CORE RESPONSE #1
You Can Flow Your Own Way: Understanding Media in a Netflix Age
By Allison Ross
As I was reading Marshall McLuhan, Jane Feuer and Raymond Williams and perusing my Netflix cue, I wondered how does how we experience media now (especially streaming media, as others have posed) differ from how we experienced media when these authors were writing? How does the fact that, for as long as I choose to watch, I can cue up what shows I watch, when I watch, and the order in which I watch change conceptions of flow and “liveness” / live on tape?
I would like to use our readings for this week to briefly take up this question and examine one possible framework to provide a preliminary answer. McLuhan describes T.V. as a cool medium, characterizing a study where children viewed television from a reactive subject position, “their eyes follow, not the actions, but the reactions” (McLuhan Understanding Media 309). McLuhan states that television requires active engagement, “you have to be with it,” and states it has an ability to engage a viewer in the way “hotter” media such as radio might not (McLuhan The Medium is the Massage 125) however the information on the screen is received. “Liveness,” described by Feuer, is characterized by an immediacy inherent in viewing something happening “now,” which Feuer contrasts with the inherent contradiction of “live on tape” (Feuer 14). Such formulations suggest a changing definition of the “live” with evolving technologies. Finally, Williams’ discussion of “flow” suggests a radical variation in the nature of sequences presented to us onscreen, depending on what channel we are watching (Williams 77). I would add that this flow also differs radically depending on what platform is being used for this viewing. The definition of flow, perhaps, is in flux.
My question, then, is what are the implications of producing our own show flow? Does being able to program a Netflix cue, customize a Roku, or even set a DVR, make cooler the already cool medium of television? Change our role as a viewing public? In 1945, Vannevar Bush used the term “hypertext” to write about a form of interconnected information flow (a database) which may be understood as a series of reference points, linked and connected by the viewer / user. I’m curious how a database-centric formulation of information “flow,” to use Williams’ term, might produce or facilitate hypertextual viewing practices, and more active viewers who facilitate their viewing experience. Using McLuhan’s contexts, we may become more active when we take greater control, using new technologies to generate our own “flows,” creating links and connections to an otherwise received medium. But is this necessarily a more active practice than sitting in front of a TV set? How participatory is this new form of flow? Or is it a repackaging of an old idea, a notion of “live on tape” which still seeks to retain an old conception of “liveness” and of more passive television viewing practices?
Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic. 1 July 1945. Accessed Online at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/.
Feuer, Jane. The Concept of Live Television: Ontology as Ideology. In Regarding Television; Critical Approaches – An Anthology. Edited by E. Ann Kaplan. 12-21.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Berkeley: Gingko Press, 1967.
---. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1997.
Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Edited by Ederyn Williams. New York: Routledge, 2003.