Commentary

Is A Screen A Screen Is A Screen?

A few weeks ago I was having a typical advanced-media conversation with a C-level executive. During the conversation, she made the following declarative statement: "My six-year-old grandson does not know the difference between the television screen, the computer screen or the 9" diagonal screen in the back of his parent's SUV.  To him it's all the same!"  I was just about to shoot back some Yoda-like, pithy comeback to display my superior understanding of the situation when I caught myself and (atypically) shut up. "Could she be right?  Is there any way that a six-year-old does not know the difference between a television screen and a computer screen?" Enquiring minds want to know.

I decided that this particular grandmother might be on to something, so instead of talking I kept listening.  Her personal, anecdotal evidence was compelling.  After all, six-year-olds are pretty small, so sitting in Dad's home office chair might actually be comfortable for someone who is 45 inches tall and weighs 45 pounds.  Ergonomics aside, the aesthetics of television and computer screens are polar opposites.  TVs display nice picture and bad graphics, and computers display nice graphics and bad pictures. Any six-year-old could see that, right?

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As it turns out, these digital natives (the post-millennial demo) can tell the difference between the playback technologies; they just don't differentiate between them.  To a digital native, content is content and a screen is a screen.

So what does this mean to us?  The sociological implications are significantly more profound than the technological implications.  From a human communication perspective, Sponge Bob's personality does not change from screen to screen, nor does Elmo's.  These characters are a part of an American six- year-old's zeitgeist.  We (old people) are the ones who differentiate and ascribe virtues to one playback medium over the other; not them.

 As the digital natives age, the screens they use will (according to Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law) become less technologically differentiated, so their perception that a screen is a screen is a screen may actually be complete reality for them at age 16 or 26.

 At the end of the day, we would do well to ponder this.  What should the content look like?  What should advertising look like?  What should the experience metamorphose into?  If we accept that the new conventions of playback include the suspension of caring about screen resolution for the sake of the audience's own enjoyment, how must our creative attitudes change?  I don't know. Perhaps we should ask a six-year-old.

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