifting, thus denying myself all of the non-TV info I might have read about during that time. Increasingly I’m wondering if I can live with both the DVR and Twitter, or if ultimately these rival new TV technologies will be simply incompatible. What do you think?