Second Thoughts On TV's Second-Screen Experience


Whatever happened to watching TV alone?
Just me and my TV. No multiscreen experience. No smartphone or tablet horning in on the action. With my hands, excused from any laptop obligations, free to reach for my snacks and hoist a brew.
I mean me, chilling out, in pleasant isolation.
Please understand, I don’t mind if other people are present in the room (I’m not a misanthrope or recluse), provided they don’t blab at the wrong times or make a play for the clicker.
Sharing “Househunters” (for instance) with a fellow devotee can even enhance my enjoyment watching this reality show. Swapping catty comments about its house-hungry couples and mocking their insistence on “granite countertops” and “curb appeal” only adds to the fun.
Communal consumption with the Twitterverse doesn’t.
Example: I watch “Scandal” devotedly. But while I’m watching, why would I want to follow the torrent of posts from viewers I can’t see and will never meet? Why would I want to contribute my own share of “OMGs” at the moment-to-moment wackiness that swirls around Olivia Pope? “Scandal” triggers wild responses from its viewers. But why do I need to monitor them and add to them in real time, just to be part of some virtual In Crowd?
Especially since “Scandal” is such a fast-moving show! Posting something about it can mean I miss a key twist in the saga. Sure, I can watch TV and type at the same time. But I prefer to save my multitasking for the office.
I find TV shows fall into two categories: Some – like “Scandal,” “Game of Thrones” or a sprightly comedy or probing documentary – deserve my full concentration.
Other shows, the sort that fit the classic description of TV as “chewing gum for the mind,” I greet as a chance to zone out.
In the former category, the second screen becomes an unwanted distraction.
In the latter case, I just want to veg. To gaze, not engage.
I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau, who in the mid-1800s went off-the-grid to Walden Pond and famously observed: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas. But Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”
It seems that Twitter, however attractive as a way for viewers to bond, enables a swarm of co-viewers who, it may well be, have nothing important to communicate.
The greatest value of second-screen interaction accrues to nosy outsiders who analyze and archive all those tweets. Data miners curate what the Twitterati say about each show as it unfolds for sharp-eyed scrutiny by network bosses and ad buyers who happily pay for this quantified buzz about their programming, stars, advertisements and brands.
That’s no knock on Twitter. Twitter is great for democratizing public sentiment. Everyone can speak out, and everyone is counted (no hanging chad when it’s companies like Blue Fin and Topsy doing the counting).
So viewers are encouraged to exercise their franchise in 140-character bursts. According to a recent book, “Social TV,” we all live “in a world where television has symbiotically become one with the Web, social media and mobile.”
Except when it isn’t. Which is how I choose to see it. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud: “Sometimes TV is still just TV.” Or should be.
It’s certainly more convenient that way. Remember, the process of live-tweeting during TV shows typically demands watching them, in real time, as they air. After decades of being yoked to the networks’ schedules, viewers have been set free in recent years, blessed with on-demand alternatives that let them craft a programming schedule to their personal whims (and skip commercials in the bargain).
Why, then, would viewers willingly surrender to watching TV en masse and in lock-step just for the privilege of jabbering to one another? I, for one, am master of my domain (in this respect, anyway) – and happy to remain so.
But maybe the appeal of the second-screen experience isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. A survey of some 2,500 U.S. consumers conducted last fall found that just 13 percent of people who have used a smartphone or tablet to access TV-show-related content said synchronizing this second-screen content with the show as it airs makes the viewing experience “much more enjoyable.” A hefty 67 percent said it made TV viewing only “somewhat” better.
My advice: Give it a rest. The next time you watch TV, consider butting out of the social experience. Power off your second screen. Make TV watching a solo act. You might enjoy it more than you think. And your followers will manage without you.

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