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The (TV) Guide is Broken: And Now Everything is TV


There’s an old joke that time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. But more and more, it seems like everything is happening at once.

Where television channels used to offer one program at a time, one after the other, laid out along a time line, now there are an infinite number of channels. To the extent that programming is recorded, or recorded live for broadcast, it can be tuned in on demand. Programs don’t need to unravel at a particular time on a schedule anymore. We’ve entered the era of random access; everyone can be watching different shows on the same channel— because it’s the watching that is the channel, not the broadcasting.

Live broadcasts used to be so labor and infrastructure intensive that it wasn’t possible to go live with more than one signal. Many broadcasters now emit multiple signals—different mixes and playlists of programming.

Assume for a moment that broadcast video/audio will move entirely to the internet—the new Network. How will you know what’s on? When everything that exists is on at the same time—how do you choose? This problem is similar to deciding which book to check out from a public library. The selection set you walk into the library with doesn’t include every book on the shelves.

I hate cable television listings because they present everything equally in a grid. And, of course, this is Comcast’s product—I understand that TiVo is much better. The schedule of programs knows nothing about me, therefore it presents everything in the equivalent of a comma separated value file with sub-primitive tools to work with the data. Everyone gets the same bad listing of a 1000 streams. There’s a sense in which this is the same problem users have with RSS readers and Twitter streams. Rolling cable television listings look disturbingly like an RSS or Twitter stream. They’re a linear representation of simultaneous data.

The suggested solution isn’t really a solution. It’s simply the acceptance that you’ll miss things that would be valuable for you to see. It’s noted that since you can’t completely consume a multivalent, multi-threaded real-time stream, instead you must simply jump in from time to time. When you jump out, you miss what you miss— and that’s okay. As with phone calls, if it’s important, they’ll call back.

With so much programming simultaneously available, its value is significantly reduced. Experiencing something and not experiencing it have a roughly equivalent value. This corresponds to the idea: The more information, the less significant information is. The less information, the more significant it is. Philip Roth put it this way: in Eastern Europe (before the fall of the wall) nothing is permitted but everything matters; with us, everything is permitted but nothing matters.

More and more we live in simultaneous time with links that provide us with random access to an almost infinite number of connections. The index was the first tool that was attempted, but the map could not keep up with the rapid growth of the territory. The search engine using a citation algorithm was the next tool. This would be a welcome method to discover when a program was on, when a program with an actor was on, when a program by a writer was on. More complex queries would enable more advanced discovery.

Why did the girl throw the clock out the window? To see time fly.

But as we live in simultaneous time so do the things that we experience. As McLuhan noted, everything has become television, streams of text, video and audio sensory data. We aren’t matching the grid of our daily schedule to a grid of programming. The grid is an artifact of linear time. The selection set in simultaneous time doesn’t contain everything, it emerges from a swarming micro-community in real time. The infinite universe is bounded by the social graph, but it expands into infinity through six degrees of separation.

The new guide leverages the swarm, the social graph, the real time network and track. So, what’s on?


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