Smartphones = Millennial TV

Smartphones and smart content curators create the same environment of information and content that stole away years of free time and energy from Baby Boomers and Generation X through the medium of television.

When I went to college I lost contact with my TV and never turned back. It didn’t really start when I left for school in Louisiana. As a first year freshman, I finally had enough independence to audit the person I was when I was growing up in Saint Louis. I decided to make some drastic changes, including a strict adjustment to my diet (no more meat — lots of vegetables), a new level of focus and dedication to self improvement to a new craft (graphic design) and absolutely no TV.

I think it’s worth taking a step back to explain why I felt that watching television was such an unattractive habit at that point in my life. In those first few years of school, I had a chance to spend more time with my aging grandparents, all of whom lived in Louisiana. In both households, I saw the same thing: hours and hours and hours of free time, all spent watching the news or Turner Classic Movies, or sitcom reruns. I couldn’t get them interested in reading, and I couldn’t tear them away from TV long enough to explain how the internet worked or why it mattered at all. And when I came home? Same thing. I used to scoff at how much time my parents spent wrapped up in made-for-tv dramas and glued to their seats during the evening news. I wrote it off as something I didn’t want in my own life, and left it at that for the rest of my undergraduate years.

More recently, I’ve taken a step back to review how things have changed since that first year in school, and I’m not so sure I’ve made much of an improvement in how I spend my time. If anything, I moved away from a singular resource for my content, and adopted dozens in it’s place.

I wasn’t new to smartphones, social media or web content when I started college, but I do feel like my relationship to content shifted throughout those years. The time I spent in school, from 2012 to 2016, saw a number of important shifts in technology and content culture. I was in school when social media behemoth Facebook perfected the concept of curated content streams, and I was around for the dawn of ‘vanishing’ content popularized by Snapchat.

By 2012, all of my friends had begun to invest in monthly payments to streaming services, who would exchange their payments for access to a vast and ever-expanding library of popular and obscure music. They even had Richard Pryor.

I loved it at first, but after three years I noticed something was changing-my relationship with music. Sure, I had access to the most music I’d ever been able to listen to at any one time from the comfort of my tiny personal device, but I wasn’t engaging with it the same way. It seemed like I was always too busy to give a new album the full listen it deserved. I was always on to the next release; swallowing albums whole and spitting out the tracks that I didn’t absolutely love. I eventually became a scavenger, compiling lists of hit singles ranging in the hundreds and discarding the remains.

Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of strange smartphone rituals that have worked their way into my daily routine. I will become sidetracked on a web-browser at work, scouring the web for morsels of information about a topic that interests me or for bio information about an artist I like and want to learn more about. I will sometimes snap back into reality, surfacing after as many as two hours spent watching videos (usually illustration tutorials or taped improv) on Youtube.

In much the same way that our parents and grandparents were hapless victims to the rush of moving, eventually color pictures, we fell into our gadgets and never came up for air. As new technology burrows deeper and deeper into every corner of our ordinary lives, it grows harder to pick apart the ways we are changing (for better or worse) and adapting.

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