“Google, Show Me Community”

NBA finals and the changing habits of television.

Not long ago, watching television was like this:

On Thursday night at 8PM, you and your dad would sit together for one hour with a bowl of popcorn and tune into CBS to watch the latest episode of Magnum PI. The next day at school, you’d talk about that episode with your friends. 

Not long ago, listening to a new piece of music was like this:

You and your buddy would take a trip to the mall. At the record store, you’d buy the latest album by Peter Gabriel on vinyl or, if you were technologically advanced, on CD. You’d take it home, pull off the wrapper, pop it on the turntable and listen to both sides of the record, reading the liner notes and discussing the meaning of the tracks. 

Today, we live in an on-demand world. Watching television is like this: 

You decide to watch the second episode of the second season of Magnum PI – a spooky little story called “Dead Man’s Channel.” You pull out your remote, click on the Netflix or ITunes icon, pull up the episode and watch it. Or, if you’re into a newer show, you can binge-watch an entire season. 

Listening to music is like this: 

You pull out your phone. You open the Sonos app. You decide to listen to Track Two of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album “So,” a soaring ear-worm called “Sledgehammer.” You click on it, you listen, and you move on. Or, if you’re technologically advanced, you say the magic words: “Google, play Sledgehammer,” and the music starts. 

I have to admit, living in an on-demand world is pretty cool. No matter how you’re feeling –  you can instantly conjure up exactly the right song or TV show or movie to suit your mood. That’s comforting and convenient.  

That’s why so many of us have “cut the cord.” In a recent study, researchers found that 44.5 percent of under-30 Canadian households don’t have cable or satellite. That compares to 31.2 percent for those aged 30 to 39 and 18.9 percent for people between 40 to 54. Among those aged 65 and up, only 3.9 percent have cut the cord. Young people, especially, don’t feel they need cable television. And they sure as heck don’t buy CDs or vinyl anymore. 

There is one exception. Streaming services like iTunes or Amazon or Crave are great at giving you previously recorded programing on-demand. But what they’re not very good at – in fact their fatal flaw – is that they don’t carry live sports. So, what do you do if you’re one of those 30-somethings who no longer have cable – and your favourite sports team suddenly finds itself in the NBA Playoffs? 

You can do what our family tried to do – piggy-back your in-laws’ TSN feed through an app, then sling the feed from an iPad to your Apple TV – but that feels a lot like the old days of having your kid brother hold the rabbit ears in the only part of the room that gets a signal. 

Instead, you do what Canadians did during the NBA finals. You gathered around the TV at friends’ places who still have cable. You went to a bar. Or – as the series went on – you joined with thousands of people standing outside, together, in all kinds of weather watching screens in the “Jurassic Parks” that opened all over the country. 

And when you did that, you discovered something magical. Entertainment can create a community. Humans crave that sense of community. We want to share experiences with each other. Being cut off in our own little on-demand worlds of our own making is isolating. Lonely. We want to share experiences and be with other people. It makes us indescribably happy. 

It makes us so happy, that 2 million of us got together in downtown Toronto one day in June, to keep the magic going just a little while longer. To party. To celebrate and share a great experience for one more day, before we go back to the loneliness of our on-demand lives. Back to our personal, ephemeral, cloud of solitary moments. 

Waiting for the next time.  

  • Lloyd Rang works in communications and is a member of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville.

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