The readings for this week examine how television (in its industrial, aesthetic, and spectatorial capacities) constitutes itself when untethered from an actual, physical television. This move “Outside the Box,” to borrow Amanda Lotz’s title for this week’s article, disrupted the spatiotemporal predictability previously thought a given of the medium. It is this disruption that Lotz charts in her article. Many of the industrial obstacles Lotz notes involve the emergence of what she calls “convenience technologies,” which include the DVR, VOD, and DVD. Networks previously relied on a certain level of audience passivity, in order to predict that viewers would remain physically planted and attentive to advertisements. Convenience technologies turns the audience from a passive recipient of television’s temporal flow (bringing us back once more to Raymond Williams) to an active craftsperson of that flow. The obstacle for advertisers and networks, then, is to construct predictability within this newly individualized temporality.
Lotz is right to note that these technologies put viewership dictates in the hands of the viewers themselves; at least for a time, because as Debbie Harry assured us, the industry is “gonna getcha one way or another.” Lotz also tracks the dark side of convenience technologies, noting the ways that these conveniences develop dependencies that provide a more acute managerial watchfulness. These convenience technologies double as another manifestation of Bentham’s panopticon, because while they bring the viewer closer to pleasure it is only insofar as they bring the viewer closer to their occupational duties. The employer knows where their employee is located: on the other end of the line.
This is admittedly a rather pessimistic reading of post-TV technological developments. However, I do concede that there are consumer and audience-driven benefits that come from these convenience technologies. The increased connectivity and communizing that results from such convenience allows for a quicker dissemination of news, politics, and grassroots organizing. These spaces within digital media allow for viewers to remain active in spite of the watchfulness. That is, until the next technology arrives.