Second thoughts on TV’s second-screen experience

03/12/2014 4:08 PM

03/12/2014 5:47 PM

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.

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.

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.

That’s no knock on Twitter. Twitter is great for democratizing public sentiment. Everyone can speak out, and everyone is counted.

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).

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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