A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media
Last month, Knowledge Networks published research that suggested that heavy users of social media spend significantly more time with media in general, and television in particular. The most recent of Nielsen’s quarterly “Three Screen” reports was further testament to TV’s undiminished powers. Admittedly, the report showed time spent with TV increasing by just 1.3% compared to the same quarter last year – but time on the internet fell by 10 times that amount.
Does the apparent resilience of TV imply a breakdown in McLuhan’s law?
In providing access to digitized information, the web dissolves boundaries between all forms of media, replacing dedicated channels – newspapers, DVDs, et al. – with a multi-purpose screen. TV, of course, has always been on-screen, and as shown with successes such as the iPlayer and Hulu, is more than capable of adapting to the digital environment.
But there is little doubt the cultural expectations the web engenders are being played out on TV, most obviously through red-button interactivity but also, I would argue, in subtler tonal shifts. As Nick Carr says in his book The Shallows:
[Old technologies lose their economic and cultural force… It’s the new technologies that govern production and consumption, that guide people’s behavior and shape their perceptions.
Perceptions, in turn, shape expectations. Carr also describes digital as inherently a technology of disruption, of incoming emails and status updates, of real-time messaging and information. Television content is, inevitably, evolving in this landscape.
Despite the box’s continued popularity, it won’t be left in peace – quite the opposite.