Tim O'Reilly talks today about the web training our minds to prefer snippets or "short form" culture (HT: Nick Carr). "The web," he says, "has put a premium on short-form content, both because it's
easier to read in the ADD style that today's interrupt-driven
technology is driving us towards, and because it's easier to build
collaboratively." YouTube favours the short form, Google favours the short form.
Not so. Or at least, I think, only partly so.
As little as five years ago, everything (I saw) on TV was based around the formula that you could dip in and out from one episode to the next without the need to follow an overall story arc. From Friends to the Simpsons to even serious stuff like the West Wing, programme makers understood that we needed to be able to drop in and out of the show, missing week after week, because no-one is consistently in their house at the same time every week just to watch a TV show - or at least no-one advertisers want to talk to. Everything was episodic, and if there was ever a plotline that spanned two whole episodes it warranted a lengthy explanation at the start of the second show.
Broadband, and broadband's killer ap BitTorrent, has changed all that. TiVo, Teleport TV and Sky+ have changed all that. Hell, DVDs changed it a bit. Look at Lost - all arc. Look at The Wire which to all intents and purposes is four 13-hour-long films. Shows that would make no sense dipped in and out of are suddenly possible because the delivery mechanism is there to ensure people can watch a whole season in order. BitTorrent has done for epic television what Dances with Wolves did for epic films - in this instance a tech-driven, rather than culture-driven, return to a richer, longer form.
Update: having made its way on to Digg, this story now has more comments there than here so you may wish to follow the conversation at Digg here. Although most of them are jokes about attention span, so you might not...