For the last 15 years we have been awash in new communication platforms, devices, and capabilities, many of them breathlessly delivered in news articles or in the latest technology reports, gee-whiz reviews and Internet buzz. While I love all that stuff, we are destined to be in a constant state of trying to keep up with the latest and the newest - always a losing enterprise. Nevertheless, some bigger issues that portend shifts in the way we think about viewing, using and creating information and entertainment seem to be taking shape.
First, the multiple modes of interacting with the various devices alter the notion of flow. Perhaps the YouTube spoof best epitomizes the ability to undercut the flow model. The attached video is a stop-motion animation spoof of the intro to popular HBO series Game of Thrones. It epitomizes the knowledgeable, creative take on media that has relocated power to the user – classic YouTube fare, timed to be brief for your mobile viewing pleasure. Raymond Williams’ flow concept broke open our awareness of how programs, ads, bumpers and teasers were integrated in a continuous stream of marketing plus entertainment, elevating non-program elements to be worth our analysis and prompting a reconceptualization of how industrial processes of television structure meaning. Digital media practices do more than complicate flow; they explode it. We certainly cannot jettison the significance of understanding corporate structures’ influences on these practices; however, the shift from one-way content distribution systems to the proliferation of portals, the essential function of many personal communication devices, disrupts control and predictability.
People are more in control of their content environment. Nielsenwire reports over 164 million unique online video viewers in 2011, with YouTube being the top destination, and consequently researchers need to rethink how people interact with different devices and platforms. Our research on digital media profiles an active, on-demand user, whose dilemma of actually figuring out what to watch turns out to be mediated by Facebook, the current millenium’s TV Guide analog. We find situations that dictate which media forms are used, environments in which privacy is more or less present, when more or less attention is available for creating or consuming content, and when technologies and platforms are more or less cumbersome, expensive or annoying.
The realm beyond flow is individualized and social, private and viral, local and international, engaged and detached.