Philobiblon: A landmark moment: the web overtakes TV

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A landmark moment: the web overtakes TV

OK, it was a survey conducted for Google, but whatever the details, the finding that the average Briton spends around 164 minutes online every day, compared with 148 minutes watching television is a landmark.

The Google survey found surfers in London and Scotland are the country's heaviest web users, spending more than three hours a day online. That was around 40 minutes more each day than those in the lowest category, the north-west of England.
It is a high water mark in the rise of the internet. It is little more than 10 years since the start of the dotcom revolution but already more than 1 billion people around the world are connected to the internet. Television, in contrast, took decades to reach a similar number of people.

It may well be that in a decade or so, kids will look back in wonder at that curious age of their parents and grandparents, when people spent hours and hours and hours sitting dumbly, blankly on the sofa, staring at a screen that was totally non-interactive! "Thoroughly unwicked man!" (Or whatever the slang of the day might be.)

Using the web is inevitably interactive and active, creative and constructive, unlike television viewing. In fact we are going back to an earlier age, to what has been historically "normal". For centuries, people in their leisure time gathered around the piano, sang, played board games, and otherwise created their own fun. In online games, with blogs, with all of the new personal video and audio creation possibilities, that is what the Western world is starting to do again.

Might be a good time to sell your shares in major entertainment companies ...


Blogger Elayne said...

Being online has been a godsend to Robin's Dad, who is hard of hearing so we pretty much communicate with him via email (and he reads my blog too!). Will you be around, by the way, when we visit May 15-19? I'd love to meet you! (Rob's Dad is in the Lewes area...)

3/08/2006 05:15:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

There's a flipside to this. For years people lived in ignorance spending their evenings making each other miserable, holding seances, pretending to play the piano having pawned it, and scowling at each other.

Then along came Lord Reith. He was Scottish. He was 8ft tall. He had magnificent eyebrows. He delivered into your home comedy, tragedy, drama, opera, ballet, documentaries that answered questions you could not even imagine asking, inspirational and magical TV just for children, and news. People watched it, if only because it was there, and their minds expanded.

Entire generations grew up with a communal cultural cohesion engineered in large part by Biddy Baxter, as we all come home from school to watch Blue Peter, learned how to make a nuclear reactor out of a squeezy bottle, and then thrilled to the exploits of Captain Pugwash, Ivor the Engine, Willo the Wisp, The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles, and of course, my fellow Clangers.

Jacques Cousteau, Johnny Morris, James Burke, John Noakes, Lesley Judd, Brian Cant, Patrick Moore, Raymond Baxter, Prof. Heinz Wolff, Alan Bleasdale, Dennis Potter, Andrew Davies, and Capt. James T. Kirk expanded our minds and rocked our worlds. And then Robert Robinson asked us questions about it to make sure we had been paying attention.

This only worked because we had so few TV channels and no internet.

Now a generation will grow up playing online games, surfing for porn, and buying tat on ebay.

The Golden Age of Telly. One nation under the BBC. We were being served, and we will never be quite so well served again.

3/08/2006 10:33:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Be delighted to meet you Elayne - perhaps when you are coming through London? If you give me a week or so's notice I can fit into most schedules ...

Clanger, I'm not sure the quality was quite as good as described - those dreadful fawning interviews with politicians that you sometimes see on historical programmes, the "light classics" approach to music etc.

But anyway, as a democrat (note the small D) I tend to think people making their own entertainment has to be better than them being spoonfed something a white male "follow the canon" type thinks is good for them ...

3/09/2006 12:19:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

My main point was the cultural cohesion offered by having a small number of TV channels as a primary entertainment medium for a whole nation and its social consequences. But let that pass. Let's instead consider democracy...

"As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
[H. L. Mencken. The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920.]

Democracy is wonderful in theory, but in practice all too often descends into the tyranny of the lowest common denominator.

Here's some wonderfully democratic TV that is just a part of the schedule: Channel 5, the news bunny, ITV's Quizmania, Richard and Judy, Holiday Reps, and Top 100 car crashes. [I made the last one up, but give them time and I'm sure they will live down to my expectations.]

Without the BBC, such stuff would fill the schedules.

Consider some of the BBC's output from the 70s and 80s: I Claudius, Secret Army, Jackanory, Vision On, The Sky at Night, and Boys from the Blackstuff. All delivered alongside sport, news more objectively presented than any newspaper of the time could manage, and a world of imaginative children's TV to feed the minds of small persons who might otherwise have nothing.

Without the well-intentioned patricians of the BBC, Britain would be a worse place. And over time it has changed as well, or perhaps a little better, than most major institutions.

For many people, the alternative to the BBC was nothing. Zero. Zip. Because they had no access, for financial or other reasons, to such material.

Incidentally, the Arts Council has spent decades doing exactly the same for live theatre as the licence fee has done for the BBC, but the BBC transmit to all, equally. Live theatre is hardly the most democratic medium on the planet.

Your favoured medium Natalie, is subsidised by the many for the few. The BBC has always been subsidised by the many for the many. Both are funded on the same (patrician) premise, that it is for the public good that such things are supported.

The BBC mandate is, I think you'll find, considerably more socially beneficial, educationally supportive, and plain old democratic (with a small 'D') than the UK theatre industry.

Check the demographic at your next play. Just shout 'free Guardian anyone?' and watch the hands go up. A democratic artform? I think not.

Can we expect an impassioned plea for the abolition of Arts Council funding, for the political crime of encouraging the spoon-feeding of the literate middle classes with subsidised theatre? Theatre being, of course, part of the middle-class cultural canon.

A London theatre critic attacking the BBC-home of 'Match of the Day', 'The Asian Network', and 'The Mark Steel Lectures' for not being democratic enough. Now there's something you don't see every day.

3/09/2006 02:13:00 am  

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