The Me in Media started, not with TiVo or weblogs, but with the remote control, argues Christine Rosen in her fantastic essay, The Age of Egocasting.
As consumers, we expect our television, our music, our movies, and our books “on demand.” We have created and embraced technologies that enable us to make a fetish of our preferences.
Now as most of us who debate and deliberate about this customization, might think of it as empowerment of the individual, in reality, Rosen thinks we are losing some of the joys of consuming the very same media. The biggest one being, surprise.
By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised. They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish. And they contribute to what might be called “egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste.
She points out very eloquently, like all the egocasting devices, the original purpose of the remote control was to tune out those annoying commercials. Ironic, isn’t it that the PVR was based on the same premise, and if TiVo’s commercial casting antics are any indication, then perhaps we will continue to grapple with the same problem. Rosen also points out that it was 1956 when the remote control was invented but it wasn’t till 1985 when it became a routine accessory for all televisions. 29 years. Now that’s a long time in Silicon Valley. It is also a cautionary stat, because it tells you how long big ideas, like remote, VCR or DVRs and in the future, the concept of exploding TV will take to proliferate and propagate amongst the masses.
Only a small minority of homes currently own DVRs—about four percent, according to marketing research firm Knowledge Networks. As Advertising Age recently noted, this means that “more homes in the U.S. have outhouses” than these devices.
She finds the same me-power the main reason behind the feverish devotion to IPod and what it has done to change our music listening patterns.
TiVo, iPod, and other technologies of personalization are conditioning us to be the kind of consumers who are, as Joseph Wood Krutch warned long ago, “incapable of anything except habit and prejudice,” with our needs always preemptively satisfied.