Is Technology Changing Television?

Imagine, you’re an English aristocrat whose heir, who was presumed dead, turns up years later disfigured and with a decidedly un-English accent.  What do you do?  You can’t tell if it’s him but you equally can’t be sure that it’s not him.  Well you whip out that Q-Tip and get a DNA test, pronto.

Or you’re in a bit of a financial pickle and can only think of one person, a mate from way back when, who can help you out, the problem is that you don’t know where exactly he is.  What happens then?  Well why not text the number you have for him on the off chance that he still uses it, and if that doesn’t work you could search him out on Facebook or Twitter.

Except these plots (from “Downton Abbey” and “Gone With The Wind”) occurred before most of the technology we now take for granted was invented and so these problems weren’t solved so easily.  People actually had to put thought and effort into figuring out these problems.

You see, technology has changed the way we tell stories in such a fundamental way.  Whilst these new advances might be great for real life as they make keeping in contact with people easier (yay!) and solving crimes and putting away the bad guys and gals easier (double yay!), they’re a royal pain in the bum for storytellers.  You’re never truly disconnected from anyone because you always have your phone with you.  Not being able to immediately speak to people, once a staple of novels, films and TV shows, is almost impossible in modern day narratives because it’s almost impossible in modern day life.  There are mobile phones, landline phones, the internet, cars, planes and all these other things that are almost pushing us together so that we can’t break contact with each other.  It means that writers have to be more creative and look at new ways to increase tension because if character A needs some immediate help, they’re probably just going to phone character B.

And not only does each bit of new technology change the way that fictional stories are told on TV, but it also changes the way factual ones are as well.  Newsreaders are constantly prancing around studios with iPads, even though they don’t need them, as can be seen by the fact that this one from the BBC accidentally picked up a wad of paper instead and it didn’t make any difference to his delivery of the story.

Social networks have also changed television in a big way.  TV companies want to create moments that are tweetable.  They want us to be so reluctant to encounter spoilers on social media that we watch the shows (and the adverts) live instead of catching up with them later on.  And they want us to not be passive viewers, but to talk about the show online as well, often recommending a hashtag that we should all use.

They also try to stop us being passive viewers by actively getting us involved.  Recently at the BRIT awards, One Direction were crowned winners of the Best British Video award, the voting of which took place exclusively over Twitter and all those tweets made the BRITs the most tweeted about non-sports programme ever in Britain.

But it’s not just voting that we do via social media, it’s also providing programmes with fodder.  24 hour news is great, I’m a big fan of being able to flick over and see the main headlines at any time of the day, but it also means that TV producers have to come up with 24 hours worth of content every day.  Sending people to foreign countries to report on the goings on there is expensive, and sometimes dangerous, but one thing that isn’t expensive is getting viewers to provide content.  We’re asked to email and tweet in or to comment on stories on Facebook and these messages will often be read out.  Where once we only knew what the people involved in the story thought, now we know what Pamela in Swinton and Archibald in Inverness think about lowering the voting age to 16 (Pamela is pro and Archibald is very much against it, in case you were wondering).

So although television might be moving its way over to the category of ‘old technology’ it’s clear to see that new technology, such as the internet and social media, still has an impact on it and affects the way information is distributed and stories are told.  So really rather than new technology killing off the old, it instead gives it a new lease of life, a new way to be used and a new set of problems to overcome.  The question is, what’s the next new big technology that’s going to disrupt the narrative?

Featured image via ShutterStock