Life has reached pixel speed. Humans are evolving into giant Jello molds that are spellbound by the eternal light of smartphones, laptops and billboard sized televisions. At the same time, the art of personal communication is vanishing. Talking to each other is so yesterday. Why actually form words with your mouth when you have access to a keyboard or remote. G.K. Chesterton coined the expression, “The world has gone mad” in 1909. He wasn’t wrong. He was early…about a century early. Today we are just too damned busy to notice how damned busy we are. What happened to the simple life? Who cares? What’s on TV? Check out this cute kitten video on YouTube! Look at me, I’m in a virtual world gunning down aliens. Whoopie! Welcome to content overload.
A half century ago, there were three television networks and a hand full of local stations. Shows were simple and stupid. Your TV was small and the picture was grainy. There was no way to record video. You had to watch the show when it was on. Video games started appearing in the early 70’s and the first blockbuster was Pong. Yes, Pong. For the youngsters, Pong was a corny black and white table tennis game that mesmerized kids and burned out TV tubes. Yes, tubes. Televisions were originally made with…oh, never mind. A couple of years after Pong, video tape recorders hit the shelves. Then a decade later, personal computers arrived. And then it was fast forward to the loony world we live in today.
And here’s the funny thing. Less was more. You couldn’t watch one show and record another. You had to decide which sitcom or drama you were going to see. And you made sure that your butt was in front of that screen at that time. You weren’t going to miss that episode. It might never be on TV again.
Crazy, right? But scarcity increased enjoyment. You looked forward to it. Television was a shared experience. The next day you and your buddies could talk about it, laugh over it and relive it again. Today, you can binge watch five years of one show in a couple of days. It’s the modern version of the lost weekend. You don’t talk to your buddies. Hell, you don’t want to talk to anyone at all. You’re in the middle of season four and you still have 16 episodes to go. Leave me alone. Leave a message. Or better yet, text me so I don’t have to listen to your voice. The nerve of some people.
Of course, we don’t want to completely neglect our friends. Maintenance is required from time to time. And sometimes, conversations do make there way around to shows we enjoy.
“Hey, you get Showtime now, huh?”
“Yes, it was free for three months, so I thought I’d give it a go.”
“That’s good. Ever see ‘Episodes’?
“Episodes, never heard of it.”
“Showtime production. It’s a comedy with Matt LeBlanc.”
“Joey from Friends?”
“Yeah, it’s about Hollywood. LeBlanc plays himself and not in a favorable light.”
“Yeah, I think you’d like it.”
“Cool. Did it just start?”
And that’s when your brain kicks into math mode. The show began airing in 2011. That’s four seasons and probably 40 episodes of Episodes. Thirty minutes each. That’s makes it 20 hours of viewing, but then you have to account for bathroom breaks and meals. Do I really want to eat up a weekend? I mean, I’ve already mentally committed to binge watching….
“Hey,” your buddy breaks in. “Are you even listening to me?”
What to binge watch is a thoroughly modern problem. In fact, finding anything you want to watch is a chore in and of itself. According to NPR, in 2015 there were 400 scripted shows. That doesn’t count any reality shows, sports or game shows. Is it any wonder why it’s so easy to find yourself channel surfing for two hours before you give up and go to bed?
And that’s just television. Then there’s Youtube. The latest statistics for the video behemoth indicate that 6 billion hours of YouTube videos are watched per month and 300 hours of new video are uploaded per minute. You can never have too many cute kitten videos, right?
So, yes. The world has gone mad or maybe it was driven mad by content overload. What’s it going to be like a century from now? The really smart guys in technology and science, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, think that artificial intelligence will eventually get too smart and decide to get rid of their flesh and blood masters once and for all. If that happens, we won’t be spending our cold hard cash on video games. We’ll be living in the real world version of Terminator. Now that’s entertainment.
While we’re waiting for the end of civilization, why not take a break from binge watching 62 episodes of Breaking Bad and try something new and different. Believe it or not, there’s a shareable content format that can be accessed without a phone, laptop or television. It even works during a complete power outage.
It’s called a book.