Culture

Now the Family Can Watch Different Shows on the Same Television

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A new category of television now available for purchase enables two viewers watching from different angles to view different full-screen high-definition content. The Samsung 55-inch Curved OLED TV retails for about $9,000 and boasts “deep blacks and vibrant colors, while providing an immersive experience with improved viewing angles.”

Can you see yourself buying something like this? Let’s say the price comes down in a couple of years, which it surely will. Does the notion of watching something completely different from the person next to you carry appeal?

Scoffs come cheap. Putting the question to my Facebook friends produced a list of emphatic negatives. “Might as well not be near each other if not sharing the experience,” one wrote. “As if technology isn’t creating more isolation and poorer communication already! Arrgh!” exclaimed another.

Yet, there was a time when the notion of having multiple televisions in the same home seemed isolating and extreme. Remember this scene from Back to the Future when Marty McFly has dinner with his seventeen-year-old mother Lorraine and her family in 1955?

Lorraine Baines: It’s our first television set. Dad just picked it up today. Do you have a television?

Marty McFly: Well, yeah. You know we have… two of them.

Milton Baines: Wow! You must be rich.

Stella Baines: Oh, honey, he’s teasing you. Nobody has two television sets.

That was written in 1985. Today, we not only have a television in every room, but a bunch of smaller screens as well. Tablets, laptops, smartphones, e-readers — everything but Dick Tracy’s watch. As it stands, each person in a five-member family could theoretically watch their own hand-picked content at the same time. So is it really that big of a stretch to watch two shows from the same couch? Technically, it brings people formerly on separate devices closer together.

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Worry over isolation may be legitimate. However, a couple of points blunt that concern. First of all, how much are we really bonding when we sit together on the couch watching something? Time spent watching television can barely be considered time spent together. At best, it’s time spent alongside each other. So what does it matter if it’s spent watching the same thing? Second, the interaction which occurs around entertainment might actually be enhanced if each person has something different to talk about.

As technology advances, the individual becomes more empowered to pursue his or her own values. Many of the communal activities which form tradition began as matters of convenience or efficiency. The whole family shared a meal, not primarily in order to spend time together, but because it made more sense to prepare a single large meal for everyone than to prepare several smaller meals for each individual. Of course, that too has changed over the years as technology and business models have evolved alongside once traditional family roles.

We can argue the virtue of the way things used to be, and every generation will wax nostalgic about the traditions of their past. However, in the final analysis, the ability of individuals to choose from a variety of activities increases the value available to them. If anything, time spent together becomes even more precious, because it is based upon shared values rather than scarce resources. Gaggles of girlfriends will still choose to watch chick flicks. Couples will still choose to sit through romantic comedies and action flicks. And parents will still choose to watch animated spectacles with their kids. But those moments will manifest from legitimate communion rather than turn taking.

It may seem odd and unnecessary upon introduction. Then again, so did text messages when they first came on the scene.