I recently took my three kids to visit grandma in Philadelphia. All of them are under 10—old enough to know what TV is, but young enough to speak iPad.
I’ve written about these visits before. I always find them highly amusing and educational. We switched on the TV after dinner and quickly began to channel surf. Immediately, my 4-year-old boy wanted to watch Thomas The Tank Engine—not just any show, but a specific episode where Thomas finds the hidden treasure on Misty Island. Grandma asked how he knew that and he said it’s on DVR at home.
Next, my 7-year-old girl chimed in and requested old Scooby Doo episodes—but only on Netflix because that’s where you can watch them all at once. Grandma knew Netflix, but she only subscribes to the DVD delivery service.Finally my 9-year-old daughter asked if she could play “Temple Run” on her iTouch. I chuckled. Grandma poured herself a scotch. None of these options were available at Grandma’s house. She has cable, but only basic channels. The kids were puzzled. Couldn’t we just watch a movie on her laptop? Nope. Grandma has a Gateway PC that takes so long to boot up, you can bake muffins while you wait.
At this moment, my kids realized they weren’t going to have their normal viewing experience. They didn’t panic. They were more bewildered than anything else. I decided to make this a teachable moment. I told them tales from ancient times, when there were only 13 channels on the dial and you had to watch whatever they were showing, commercials and all. And how you had to stand up and walk to the TV to change channels, adjust the antenna and bang the right spot to get the picture to stand still.
They were convinced this was another of dad’s fables. How could anyone live without our devices and content sources? They couldn’t fathom the notion of having to watch a single channel, with content delivered on someone else’s schedule. With commercials they couldn’t skip.
The human side of me felt frighteningly old. But the technologist inside was exhilarated. Here I was, observing a true generational shift in society, right there in that living room that smelled of matzo ball soup and braised brisket. Did my father feel this way when he brought home his first RCA color TV? Probably.
More importantly, what does all this mean? First, we are truly living in a golden age of content. Every network, cable or broadcast is making great original shows. Netflix has jumped into the pool with a big splash, and Amazon is poised to join the party, too. Even folks like Cablevision and Time Warner are publicly talking about direct distribution to viewers on any screen. And this is before the much-anticipated Apple TV reboot, which is supposed to change everything.
Second, in this brave new world of endless games, shows and videos, the real trick for consumers is finding the best content and filtering out the junk. Put it this way: I make content for a living, so part of my existence is to know everything about every show on air. Guess what? I just started watching Breaking Bad, which is in its fifth season. I’ve never even watched Downton Abbey—I just haven’t had a chance to start.
All of this might seem daunting, but really there’s nothing to be afraid of. Technology doesn’t change content; people have always loved great stories and they always will.
Technology changes us. It changes our behavior, our life patterns, our expectations and norms. Once we come to terms with that, all these screens and networks become easier to accept.
My advice: sit back, or lean forward if you prefer, and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be fascinating and it might never be this fun again.