We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Television Will Get A Lot Nastier and Stupid like Radio Did

Elderly audiences will not switch from passive media of TV to active media of Internet as easily as they did from radio to TV. 

Result will be intensification of profit driven circus into RushLimbaugh territory

If you think that current television programming is only good for poking fun at it, you've seen nothing yet. It was relatively easy for the elderly to switch from radio to the new medium of television in the 1950s. After all, it was roughly the same in terms of operational procedure. You turn on the new bigger box, turn the knob to switch the channels, and sit down to enjoy the passive entertainment.

At around the time of Sputnik, the radio companies began various flashy gimmicks that seemed ridiculous to those who remembered the seriousness that was radio broadcasting in the 30s and 40s. The fall of radio industry was much more spectacular than the current fall of television due to mass migration of virtually every demographic group away from it. Sure, there remained the very elderly who couldn't afford TV or clung to radio out of nostalgia. Unlike the aging demographics of today's television audiences however, it wasn't the technological inability to operate the two way entertainment that kept them from switching.

The cold logic of profit driven media wiped out audio programming that needed serious financial expenditure such as salaries for voice actors. Many cultural critics derided television for elevating the visual presentation over the actual spoken content. The percentage of cognitive energies an individual spent on focus and absorption for things like a news story declined because of TV presentation. When one listens to a radio news story, one's attention is just on the information presented (and perhaps the overly exaggerated and dramatic voice to a degree). When one sees the news story spoken by an actor pretending to be a kindly wise old man, a bit of the cognitive energies are spent noticing the objects in the studio such as the clothing of the speakers and the increasingly neat looking pictures and camera recordings.

Radio news networks could only compete with each other by getting actors to change their tone of voice or to use more humor. Television competition kicked things up a notch since the corporation with the most money to spend on paying people to get film footage won in the ratings wars. For a time, such competition was even beneficial for society. The audience's drop in attention to spoken content was more than made up for by sober footage from Vietnam and other parts of the world.

That was not to last since TV news was a lot more boring to look at than visually outrageous shows. News became a massive inconvenience for the bottom line of corporate shareholders. Thus, since the 1970s, we've seen a slow and steady descent towards the current attention deficit circus for the elderly that are MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. Although key 6 a clock news on ABC, NBC, and CBS are not as burdened by the need to be a 24 hour entertainment tabloids, they have nevertheless become such tabloids.

The Oscar winning 1976 movie Network explores the madness of profit driven news. What was a dark humor prediction in 1970s became surpassed by 21st century reality. Ratings forced television to swing from extremes of outrageous drivel such as Jim Cramer's Mad Money to Wolf Blitzer's cowardly paralysis and inability to touch on anything of value.

Radio gives a taste of what's awaiting television in the near future. As mentioned above, the elderly audiences will not be able to migrate easily from passive to interactive media. A larger % will stick with television type content compared to % of those who made the jump from passivity of radio to passivity of TV. That will hold true even when TVs and internet fully merge and offer some easy to use ability for senior citizens to choose their mainstream propaganda (for those who make the effort to find what they think is "news" rather than look at attractive young actors investigating homicides on other channels).

What came to the rescue of the dying radio was the explosion in car ownership and the mass construction of inefficient sprawling settlements that came to be known as suburbia. This stopped and stabilized the free fall in radio audiences and allowed the medium to survive to the present day. The current talk radio popularity of demagogues like Rush Limbaugh who make a living catering to morons is the direct result of cars allowing audio entertainment to survive.

The car culture in United States is the most advanced of any large Western society due to the country's size, lack of political will to build public transit, and the above mentioned rapid construction of suburban sprawl. The millions of Americans (who wanted to emulate the rich by living on city outskirts and to escape living with racial minorities in urban centers) patiently waited years of their lives in traffic jams with the radio playing.

When the national pendulum began to slowly swing towards urban living, the radio demographic increasingly became older, more rural, and correspondingly more religious and nationalistic due to poorer educational infrastructure in the non-suburban countryside. The educated youthful Americans are slowly trickling to the cities to find their urban dream and no longer have as much exposure to cars (and radio content playing inside of them).

The result is the predictable geographic character that radio has undertaken in recent years. In the 1998-2003 period, religious babble, country music, oldies, and talk radio amounted to 41% of radio content. Over 40% of talk radio listeners in 2003 were over the age of 55. Granted, public radio like NPR has grown in recent years but considering that the listeners of public radio tend to be younger and/or more affluent/educated than those who listen to talk radio, the rural, religious, and nationalist character of radio will continue. There are a lot more elderly and poor listeners waiting in traffic in the countryside than affluent young.

What does this mean? It means that television programming will become a lot more petty, circus-like, and well, retarded in the near future. The CNN programing of today and tomorrow will seem like Rush Limbaugh type insanity to 30 year olds in 2020. We can imagine how CNN subscribers in 1980s would view today's CNN. That is not mentioning the fact that television can now be cheaply watched in traffic jams. All new cars will have access to Rush Limbaugh type characters pulling their hair out and passionately ranting about anything that makes ad revenue from old people's attention. Glen Beck is but a beginning. As the white population of United States slides under 50% and economic depression continues, television in the near future will become a colorful graphic circus of moralistic hatred, screaming, shocking tabloid stories, and thus absolute irrelevancy.

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1 comment:

  1. Your absolutly correct, I am so impressed with your insight into the cycle of mass media. You have a loyal and devoted reader here. I look forward to future posts! Very impressive essay and well researched to boot!