The Ego Has Landed

In her The New Atlantis journal article, “The Age of Egocasting,” Christine Rosen criticizes the culture of personalization, where we focus only on our own interests and where we shelter ourselves from unwanted media.  Addressing shifting trends in television and music, Rosen argues that technology such as TV remotes, DVRs, and MP3 players are having a dire effect on the entertainment industry.  Tools that allow us to individually shape our own entertainment experience disrupt traditional business models of media producers.  But she believes these technologies have a far worse consequence for consumers.  By selecting what we want to see or hear, when and how we want, we are becoming increasingly narcissistic.

The remote control was the first personalized technology to alter media consumption when it became mainstream in the 1980s.  At that time, cable television became ubiquitous and the remote control enabled viewers to easily and comfortably navigate the increasing number of channels they received.  This led to “grazing,” a steady but laconic approach to consumption motivated by the constant search for something better. (Rosen, p. 55)  As viewing habits changed, content creators had to adapt to viewing trends. To attract audiences, they used tools like opening their shows with spectacle, delaying opening credit sequences, and beginning programs right after one another without commercial breaks.  Personally, I see these as positive changes in television production.  The world is moving faster, so everyone needs to keep up or risk becoming irrelevant.  Though, Rosen also suggests that the remote led to an unfortunate consequence.  Programs now have very limited windows to find audiences before the networks cancel them.  If NBC’s “Seinfeld” premiered today it would have likely been cancelled after four episodes, which would have been a great loss for millions of devoted fans.  Early episodes struggled to find an audience and the production barely resembled the polished product of seasons three and on.  I can only imagine the number of quality programs that have been lost due to a fickle, empowered audience.

The rise of the TiVo presented different problems for consumers.  While people appreciate the freedom of the time-shifted viewing that TiVo allows, Rosen believes that we are becoming slaves to these machines.  TiVo offers the unprecedented ability for people to skip commercials, fast forward or pause a show in progress, and watch programs whenever it’s convenient. According to Rosen, devoted DVR users believe the devices have vastly improved their lives and liken them to idols that should be worshipped.  For these viewers, more control, more choice, and less time grazing equate to a better experience.  However, Rosen cites several studies that concluded TiVo-equipped households watch 3-6 hours more TV a week than other households.  The author contends that this increased TV consumption leads to lowered alertness, decreased attention spans, and heightened anxiety.

Switching focus to the recording industry, Rosen contends that the original Sony Walkman and the current industry leader, the iPod, have played a similar role to the DVR in how people consume music.  People can easily listen to the music they want, when they want, and can live in “absent presence,” meaning one can be physically present yet isolated to the world around him/her because music is replacing environmental sounds.  Citing research performed by Wired Magazine, Rosen notes that people are attached to their MP3 players because of the control they afford over music selection.  More significant than TiVo’s impact in the living room, the personal MP3 player invades public space – disruption social interaction and creating a society of self-absorbed disconnect.

Furthering the idea of narcissism in how we consume is the creation of the media itself.  A recent study reported in the New York Times conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky concluded that the lyrics in popular music have become increasing self-centered.  Studying lyrics from 1980 through 2007, psychologist Nathan DeWall identified a trend toward themes praising the individual rather than a group, or couple.  As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions.  (Tierney, 2011)  Self-referential Songs like Justin Timberlake’s “I’m Bringing Sexy Back” and Beyonce’s “It’s Blazin’” have replaced songs about inclusion such as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony and Ivory.”

Rosen’s concern over the negative impacts of personalization devices feels premature.  There is no question that we have far more control over our media than we have in the past. But the author’s vision of dystopic country of self-serving individualists seems alarmist.  Following Fidler’s model, the DVR and the MP3 player are still in a state of flux and penetration.  We don’t know how we will use these technologies in the future or when they will be replaced by something new.  For now, personalization technology is novel and growing.

Discussion Questions:

How does entertainment on demand create a more narcissistic society?

How do you learn about new TV shows and music?  How has this process changed since owning a DVR and MP3 player?

Is new “personalization technology” the best thing ever, or is it irreparably disrupting the quality of the entertainment we consume?

Works Cited:

Fidler, R. (1997). Mediamorphosis: understanding new media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Rosen, C. (2005). The age of egocasting. The New Atlantis, 7, 51-72.

Tierney, John. (2011, April 26). A generation’s vanity, heard through lyrics. The New York Times, p. D1.

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10 Responses to The Ego Has Landed

  1. Pingback: Week 7 : Frameworks and Theories « COM546 : Evolutions

  2. RubaHachim says:

    Josh- I really enjoyed your discussion style and the questions you posed throughout. It was very engaging and offered the chance for us to participate and share thoughts. the argument you discussed is clear and focused. Also, I liked how you framed the article in the intro.
    Great job on the visuals too, epsecially the American Idol iPod/Coke image:-)
    At the end, I really appreciated you weighing in and providing your personal perspective of Egocasting vs. Egoreceiving.
    Well done, Josh!

  3. Lisa says:

    I agree with your characterization of Rosen’s theory as “alarmist” – though I haven’t read the article myself, from the class presentations it seems that she fails to present any positive ramifications of digital personalization. We talked in another group about Pandora, and how that starts as a personalization channel but grows into a way to expand one’s horizons and be introduced to new content. From personal experience I still see technology as more mind-expanding than confining.

  4. Great overview and conversation Josh. I think it’s hard for us to be able to be objective and not feel somewhat attacked, since she’s critiquing us, but then again, why is Rosen the objective one? At the same time, she raises some valid points about the increased self-focus and demand for personalization – instantly. Some really important cultural shifts are happening and I’m not sure if we realize the impact, since we’re in the middle of them.

  5. Burl says:

    Josh! I dig the images that you used. Funny how the “face of self-control” that you suggest is hardly how any of us would want to labeled. We often hear about how this is an era of unrestricted possibility, but we forget that with limitless opportunity comes the need for more discipline and focus. Personally, I often feel as though I get drowned by all of the content and gadgets with which I choose to surround myself. I guess the real question is: will the masses ever come to recognize their illusory self-control and actually change their consumption habits to become more connected and actually yield more control? Or will folks simply continue to immerse themselves in media and become evermore disconnected?

  6. I didn’t get to see your live presentation, but your slideshow and blog post are very informative. I like your use of compelling imagery and consistent design. And I agree with your conclusion, that Rosen is an alarmist. Or maybe just a flat-out pessimist.

  7. Derek Walker says:

    Nice slides. I agree that Rosen really seems to be overreacting. Like everything else, certain people will abuse technology and others will use it responsibly. I go through phases where I feel too close to my devices and other times when I can’t wait to get away. It’s a balance we all have to find within ourselves.

  8. Eric Burgess says:

    Very concise, easily digestible presentation. The slides were basic and definitely followed the “Presentation Zen” style we’ve learned about in this class. Like we discussed in our group, I don’t particularly agree with Rosen’s choice of the word narcissism.

    In my view, a society that “tunes out” and pulls inward and listens to their iPods/iPhones on the bus – does not translate to narcissism. It may point to us being more introverted as a culture – but not narcissistic.

  9. Hey Josh,

    Great presentation. Do you think that the increase in television viewing was high because the survey was done in 2005. I’m thinking that since they were early adopters who were into TV that the numbers may have been higher with them. Since the prevalence of DVR’s has increased and spread to the general public maybe the stats are much different.

  10. thor10 says:

    Josh, I was seemingly half-unconscious and remember every one of your main points. Maybe the best way to compliment your presentation. I’ll begin with your first “open” question, which presupposes our society is even capable of becoming more narcissistic. Assuming we somehow can, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a horrible thing that we, as consumers, may not “allow” ourselves to be subjected to all these new forms of often low-rent TV and music entertainment. This won’t be a universally popular sentiment, but perhaps less exposure will leave a little more time for the more important things. If that’s too Polyannaish, this surely isn’t: A fellow in Kent during class this past Tuesday pedaled right past a couple cars, passed the downed gate with flashing lights, and rode his bike straight into the side of a passing train. Loud music on headphones.

    The sequencing and refreshing simplicity of your slide presentation was beyond welcome. Indeed your title itself is fantastic: “The Ego Has Landed”. Of your many main points, I’ll close with this feedback. While much was made of how entertainment variety and selection drives narcissism, at least in the eyes of Christine Rosen, I find fault with her article as early as the premise.

    Criticizing society for selecting its favorite entertainment sources is a bit like criticizing us and our neighbors for preferring a particular city, town or neighborhood – even a church or country club. If we follow her logic to its natural conclusion, we should all be passive simpletons presumed to be morally incapable of making the choices we desire.

    On an unrelated note, your annotated bibliography is superb. And, yes, I was drawn in by the cleverness of another one of your titles (“Shh, it’s an Annotated Bibliography”).

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