Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interactive Circle

I watch a lot of television. I came to this highly unexpected place through my own choices, somehow, from the single young flight attendant who actively followed the arts and cultural scenes of San Francisco and New York and kept her parents' cast off television in her bedroom closet, pulling it out mostly for Big Games or election debates and returns. The transition was complicated but certainly complete. I went from philosophically opposed to fully engaged somewhere between 30 and 50. We've grown up together, television and I, from a few black and white choices back in test pattern days that I'm old enough to remember, to thousands of choices, DVR programming from my iPhone, picture in a picture if the need arises (usually for sports or politics), always tweeting while watching, an interactive television experience.
Our children, and presumably our grandchildren, help keep us young, and most of us will overcome any obstacles to remain in communication with them, so even the most hesitant, resistant and downright unwilling among us will adopt our children's media if that's what we have to do to stay connected. But that's not me. I was an early adopter. After living my life deeply immersed in one form of marketing or another (the daughter, step-daughter, neice, sister and wife of marketing executives on both the agency and client sides), I was blessed to be part of a team that pioneered using offline promotion to drive online interaction. In fact, we were the first people on the planet to do so, and helped the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office define how interactivity is novel and non-obvious, but I digress. I was regularly communicating with my kids via AIM in the late '90s, early '00s, and by '99 had been cyberquatted, in itself a new media lesson. Since then I've intentionally grabbed each new kind of interactivity as it came along, determined not to be left behind (again), equating it with professional vulnerability, viscerally excited about the new potential in each and every one.
So now, television is the old guy (we like to call ourselves middle aged, but is that really what it is?) and it's got this hot young sweetheart, the internet. Suddenly, I don't just watch television, but I watch it with a crowd of others assembled on one social media platform or another. Lets face it, we seniors don't get out like we used to. I work 45 hours a week in a complicated, hectic, adrenaline-drenched environment, and I have Crohn's, so watching television flat on my back with my laptop is about all I have energy for at the end of my work day. My kids are grown and have homes of their own. I'm tired, but also not as busy as I was used to being. I've always been very social, so I welcome the chance to talk about what I'm watching, even if it's just 140 characters at a time on Twitter or with folks I know on Facebook.
When I hear my contemporaries dismiss social media, primarily as a "time suck", I hear an old fogy shouting "Get off of my lawn!" Refusing to learn for no good reason smells of fear, smells of failure to grow, and rationalizing it as somehow right to think that way smells of self-deception. Twitter gets called "narcissistic" more than other platforms, and it's a common whine, "Why would anyone want to know what you're doing/eating/seeing/etc.?" Except that's the point when "etc." includes thinking and you use Twitter not just to follow people but to follow ideas, subjects of interest, current events, other media, even television. In most areas of our lives we are bound with others by the things we have in common: our geography, our social stations, our ages, our activities or those of our children; but in each of these there are clear signals that create preconception: how we look, where we live, what we wear, what we drive. It's different when we interact on social media because there we choose connections largely, if not entirely, because of shared ideas; and on Twitter, unlike some other fora, we can follow the ideas first as a path to find the people with whom we wish to connect.
This started as a post about the awkwardness of the interaction between television and social media, at least from television's perspective, but has veered into one about how television is enhanced, made fresh, by the internet. Maybe it won't be long before interactive television becomes routine, but, at least for now, it remains a one-way medium. We watch it, but it doesn't really know we were there. However, in tandem with social media it becomes a part of a greater interactive whole, and life becomes less lonely when we watch while "talking" by typing about what we're watching on Twitter and Facebook with others who are watching it too.
As I was editing this post, I watched Leslie Stahl's 60 Minutes interview with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, while following all tweets that contained the word "facebook" on Twitter. I also DVRed it because the Falcons game ran late and I didn't want to miss it, so I have it stored in my TV's memory. The segment closed with the announcement of yet another Facebook redesign deployment tomorrow and invited viewers to visit the show's website for a tour of the new interface. Gotta run (in this beautiful interactive circle) y'all. It's a great time to be alive.

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