Distraction, shifting

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have social media displaced TV as the realm of the distracted gaze ? Jason Jacobs, in an intersting piece at CST, thinks so:

Television (…) seems more and more to reward our concentration rather than corrupting it.  But one of the problems with viewing it on hybrid devices like laptops, phones and tablets is that their connectedness tends to encourage proximity to the fleeting slices of immediacy that Facebook, Twitter, email etc offer. No doubt it is partially true to some extent that television helped socialise us in the forms of attention that social media now encourages as well. But if what you want to do is appreciate the achievement of the television that you admire, the best way to watch television  (especially long form episodic television drama), is continuously –  one after the after –  and without the distraction and interruption of the new videot media.

Large-screen technologies and Tivo-like pause-and-rewind capabilities now offer (nay, demand!) TV viewers the possibility of an engaged gaze that Jacobs finds as engrossing (if not more) than what the movie experience of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia now offers.

Why, I wonder, the quest for concentration? Haven’t we systematically been missing the point of the multi sensory, highly distracted, inter-connected (both textually and socially) pleasure that media has been offering popular audiences since the end of the 19th century? By projecting notions of literary concentration (continuous reading of a coherent text, the coherency of which has become even more central to its enjoyment) onto media enjoyment, are we not, generation after generation, missing the fact that even enjoying a film in a theater has always been a highly distracted, multi-level, splintering experience ?

I’m not sure that alienation, in other words, is key to the description of media experience — whether that’s film in the 1910s, TV in the 1970s, or new media today.


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