Infinite TV: Curate Your Brains Out

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My father, about 1956, watching our one channel:  WBNG 12 Binghamton.

We now have an infinite amount of TV.

We have over-the-air free TV, satellite TV, cable TV, YouTube, and endless professional and amateur streaming programs.  We have Big Ugly Dishes, small ku band dishes, smartphones, smart TV’s, DVRs, DVDs, BluRay 4K 8K Apple TV Amazon TV videos on social media and it goes on forever forever forever.

MJ Robinson in TELEVISION ON DEMAND:  Curatorial Culture and the Transformation of TV (Bloomsbury Academic 2017) says that that forces each and every one of us into a curatorial role.

That means that we now spend more time trying to find stuff to watch than actually watching it.  (Exaggeration mine, not Robinson’s.)

Fun, isn’t it?


No, being a curator – of anything – is not fun.  It’s poring over lists and items, and trying to pick the “best”.  And, as Barry Schwartz pointed out in his bestselling book of a few years ago, there’s nothing that causes more stress than having to make a decision.  Especially when the choices are infinite.

Television is in a “liminal state”, according to Robinson, an anthropological term that essentially means “in transition”.  You and I would say, “TV is changing”.  Academics say, “TV is in a liminal state”, and then babble on about mystics and shamans, and then wonder why governments threaten to stop funding the soft social “sciences”.

AI, or artificial intelligence – algorithms – are coming to the aid of us amateur curators as we try to figure out what to watch.

Have you noticed your DVR or phone giving you viewing suggestions that most often show up like those “12 albums for 1 cent!” come-ons of our youth?  Our phones follow us into the bathroom, our TV listens to our conversations, our car hears our every fart and jittle, priests get a list of your sins two weeks before confession, our dogs are embedded with chips that read our moods.  Based upon your past trail of clues, the devices around you help you curate, or pick, what you watch on television.  And everything today is some form of television.

There are still national TV networks.  HBO is still around.  Is TBS still around?  Amazon, who sells you toilet paper, now sells you TV, and you happily buy it.

But you can go niche.  You can go little TV.  You can watch the broadcasts of the home-based minister of a faith that exists only in his or her head.  (You and three other viewers.)  You can watch pet-bathing channels.  Channels showing guys (it’s always guys) waxing their trucks or tube swapping their vintage electronics.

You can broadcast your own TV channel, just like I can blog my own little newspaper.  Buy a camera.  Find a streaming service.  Done.  Isn’t this fun?  All for six readers or six viewers.

Now, if only you – or Amazon, or Apple, or NBC – could figure out something worth broadcasting.


Because in this environment of infinite TV choices, there is still nothing you can come up with that’s worth watching.  With infinite choices, I’ve pretty much “curated” my TV viewing down to CNBC World, CNBC, and, haha, Orioles baseball.

It comes down to attention.

I only have 1 unit of Attention at any given time.  Oh, you may think that you can multitask.  No you can’t.  You only have 1 unit of Attention, too.

How on earth do an infinite number of broadcast choices get your attention?

Robinson in TELEVISION ON DEMAND says that AI will help recommend stuff to us.  It will lead us all out of the swamp.

Or, I worry, will it lead us into narcotic solitude, stuck in our own autistic world of video trivia?  Will it “save” us as well as it has done with social media?  How is that working out?  “Apply a little more, a little better AI, better and faster and more advanced algorithms” say the researchers.  Yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, the choices shout at us, louder and louder, in more extreme ways, the way candidates do.  They must bust through the muck.

But they can’t.  We only have 1 unit of Attention each, at any given moment, for infinite numbers of broadcasters to grab.

This Golden Age of TV is going to collapse.  With the next economic downturn or depression.

Then we will all sit at home, with our rooms in darkness and with our meagre Basic National Income allowance, and watch Barney Rubble smoke Winstons on PBS.



The Lie: “It’s For Your Own Good!”

ABTL_2015-Volkswagen-Golf-1.8T-SEL-Silk-Blue-Metallic-Front-Quarter-RightCompanies compulsively lie.  Not always with big lies.  With disingenuous half-lies.

It’s as if the heads of public relations staffers and advertisers would split open if they simply told the truth:  WE’RE DOING IT TO MAKE MORE MONEY.  NOW GET ON BOARD OR ELSE!

Above is a simple, current Volkswagen.  We had one.  It’s a great car.  Cheap to buy, cheap to run.  Very refined for a shitcan.  We loved it.

But “consumers love it” is no longer a good reason to make and sell stuff.  It never was a good enough reason.

The only reason to make and sell stuff is to make more money.

More money, more money, and more money, until the whole planet has been consumed.  And then we’ll start in on the asteroid belt.

Since the VW Golf is perfect, VW has to further perfect it by creatively destroying it by figuring out how to make more money off it, all while putting the best lipstick-on-a-pig spin on the whole story.

You’ve heard the expression, “Change is good”?  And, “Change is the only constant”?  And you’ve heard that you need to change continuously in order to be a happier, healthier, more vital, and still-worthwhile member of the human race?

So here’s what VW expects you to buy in a couple three years:

Teaser-m01-bg-largeThe yellow thing is called an “iBuzz”, I kid you not.  It’s basically an updated, electric VW van that your aunt and uncle conceived your cousins in.  (Or your cousins conceived you in?)

Why electric?  We’re told by VW and the greater automotive industry and by politicians of all stripes that electric mobility is the wave of the future.  We will adapt to it for our own good.  It will solve climate change, Beijing’s air quality problems, acid rain, whatever.  We’re told all about VW’s and Ford’s and Honda’s beneficence, their desire to save tadpoles and old growth forests and children and women.

It’s bullshit.  VW will go electric because the average internal combustion auto has something like 1400 parts that need assembling (by human beings called “workers”) whilst electricmobiles have like 200 parts that need assembling (by far fewer human beings called “workers”).

I have no doubt that an ancillary benefit will be cleaner air and a cooler planet.  But please tell the truth:  the main benefit will be to the automotive industry’s stockholders.

Understand exactly where I’m coming from, and why I’m writing this:

As someone who is sitting in a centrally-heated home while a blizzard rages outside, as someone who does not dig ditches for a living, as someone who has no desire to ever assemble a vehicle, internal combustion or electric, I would be okay with all this, if only, if only . . .

. . . corporations could treat us like adults and tell us the simple truth:  that they’re in this for the money and, oh yeah, by the way, there are on occasion good side effects to that approach.

I guess simple truth is too difficult.  I guess PR people and ad copy people need to feel creative, since the rest of their lives are so dismal.

btw, this is not new.  The 1939 World’s Fair was one orgiastic paean to capitalism and how it’s-all-for-you with no mention of profits.  That defensiveness was understandable at the end of the 1930’s, in a decade when capitalism nearly went under.

But now?  Why?  I think we’re all pretty cool with buying stuff and understanding how that works.  I’d admire a car company that says, “Boy, are we gonna make a shitpile of money if we can strong arm you enough to change and give up the stuff you like now!”

In the car industry, there’s another nasty trend that I’ve written about before:  autonomous vehicles.

Does this photo make you sweat?:


Cars that drive themselves are here now.  More are coming.  For various reasons, I don’t think they’ll become universal.

We’re being told that they’ll help Grampa get to the doctor when he’s in a cast and Grandma is blind and the grandkids are in Oregon – grandkids always seem to be on the West Coast nowadays, don’t they? – or when you have important business to conduct with the pornographer on the other end of your smartphone.  They’ll be safer than human drivers because as machines they’ll be as perfect as your DirecTV or your nav system or Windows.

Nonsense.  The simple truth is that we’re being asked to change our entire way of life so that car companies can make even more money.

VW and Ford and everybody else will be running their own fleets of autonomous vehicles.  You’ll call them up piecemeal or else by subscription plan – just like with the aforementioned lovely DirecTV or your smartphone – and order a vehicle to come around.

What does VW make as profit when they sell a (low-tech, old fashioned, cheap, polluting, un-hip)  Golf nowadays?  A couple three hundred bucks total if the customer doesn’t finance it?

Hell, you’ll be paying $500 a month forever when you subscribe to a car!  And the car will still be VW’s!  And we’ll believe it’s a good deal!  And far better than the old-fashioned and more dangerous way of life!

Let’s just be told the truth.

You are constantly being told that you must “change”.  Despite the nostrums, change hurts.  It upsets lives.  It ruins peace of mind.  It costs money.  It scares people.  It even kills some people.  It puts a lot of people (“workers”) out of work.

And when those workers lose their jobs and their physicians prescribe opioids, the workers, not the employers or doctors, are then blamed for their addictions and politicians call them deplorable.

It’s a lovely world we’ve created.

photo via ’56 Packard Man