A one-screen guy in a two-screen world

March 4, 2014

two screen

I came to a realization on Monday morning, after the Oscars:

I don’t think I have what it takes to be part of the two-screen world. Which, increasingly, is what we seem to be living in.

I’m a one-screen guy. And by that I mean that, when I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night, that’s all I watched.

I didn’t toggle between the Oscars and something else, including that amazing episode of “True Detective.” (Isn’t that why the DVR was invented?)

I wasn’t checking an iPad or a laptop or even a smartphone for everyone else’s reaction on Twitter or Facebook to what I had just seen.

Nor was I live-tweeting or live-blogging or live-anything about what I was watching. I did make a few wisecracks to my wife and, when she went upstairs to bed, to my dog. But I had no particular urge to join the worldwide contest to see who could post the edgiest one-liner of the past 10 minutes.

But when I read my Twitter feed from the Oscar show on the morning after, it struck me: The two-screen experience has become the norm. Many, many people had watched the same show I did, while also engaging with the rest of the world (or their little piece of it) through an electronic device.

In a sense, this is what now passes for a national conversation: millions of people blurting out in print whatever comes to mind.

I can remember a number of years ago when, while working for a newspaper, I was told that deadlines had been pushed up for some reason for Oscar night. I would have to write my analysis of the Oscar show and the awards themselves before the show was over in order to meet the first run of the paper.

I was shocked: Write about the Oscar show without first watching it in its entirety? Would the Knicks reporter write about a game after the third quarter?

To this day, I approach the act of viewing – particularly viewing something I intend to write about – as an experience that is meant to be both linear and immersive. You start at the beginning and you watch to the end. You focus your attention on what you are watching, without also working on a tablet or phone.

Which, I’m afraid, is where I depart from what is quickly becoming the norm. We all suffer from an ever-increasing and ongoing attention-deficit disorder, in which we encourage and enable dividing our focus – the opposite of the immersive experience. To me, multi-tasking is the half-assed excuse for simply not wanting to pay close enough attention to any one thing.

If I’m watching a TV show, I’m not interested in the two-screen interactive experience, which many shows now invite. The show is the show; the rest is something else. If you can’t focus on one, why would you want to try to focus on two?

We have taken the lesson from the Internet that there is always something better going on somewhere else, which we can access if we just know the URL. We’ve also decided that any thought that pops into our head deserves – nay, demands – to be shared with the rest of the world right this second.

Paying attention is a dying art. The two-screen experience is pulling the plug on its life support.

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