Raymond Williams places his discussion on the emergence of Television as a cultural form within the debates on technological determinism and symptomatic technology to argue how, in an attempt to abstract technology from society both these approaches leave out the equation of technology from their purview. As a corrective to this, he argues for the need to reinstate intentional mediation as a potent tool to account for the ways “technology [...] is looked for and developed within certain purposes and practices already in mind” (6).
Williams’ concept of flow taps into the sense of immediacy and experience of television viewing by overdetermining segmentation as a quality unique to the medium of television. Thus the never ending loop of programmes patterned in the flow is perceived as resisting a sense of closure, an opposition, he envisages to the static concept of distribution where each programme is demarcated by time segments. The flow is thus characterised by a logic of interruption, a sequencing of a sequence that makes it a near impossible task to separate and untangle the individual texts embedded within it.
While Heath and Skirrow recharacterize William’s “flow” as “flow and regularity”, a revision that can account for the predictability involved in the insertion of advertisements, their approach presumes the distracted viewer and the intermittent viewing experience as the premise of the pattern of flow. MacLuhan’s intervention is more in terms of prioritizing the medium as facilitating a unique interface where information itself is caught up in a process of shift that simultaneously causes temporal and spatial unsettlement for the viewer. Feuer, on the other hand, posits the lack of historical consciousness that underlies the notion of the speculative television aesthetics by using Zettl’s concept of the ontology of the television image as defined by “movement, process, liveness and presence” (13). But what complicates Feuer’s own position is her use of the live ontology of television to argue how it exploits its liveness for ideological imbrication of the viewer. Even though she argues that the concept of liveness is used to overcome the contradictions between flow and fragmentation, it is not clear why she singles out liveness to make her point.
In fact, one of the crucial points that these readings hint at is the affective engagement of the television viewer as he/she is engaged in the processes of simultaneously inhabiting multiple spectatorial positions, from being in an avid binge watching mode to watching the Democratic convention debate on television. But then, the readings unconditionally essentialize the subjective engagement of the viewer as that of either a distracted viewer or someone is passionately involved in the television to the extent of being identified as being a constituency of the target group. It is worth thinking how one can think about instances where these binaries might not hold, like for instance of someone who is relying on television shows in recorded formats or a binge watcher who identifies the whole series as a quantifiable category in itself, to be consumed in one stretch. One question that remains is whether cultural materialist approach dilutes the ways the viewers subvert and renegotiate the ideological positioning intended by the programmer. One could also think through how one could visualize what could be referred to as a “Television image”, a strand that appears in both McLuhan and Feuer, albeit in different ways. While McLuhan refers to the television image as something that demands convulsive sensual participation that is both kinetic and tactile and as occupying the “quality of sculpture and icon”, Feuer sees it more as a continually moving, constantly changing present, very much in terms of the Bergsonian duree. This leaves us with the question of whether it is the specific technology of televisual communication that defines its unique relation to time, or is the image itself something that determines the form of the “flow.”