July 5th, 2009

The Value of TV in a Multitasking Lifestyle

I am visiting my family this weekend and the DirectTV is not working.  Apparently, my dad has been without TV for a week now.  Initially, I didn’t think it would be a big deal:  with four computers in this house and a live Internet connection, and with an iPhone, I thought I wouldn’t miss the television.

I was wrong.  Yes, we can keep up with the world through our Twitter feeds.  And I can find something specific to watch online if I am looking for it.  But I miss the background noise of television.  Even in a house full of people, there is something about having the TV on that makes me feel like I am more connected to the world.  The house is too quiet right now.

This quiet time does have me thinking about multitasking lifestyles.  I spend a good portion of my day online and connected.  However, in reviewing my behavior, I realize that I am usually doing at least three things at once.  I am not alone.  When surveyed, over 80% of respondents are involved with another medium, activity or device while online and almost 60% of those say watching television is something they do while online.  Although media channels continue to get more segmented and fight for our attention, television is still a huge part of our lives; it still has value.  We have become accustomed to receiving information in several different formats with many of those delivered at the same time.  Does it enhance our knowledge or diminish the importance of the information that is delivered?  I believe it enhances our knowledge to receive information in a variety of formats, even if it is all at the same time.  Each delivery mechanism can resonate in a different way, giving the information a dimension it didn’t have when it is delivered in only one format.  When the television is on in the background, we can do several other things and still absorb that information.

There have been theories flying that television will soon be obsolete due to advancing technologies around DVR and online video.  But more recently others are saying that television viewership is growing: according to Nielsen, “the average American television viewer is watching more than 151 hours of television per month — an ‘all-time’ high — up from more than 145 hours during the same period the previous year.”

Obviously, television is not going away.  While I don’t feel like I am missing any news or cultural enlightenment by not having the television, I feel like I am missing an old friend.  The internet can provide me with everything the television can, true.  But I have to search to find that information.  The television just delivers it to me once I set the channel. The television enhances my online experience and the Internet enhances my television-watching/listening experience.  These media complement each other.

Of course, if I had to make a choice between television and the Internet, I would choose the Internet.

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