Seth Godin has got me thinking again. His post The extraordinary revolution of media choice makes this claim:
The idea that someone can program our consumption is becoming obsolete, and fast. The front page of the paper disappears in a digital world, where there is no front page — merely the page I got to by clicking on a link from a friend. The tenth minute of a sitcom isn’t necessarily the part that comes after the ninth minute, and in fact, I might never even get to minute nine.
Does that make sense?
Seems to me that it conflates two very different things. A newspaper was never a linear narrative: it was always what the Free Software Foundation calls a “mere aggregation” — an unordered collection of essentially independent stories. So it makes perfect sense that in the Internet era we’re in the process of discarding the very static notion of a single front page, chosen by editors to be the best match for a typical reader. It’s much more rational that my entry to a given news site should be a set of headlines of stories relevant to me; or, much more often, a single specific story that I’ve jumped to from elsewhere.
But that isn’t at all true of a sitcom, or of almost any TV programme, movie or book. Each minute follows on from the next. That’s because they follow a linear narrative; or, as we used to say, they tell a story. (Exceptions include sketch shows and clip shows; but they are exceptions.)
In The Lodger, for example, the Doctor turns up unexpectedly to take the spare room in Craig’s flat. Then he sees the nature of Craig and Sophie’s relationship; then he starts to investigate the upstairs flat; therefore the three of them go upstairs and confront the alien; then the Doctor makes Craig and Sophie see the nature of their relationship; therefore the alien is defeated. I get very worried when I read people — especially clever people like Seth Godin — talk as though that sequence is arbitrary, as though we can random-access the content and expect to get any sense of what it was that the programme makers created.
So, folks: yes, we live in a world where we can consume media in different ways from the traditional ones. But the supremacy of story in the past was not an artifact of bandwidth limitations or technological barriers. It was because stories are good. We love them. We’re wired to love them. Let’s not forget that now we live in the Shiny Digital Future.