Technology

technology

TV Programming Has Gone Haywire – And Isn’t It Magnificent?

TV content

TV contentAs a young boy, I could count my home entertainment options on three fingers: ABC, CBS or NBC.

Those were the Big Three networks that served up the TV shows I – and most other folks – cared about.

When my buddy Greg convinced his parents to subscribe to a new universe known as HBO, I looked forward to spending the night and enjoying an endless stream of (mostly R-rated) films.

The universe was truly my multiplex — at least when Greg invited me to share in the magic of his set-top box.

In high school, my folks agreed to sign up for the “expanded basic cable” package, which served up a burgeoning network of non-stop music videos known as MTV. Suddenly, I catapulted toward coolness and ordered an $8 logoed T-shirt so I could parade around school pretending I had arrived.

Exciting as these entertainment options seemed, however, they still required me to plant myself in front of the tube at a specified time to catch whatever program I craved – usually Mork & Mindy or The Love Boat (pitiful, I know).

VCRs were in their infancy, TiVo was a couple decades away, and content on demand was a concept straight out of The Jetsons (another one of my TV faves).

Teleport to today, and the options are dizzying…hundreds of TV channels, thousands of web options, and the potential for anyone – and everyone – to become a producer, director, lead actor, critic, or nonstop virtual couch potato. Thanks to the accessibility and portability of technology, compelling content is always just a couple of clicks away.

The big three networks still exist, of course, but they’re much smaller and less powerful than they once were.

And they sure are fighting like crazy to remain relevant to new generations of entertainment junkies who are no longer held captive by the notion of tuning in to prime-time TV.

Those traditional broadcasters also are scurrying to figure out how to connect with viewers who want to participate in programming through real-time engagement (a la Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms yet to be pioneered). I’m still amazed that mainstream TV shows are embracing the use of hashtags and that serious news programs regularly feature viral videos. It makes perfect sense, of course, but it must be somewhat humbling for the formerly almighty oligopoly to be taking cues from young social media upstarts.

It also makes you wonder who’s really in the driver’s seat shaping the future of entertainment. One thing’s certain: the field is vastly wider and more diverse than it used to be.

The Great Content Explosion

content

As entertainment platforms and producers continue to morph and multiply, what’s surprising to me is that the most engaging programming is coming from unexpected sources.

Cable TV networks that originated as broadcasters of existing content are broadening their appeal by producing original programming. Can you say MadMen? The Walking Dead? Game of Thrones? Bates Motel? You can’t see any of them on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.

Netflix, which began as an online subscription service for distributing DVD movies, recently debuted a new model for delivering an original TV series. By releasing the entire first season of House of Cards concurrently, Netflix granted subscribers complete control over when, where and how they view it. (I’m counting down to May 26, when they usher in the triumphant return of Arrested Development, Season 4).

And it’s hard to deny the growing influence of alternative and user-generated programming being spawned by online platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Meanwhile, the old guard is fumbling to discover/create their new reality amid a sea of tired franchises and blatant rip-offs of previous ratings bonanzas. I mean, how many different singing, dancing and/or dating reality programs can broadcast TV legitimately support???

You might say that the whole world of TV entertainment has been turned on its head.

What hasn’t changed is that the strongest programming will endure – and the quality of content is rarely based on who produces it, where it originates, or how much money is spent bringing it to market. Rather, it’s evaluated on how well the characters, narrative and plot resonate with our minds and emotions.

In other words, the best stories will win the day.

Underneath the sexy technology and glitzy marketing campaigns, we humans love a good yarn – whether it’s spoken around a campfire or streamed directly on our smartphone.

Not only do stories entertain and captivate us; they connect us with each other and to our shared humanity. It doesn’t matter if the protagonist is a close relative or a fictional TV character, we are naturally drawn to compelling storytelling.

The Great Window Illusion

I remember when I first discovered how deceptive the notion of privacy could be.

It happened during a nighttime game of hide-and-seek with my neighborhood pals. I was scurrying in front of my house in search of a suitable hiding place when I noticed I had a crystal-clear view into my kitchen. Bright light streamed out the large windows, beckoning me (and anyone else in the vicinity) to take a look around.

“That’s weird,” I recall thinking.

Like any naive kid, I assumed that when I couldn’t see out the windows, no one could see in.

It was a perfectly logical conclusion for my little-boy mind. Except it was perfectly wrong.

Parading through the house in my underwear would never be the same.

Fast-forward more than three decades, and I’m living in a fishbowl of a different kind.

Today’s privacy issues are eminently more complex and challenging to manage, with most of us striving to walk that delicate balance between living full, open lives while maintaining some degree of personal space.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall prey to the same naïve notion: if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Or, more precisely, if I’m not aware of being exposed, I must be fully protected.

Just how exposed we truly are, however, is becoming increasingly evident. Whether it’s surveillance cameras or Facebook shell games, the concept of personal privacy is increasingly a façade.

Mark Zuckerberg dubs it “frictionless sharing,” but it may as well be called “evaporating privacy.”

I’m shocked when I consider just how many stalkers are tailing me. Websites remember my name. Advertisers know my hobbies and habits. My cell phone tracks my every move.

Most of the times, I’m oblivious to these breaches or brush them off as a necessary evil of living in our highly connected, somewhat Orwellian society.

But every once in a while, I’m hit with an unexpected photo, note or online relic that I assumed was long gone.

It isn’t.

I’m not ready to batten down the hatches and sacrifice the many benefits of engaging with others online.

If only I could have a wee bit more control over my personal life.

Things were so much simpler when all I needed to do was kill the lights or pull down the shades.

 

Who Else is Tired of Playing Password Roulette?

As a security measure, it used to work like a charm: utter a secret code word and gain VIP access to my neighbor’s tree fort.

It was simple, efficient, kept out the riff-raff.

At some point, however, the concept of a password shifted into some sick, sadistic game whose rules keep changing to increasingly favor the house.

Now, nothing conjures up anxiety and dread quite like a vacant box beckoning for me to enter my unique string of letters/numbers/characters.

Such a seemingly straightforward request, yet it demands some masterful sleuthing skills on my end.

You see, my password history is long and rocky and littered with debris.

My original password was simple and memorable: something along the lines of “mike” (though not quite that obvious).

Soon I was asked to complicate it by adding a number, so “mike55” (also bogus) became the norm.

Next, I had to add a special character to the mix, and “mike55$” was the ticket.

And the latest – and most grueling – demand is that I create an entirely new, unique password every 30/60/90 days.

Given that I have active passwords created during each phase of this evolution, I think you get a sense of my frustration. I’m guessing you may relate.

It’s sometimes helpful when the empty password box is accompanied by an offer to retrieve a lost password — that is, of course, unless I can’t recall the answer I provided to a security question posed months or years earlier (as if I can remember which “childhood best friend” or “favorite teacher” I cited…)

My work BlackBerry is arguably my least merciful opponent, granting me just eight attempts to hit the jackpot before it wipes itself clean (and I know first-hand that it means business). This ticking time bomb loves to threaten its self-destruction while I try to recreate the convoluted logic my mind used to concoct the latest password. Maddening.

I’ve heard about those apps that serve as a master repository for all your passwords. Seems like a good idea, but guess what’s required to access it…that’s right, even my passwords need passwords.

Oh how I pine for the day when a simple retinal scan or iris scan is my ticket to ride. Heck, I’d even submit to a urine test if that’s what it took.

Unfortunately, all of this really just proves one point: that I’m too old and crotchety to play in tree forts anymore.

Got any password tales of your own to share?


 

Those Glory Days of Mood Rings and Pet Rocks

You can tell a lot about an era by the gadgets it spawns.

In the mid-’70s, two must-have items were the mood ring and the pet rock (both of which I owned, courtesy of my fad-sustaining mom).

Although both of these product niches flared out in fairly short order, I think they reflected some common values of the time – at least in America.

Both embodied the “Me Decade” mantra that Novelist Tom Wolfe coined to describe the passive individualism that took root in the 1970s (contrasting the communal lifestyle associated with the ‘60s). The mood ring, in particular, empowered each of us through its ability to measure – and share – a wearer’s unique state of mind at any given time.

Another intriguing characteristic of both gadgets is how they supported – even celebrated – a sedentary lifestyle. You didn’t actually have to ‘do’ anything to enjoy their benefits. Body temperature regulated the color that purportedly evaluated your mood, and the pet rock was, well, a ROCK.

(Of course, this elevation of inactivity would be dethroned in the early ‘80s by the Jane Fonda-inspired workout video craze).

In retrospect, probably the most amusing part of our ‘70s baubles is the fact that they were total farces – and we all knew it. Neither product actually delivered what it was supposed to, but we all played along with the gag as if for the sake of a clueless bystander (a role, oddly, also played by us).

I kind of understand the appeal of the mood ring. It was fun, gimmicky, gaudy-stylish. And from what I remember, comparing moods with others could be a hoot (stop snickering, I had a men’s version).

But the pet rock? It was an inanimate object devoid of any meaningful characteristic of owning a real pet. It was nothing more than a corny joke.

That didn’t matter – at least not to my mom, who thought it was hilarious. I think I played along for a while, until I got bored and decided to paint a monster face on the stupid stone.

We demand so much more from our gadgets these days.

Unlike kitschy jewelry or faux pets, our smartphone devices can’t be one-trick ponies. They need to connect us, direct us, inform us, entertain us, awaken us, and on and on.

So what will they ultimately tell future generations about what we valued during this era?

Certainly that we craved technology. Couldn’t get enough of it.

We liked to explore and were easily distracted by bright, shiny objects/apps.

We had short attention spans.

And probably most telling of all: that we were all too willing to increasingly devote our lives to a tiny device that promised so much (yet, like the ring and rock, didn’t necessarily deliver the satisfaction we hoped it would).

I wonder what gadgets will define us in 10, 20, 50, 100+ years? 

iPad 2, You Complete Me.

Ipad2

After last Saturday’s crushing denial of Apple’s newest coveted device, I debated whether I would subject myself to the same barbaric ritual two weeks in a row.

Honestly, it wasn’t much of a debate. The stubborn, competitive side of me beat the rational, level-headed side hands-down.

This time, however, I was wise enough to understand the table stakes before going into battle. I arrived at the mall at about 5:30 a.m. (beating my previous time by more than an hour). My reward for this lunacy was to earn spot #5 in line, which quickly slipped to #7 when two “friends” of those ahead of me arrived.

My position was a definite improvement from last week’s placement (#25), but it would be a few hours until I found out whether I would be walking out a champion or a stooge.

Thankfully, I walked out a champ. As did most of the roughly 100 co-fanatics standing alongside me. Not only had the store received a healthy shipment of iPad devices the afternoon before, but they apparently were welcoming a second shipment as we were standing in line. It was a good morning to be a lemming.

After several rounds of handing out vouchers to match individuals with their chosen model(s), the doors to the store officially opened. I must say the process was quite well-organized, and the Apple team could not have been more accommodating and friendly. One of them even high-fived and congratulated me as I left the store.

So what did I do when I arrived home? Did I tear open the box, fire that puppy up and begin savoring all of its innovative goodness?

Nope, I laid down and took a nice long nap. It had been a long morning.

And when I awoke, did I scurry to begin exploring the device I had worked so hard to secure? No chance. I had errands to do.  

Looks like it might take awhile for us to become acquainted. 

Applecrowd

Some of my peeps.

Bobbing for an Apple: In Pursuit of an iPad 2

Apple2

That was the scene at about 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Apple store in suburban St. Louis. Scads of eager iPad 2 cravers. Bleary-eyed, but hopeful we would emerge in a couple of hours with a shiny new device (or two).

I had arrived at about 6:45 a.m., earning spot #25, which was noted on the ragged cardboard square handed to me by a cheerful security guard (“You here for a computer?” she asked, to which I responded, “I think.”)

Little did I know my tentativeness would be so well-founded.

Turns out the majority of us early-rising lemmings would leave the building clutching little more than deflated tablet dreams.

At about 7:30, a well-meaning Apple employee explained to the growing crowd that the “inventory specialist” was currently reviewing all the available stock and would join us at about 8:30 to hand out vouchers that matched each person with his or her chosen device(s). He delivered the same speech several times, moving down the line of consumers so everyone could have the benefit of hearing the process.

“That’s nice of him,” I thought, while hoping the thorough approach meant the store had substantial stock to distribute to its 100+ waiting customers. 

Then promptly at 8:30, the “Inventory Specialist” made his anticipated entrance, explaining that they actually only had three models available: a white WiFi 64GB (the device I wanted), a black Verizon 3G 16GB and another one. Once again, he moved through the crowd, repeating the roster several times so the entire throng could hear his spiel.

What happened next is sort of a blur, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t even reach customer #10 before announcing they were completely sold out.

Talk about a total mood killer.

Several in the crowd just peacefully dispersed (I’m guessing it wasn’t their first time around this block…)

Others thought this dude had some ‘splainin’ to do
– “How many iPads did you actually have”?
– “Why can’t you tell us earlier when your stock is low”?
– “How come you didn’t you get any AT&T models”?

His sheepish responses amounted to: “We don’t have control of what they send to us,“ “We’re not allowed to disclose specific numbers” and “You’re welcome to try again a different morning.

Not exactly stick-to-your-ribs answers.

But my fellow buffoons and I left the premises without incident, feeling more than a little disappointed and taken advantage of. 

I’ve read all sorts of conjecture that Apple may be intentionally stockpiling its inventory to drive demand (and ongoing publicity) for its newest, hottest product. But I find it hard to believe that Apple intentionally wants to piss off its customer base – and when 90 percent of customers leave a store completely dissatisfied, it strikes me as a real customer-service problem.

Alas, Apple ain’t talking – or delivering.

And so, I will live another day (or week/month/etc.) without experiencing the joys of Flipboard, Netflix, Dropbox, Google Earth and Twitter on the iPad.

I’ll live.

If only there were a suitable substitute 

Afterword:

Given the recent tragedy in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and cancellation of “Two and a Half Men,” I know my iPad envy is fairly insignificant. OK, it’s ridiculously insignificant.

But cut me some slack here. I willingly chose to delay purchasing an iPad until the second-generation device was introduced. Now that it’s here, I’m ready to finally satisfy this pent-up desire.

Cardboard

For the scrapbook: the official number denoting my place in the pack. 

Help Me Quit Crack(Berry)

Crackberrylighter

Ask any of my co-workers (and many of my friends) what my BlackBerry means to me, and they’ll probably say “far too much.”

Astute folks.

You see, in the past two years, I’ve grown a bit over-attached to this little impish device. It‘s never far from my clutches and has taken a position as one of the top 3 belongings whose whereabouts are my constant obsession (the wallet and keys occupy slots #2 and #3).

Like any addiction, my BB abuse has escalated to the point of needing some serious intervention. It’s causing me to neglect my family, shirk my household chores, EVEN text while driving (in fact, I regularly compose and send entire e-mails while powering down the highway – who says guys can’t multi-task?)

Going cold turkey is always an option, of course, but it’s such an unpleasant one – complete with vomiting, DT’s and other detox-withdrawal symptoms.

I’m looking for a less severe “scaling back,” one in which I can still reap the benefits of mobility while knowing when to say when. Like a food addict who needs to learn to manage her food issues, I just need to train myself to become a more responsible BlackBerry owner/operator (i.e. she’s still gotta eat; I’ve still gotta tweet).

And so I ask: Does anyone have any ideas for helping to transform my CrackBerry back to a BlackBerry?

My ears – and thumbs – eagerly await your suggestions.

Powder
Crackberrylogo
Blow-crackberry-490