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Jim Hillhouse

I hope Tim O'Reilly isn't talking about all forms of media on the Web. Yes, in certain centers such as blogs, news, etc., he is right--the Web is conditioning us to some degree to prefer the short form. Still, there are blogs such as Balkinization, a blog focused on legal aspects of such issues as Domestic Surveillance, etc., which is definitely not following the short form.

And I think your point is well taken--in entertainment the Web has not the shortening of our attention span. And Wire is a very good example of that, although being an HBO series is probably why--HBO does so well for the reasons that the big studios do not; HBO makes shows that are intense, deep, and raise rather than lower the viewer's need to stay tuned and center in on the show as a whole.

Frank Shaw

My observation is that it's always easy to argue a binary case -- long or short, rich or thin, on or off -- but much more difficult to see a world where there is middle ground. You make a great point here, with which I totally agree -- there is more than enough room for both.


This article is too


Actually, I think X-Files was doing this in 1992-1995 and beyond. I'd say that he show X-Files had a bigger impact on this than the web, though you bring up a good point: media on demand makes more media more desireable.


Okay, excellent point. Over the past couple years, TV shows have become mini series made for TV movies. For the past 5 years i've been into TV shows that continue episode to episode. I love them, though at the same time i wish I could watch all 20 some odd episodes at once.

Paul Levinson

Excellent points - which I agree with completely. Indeed, I argue that we're livin in a new golden age of television - in which TiVo, cable, DVDs, the Internet etc have made it much easier for people to see and enjoy longer, more complex narratives than before. http://paullevinson.blogspot.com/2006/12/only-idiots-dont-watch-television.html

Ian Mansfield

I think there is an argument that "some" programs have been typically water cooler genres and built up an audience based on word of mouth recomendations - and hence had to have single episode stories.

However, there have been some very long running programs which required a long term approach. Babylon 5 is an excellent example of a plot that was carried over 4 series, and where to miss the first series would impact on the meaning of the 4th.

Murder One was another ground breaking example of a single plot over an entire series.

Alas, it was ahead of its time and flopped in the USA, although was hugely popular in the UK - which could be a whole different arguement about the differences between British and American TV viewers :)


I sorta disagree with you.

It isn't about attention spans. It has much more to do with the shear amount of stimulus that we have in a given day. Moreover, we want lots of stimulus, and rapidly changing from one topic to another gives us just that.

Certainly shows many span multiple episodes now, but how many of those shows require you to keep track of multiple plot lines simultaneously?

John Wesley

I'm not sure if the success of cliffhangers like Lost means an increased attention span. I think the networks just realized this form of television is more addictive. People love to ride the roller coaster from week to week, buzz builds up, and soon everyone else is wondering what they are missing. On the other hand it's feast of famine for these shows.


Steven Johnson makes much the same point in Everything Bad is Good For You and he does a much better job in the book of laying out this case. He explores the changes in TV programming and explores the intersection with web sites that invite in depth analysis and participation in even the most tawdry reality TV and shows how it is more immersive and more cognitively demanding than the days of I Love Lucy.

Better yet, he confronts the CW that gaming is a mind-addling cultural insult and shows how it too is a new sort of cognitive challenge that "makes us smarter".

I'm not sure how well I buy into the thesis, but there is some validity. And debunking the common wisdom about the evils of modern culture is welcome, IMO.

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