By Katherine Hunt
Television has changed a lot since its invention in the 1950s. It’s transitioned through technological changes of the times; going from black and white to colour, and from a big box that sat on the floor to a flat-screen that we hang on our walls. The technology is not the only thing that’s evolved, however, with the invention of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon the way we watch television has been fundamentally changed.
In the 1970s, watching tv was a social and scheduled thing. If my mom wanted to watch the new episode of M*A*S*H, she’d have to wait around until Sunday at 8:00 pm. When the time finally came, her entire family would crowd around their little tv set, turn the dial to CBS (one of the two channels), and wait for the theme music to come out of the little speakers. When the episode ended, they had to wait a whole week to see the next one. But that was alright because she could spend the next week sharing thoughts and opinions about the episode with friends while standing around the watercooler.
Nowadays, the experience of watching TV is a lot different. There’s no delayed gratification – want to watch a show – no problem – you can watch every episode of every season, whenever you want. I can watch seasons upon seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in my bed, only having to wait seconds before the next episode plays. All of this is happening while my sister is watching something else in her room, and my parents are watching something else downstairs. Additionally, because of the sheer amount of shows and services, it is almost impossible to talk about what you’re watching and be sure your friends have seen it.
The 21st Century has changed tv from a social activity into a solitary one. We’ve replaced appointment television with hours of binge-watching, and water cooler talks with social media rants. For a while it seemed like TV was destined to remain a solitary activity, but the pandemic has changed that.
When the coronavirus pandemic began in March, the world was forced apart. Due to restrictions and health and safety guidelines, people were no longer allowed to see their friends and family. Going out to restaurants or old hangouts became out of the question, and everyone was relegated to their house for months. Despite the distance, people found something to bring them together. That’s right, television.
With hours on our hands and nothing to do, Netflix soon became everybody’s best friend. People were consuming years worth of television and were finally catching up on their lengthy must watch-lists. It seems like everyone would stay and do that on their own but, because no one was allowed to interact with anyone outside of their house, tv watching soon became a family affair. Everyone gravitated to the living room to dip into that new season of Schitt’s Creek or to watch the newest Netflix Original series.
When the harshest of lockdowns were lifted, everyone emerged from their houses and binge-watching patterns; eager to get back to socialising and safely hanging out with friends. However, this presented another challenge. The most frequently asked question upon engaging in backyard socially-distanced hangouts turned out to be, “so, what have you been doing?”
Reluctantly, people began sharing their tales of holing up in their basement to finish seasons of new shows in just a few days. Instead of being met with harsh judgement or exasperation, people responded with enthusiasm; excitedly sharing the shows they managed to comb through during their own quarantine.
Suddenly, it seemed like there was a whole network of people dedicated to sharing their television experiences. Zoom calls were dedicated to exchanging television shows, and discussing the ones already seen. Movie and TV nights were organized for season finales; people watching together over Zoom or Discord and from the comfort of their own bed. Something that had become a solitary thing, had become one of the main things keeping us social.
Now, when I think of TV, one of the first things that pops into my head is my movie nights with friends. The time I have spent with my family watching old favourites like The West Wing. The conversations that have been sparked due to a weird opinion of an episode. I think of TV in the way my mom thought of it, as a social thing.
This pandemic may have forced us apart physically but we all stuck together socially, and TV was a big part of the glue that held us together. It has once again become a social activity, something we can share with friends and family. And, I hope that, when we all go back to our normal lives free of forced isolation, it stays that way.