Our Devices, Ourselves -- Or, How My iPad Became A TV, And What That Means For Social
I’m hoping that even all of the techno-forward people who read this column still experience occasional moments of wonder at what all of these gadgets we own can do.
I had two such moments this week:
1. The moment in which I discovered that the touch screen on my aging Droid still works, even though there are dozens of cracks on it after its fateful encounter with a local sidewalk Sunday afternoon.
2. The moment I logged on to Cablevision’s Optimum TV app for the first time on Thursday night. Though there was no real reason, at that moment, that my son and I needed to watch the Red Sox game on an iPad, we did -- just because it was possible.
This column is about the second moment of wonder. (However, if anyone wants to weigh in on whether I should buy the Droid Bionic or the Droid RAZR, please get in touch.)
What amazed me about moment number two is how, overnight, your idea of what devices you need, and how devices should work, can change. The truth is I’d downloaded the free Optimum app some time ago, but because I’ve been so busy lazy, I’d never gotten around to looking up my password.
But then, a media consumption crisis happened. After nearly eight months of feints, Cablevision finally made good on its threat that the old, boxy kitchen TV that came with our house would be rendered obsolete without a digital cable box. Until the moment that I turned it on last Wednesday, it had received cable using only a relatively slim, white, bit of coaxial cable.
Suddenly, I was facing kitchen cablemageddon; there’s really no room in my kitchen for a cable box -- and, seemingly, no solution that the TV and cable companies have fully supported that will obviate the need for a big box. Though there is something called CableCARD technology, which replaces the box with a credit-card sized slot on the back of the TV, it’s very hard to find, and virtually impossible to find in small TVs, even though a consumer’s need for a small TV implies that he or she is dealing with a space that might not be hospitable to a big box.
Confronted with this problem, I did the obvious: I asked my Facebook friends how to solve it. (One can only put up with the gnashing and wailing of an eight-year-old, who likes to watch TV in the kitchen while Mom cooks, for so long.) Talk of antennas and converters ensued. Commenter no. 16 simply said the entire thread was giving her a headache. But one friend reminded me of the Optimum app. And the rest is Social Media Insider history.
Beyond the gee-whiz of discovering yet another trick that our pet iPad can perform, the app’s interface is so much cleaner and easier to use than its TV counterpart that I’m almost embarrassed for Cablevision now when I find myself clicking around on its button-crammed TV remote, scrolling endlessly through its circa-1993 interface in search of the right channel. How do they let that thing out in public?
But, as a student of social media, the interface got me thinking about how quickly convergence is happening, and therefore how easy it is to integrate social features into TV when it’s watched on a device. Cable isn’t transformed as much by the digital cable box my old TV would now require as it is by the medium’s integration into our devices: a place where things like social sharing and search can, almost effortlessly, be incorporated into the experience.
TV networks are jumping all over social TV, as studies show the connection between social media and TV ratings. But a lot of the clunky attempts to integrate social onto a TV simply aren’t necessary when TV is streamed over a laptop, or a tablet. I’ve cancelled any plans I had to buy a new TV for the kitchen. It’s not just about the iPad. As if to prove my point, Cablevision just last week launched a laptop version of its app, which I downloaded to my MacBook this morning.
Neither app has a Facebook or Twitter tab yet, but I’m sure it’s coming soon, to a touchscreen near you.