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Media Consumption Histories

Sometimes I write blog posts and forget to post them! This is one of those posts. I started writing this in early 2017, completely forgot about it and never finished it, but decided to share it now without making any updates. A lot has changed since I wrote this, but I still think it’s kind of fun to share. Enjoy—or don’t!

This past semester I was a graduate teaching assistant for the Introduction to Television lecture at USC, which required that I ran my own weekly hour-long class. Although the topic each week varied, many of our class discussions returned to the future of TV, and the ways in which digital technology has uprooted and transformed the traditional television landscape. As a result, I began thinking about my own consumption history and that of my closest friends and family.

Living in the information age, technology seems to be propelling us ahead faster and faster, into seemingly complex and unpredictable times. Despite my anxiousness regarding our presumably hyper-tech futures, my approach to technology is not deterministic, meaning that I acknowledge that advancements are impacted by policy, culture, and economics too. Take smartphones as an example; it’s not as though the emergence of these devices suddenly made us isolated beings who stare at screens all day. Historically, we’ve been adjusting to screens for decades, and our isolationism is also a result of social trends. Consider the 1950’s & 60’s, when portions of the population moved to the suburbs in order to literally separate themselves from larger communities. Long story short, cellphones didn’t suddenly make us anti-social.

But enough on technological determinism…

When I think about what has changed technologically since I was born in 1991, it’s astonishing. My parents and grandparents have seen a lot, but the sheer speed of technological change in my relatively short lifetime has been significant. When I was born my family didn’t own a computer. We eventually got one, but used dial-up for several years until upgrading to high-speed internet when I was in 8th grade. I can still remember how amazed I was to access the internet without a dial tone, and it was so fast compared to what I was used to. At that time I was working on a paper for my eighth grade science class on the behavior of dogs, and I felt like I was able to search the internet for information at lightening speed.

I was given my first cellphone my freshman year of high school. In middle school, I used a walkie-talkie to communicate with my dad while I walked home from the school bus. With my first phone I didn’t have any data for texting, and later I could only send and receive 10 texts per month. Either my junior or senior year of high school I was upgraded to a touch screen phone (not yet a smart phone) and one of the “games” it featured was a pair of dice that you could roll by shaking it. I was so impressed.

My family has never been the type that instantly upgraded our household technologies, just because they were available. Our living room TV was a massive, cumbersome box until just a few years ago. I guess our family MO is, if it gets the job done, why change it? But despite the fact that our TV set remained old, my parents still moved forward quickly with my mom streaming Netflix on an iPad for a few years now and my dad asking Siri questions constantly.

What surprises me the most is the way that my dad uses technology. He doesn’t have an email and needs help using Google, but he’ll send emojis in most of his texts to me and my sister. And not just any random emojis, but ones that make sense within the context of our conversation. If you knew my dad, you’d understand how shocking that is. My mom has always been tech-savvy, but even receiving Snapchats from her or texts filled with gifs impresses me. Times are changing, fast.

So where does TV fit into this?

A few weeks ago my internet wasn’t working, so I couldn’t watch “TV.” Like many millennials, I don’t have cable, so I depend on the internet to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, YouTube, iTunes, and the various other internet-based ways I retrieve media. My only other option would be to walk a few blocks down to my local library and pick up a DVD (which believe me, I do!) but the fact that I watch TV exclusively online is significant.

There are plenty of people who still have cable, but what happens when millennials get older? How will cable survive if most of us are used to subscription video on demand services such as Netflix and Hulu?

When I go back home to my parent’s house, I get a brief reminder of what TV watching used to be like for me. My mom still receives DVD’s in the mail from Netflix (only a little over 4 million Americans use their DVD service) and even that’s considered old school, despite the fact that Netflix started streaming online only ten years ago. House of Cards, Netflix’s first original series, is about to debut its fifth season, but I feel like we’ve been talking about SVOD originals forever.

See, I told you I didn’t finish it! What was my point going to be? I have an idea, but we’ll never really know. Anyways, with technology (and life itself) evolving all the damn time, it’s somewhat interesting to look back and be reminded that my mom STILL got Netflix DVDs in 2017. 

Until next time,

Julia ❤ 

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