chapter  11
15 Pages

Television use in new media environments

The ongoing processes of digitization and the convergence of information and communication technologies has been accompanied by controversial visions, not least of the future of television, which is still the leading medium in most households, on a national and global scale. These processes are often discussed generally and at large, and from a technologically deterministic perspective. Well-known people like George Gilder ([1990]1994) and Nicholas Negroponte (1995) have been predicting the end of television for a long time. The most seductive argument is that the one-way-flow of mass-media communication, not least broadcasting, is, allegedly, refused by contemporary television users just waiting for the chance to ‘talk back’. Gilder has described this relation as a ‘“master-slave” architecture. A few broadcast centres originate programmes for millions of passive receivers, or ‘dumb terminals’ (Gilder 1994: 40). Thanks to new affordances provided by digital technology, audiences will finally be able to act, either by forgetting everything about television and using the networked computer1 instead (the vision of Bill Gates) or by adopting new forms of participatory television and demanding more advanced interactive functions of the television set. This type of argument confuses technological affordances with empirical

use, or access with appropriation. As a result, changes in television technology are often ascribed quasi-automatic cultural and social changes, without taking into consideration two decisive factors: first, the empirical use of technologically new forms of television; second, the context of this use, that is to say (new) media environments which embed television viewing. This chapter focuses on both these aspects, by analysing findings from three empirical studies about television use conducted in Norway between 2004 and 2007.2

Traditional studies of media use focus on people’s relationship to a discrete medium or genre, like radio, newspapers, news or soap operas. This is also

due to the great bulk of empirical television studies. There is nothing wrong with this interest and perspective, but an alternative point of departure can throw an interesting light on hidden aspects of the use of media in everyday life. This life has for quite a time been called ‘media saturated’ or a life in media environments. Among the first researchers who described this situation were David Morley and Roger Silverstone; they open an essay from the beginning of the 1990s with these words:

Television should now be seen, not in isolation, but as one of a number of information and communication technologies, occupying domestic time and space alongside the video-recorder, the computer and the telephone, as well as the Walkman, the answering-machine, the stereo and the radio.