Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Trying to Fit the Net in a Shoebox

I was listening to the radio the other morning (imagine that) and I heard a story about Current TV. I knew the name and that they were targeting 18-34 year-olds, but didn’t really know much about it (except for the fact that Al Gore is somehow involved). Turns out the big “revolutionary” part of the station is that it’s going to include consumer-created content.

The Current folks explain it like this on their about page:

There’s plenty to watch on TV, but as a viewer, you don’t have much chance to influence or contribute to what you see. This medium – the most powerful, riveting one we have – is still a narrow vision of reality rolled out in predictable 30-minute chunks. It’s still a fortress of an old-school, one-way world.

Current TV plans to change this by, “rethinking the way TV is produced, programmed, and presented, so it actually makes sense to an audience that’s accustomed to choice, control, and collaboration in everything else they do.”

Now that’s a nice goal, isn’t it? The problem is that TV is old-school and one-way.

There’s already a medium for people accustomed to choice, control, and collaboration. It’s called the internet.

I can’t help but feel like these guys are trying a bit too hard. If, as they say, television really is “the most powerful” and “riveting” medium, then why have all these young people been transformed by the net to a point that Current TV finds it necessary to revolutionize television?

What’s more, the whole thing just sounds like it would work a whole lot better online. In their FAQ, they just happen to have a question that addresses just this issue. In response to “Why not just do this all on the Internet? BitTorrent revolution, baby!”

There is definitely some cool stuff going on with Internet video, but probably not enough to power a media company like Current yet, and certainly not enough to deliver the quantity and quality of programming that we will offer. We’re going to do everything we can to sync up with those technologies, though, even as we continue with our cable and satellite TV network.

So basically they’re saying they can’t make the same amount of money off advertising online than they can on television. Sounds like a revolutionary reason to start a station to me!

This whole thing immediate made me think about something Steven Johnson wrote in Interface Culture:

At major transition points, where one platform or genre gives way to another, the older form invariably strains to approximate the rhythms and mannerisms of the emergent form. . . The older medium wants to reinvent itself — chrysalis-style — in the image of the new, but its existing conventions won’t allow such a dramatic transformation.

Johnson goes on to make the point that during the “golden age” of radio, the classic shows “weren’t really great radio programs — they were just bad television shows,” Johnson writes. They were “TV-style narratives stripped down to fit the limited dimensions of radio. They were a message waiting for their medium to come.”

And so we come back to Current TV, trying to fit the message of the internet into a big, square box.

July 30, 2005