How computing killed the television star

Updated: 2012-06-06 09:22

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)

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There's a revolution going on in my living room. The focus has shifted, away from TV and toward all the other screens that we have.

How computing killed the television star

Like most people I know, passively sitting in front of the TV is a thing of the past, and we're just as likely to be waving a motion-control remote at it in some new gaming universe. Even watching a soccer match is a multimedia event, as I get real-time comment from The Guardian on the laptop and converse with friends on the phone's free messenger WhatsApp.

As a family, we simply don't have the time or inclination to watch much terrestrial or even satellite TV. While the Spring Festival Gala, blue-chip events like the Olympics and our weekly Friday night video (usually a download that I put on a USB) still unites us around the tube, the rest of the time it is secondary to the mobile phone, iPad and computer screens.

My 2-year-old loves slinging angry birds into houses or slashing fruit, while my 4-year-old is rapidly leaving me behind on the lower levels of games like Cut the Rope, To-Fu and Jetpack.

I don't teach them to play. Rather, I leave the phone somewhere and it disappears with them into some quiet corner of the apartment, where they fiddle with their thumbs (literally) for 20 minutes or so, before finding some other diversion. Needless to say, I can never find my phone.

My laptop has been commandeered, too. The older kid has worked out how to open it up, get online and search for "Dora" from Dora the Explorer on Tudou and Youku, which screen the kiddy show. She has also asked me to bookmark the cartoon Tu Tu and Justin Bieber.

I can turn the TV into a screen with Apple TV and a few mods, and just stream and play around with the computer at the same time. But that doesn't fit in with the fact that the family has different needs, and more screens provide more variety.

We're reasonably happy about this. I don't have to watch kids' stuff or Desperate Housewives reruns, and they don't have to watch soccer. And there's no fighting over the remote. It's a game changer.

Meanwhile, my wife has been fighting a rearguard battle to control screen time and is on the side of a group of British doctors who claim using smartphones and iPads around the kids is driving them into a lifelong dependency on screens, which they call "passive parenting" and a form of neglect.

While I usually agree with her (I have to), my answer is that if they're not tech literate, they're techilliterate. And that's not going to help them prepare for the future.

Like Ned Ludd a couple of centuries previously, my wife will win the battle, but she is unlikely to win the war. Technology is part of a kid's childhood, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

The latest stats show that the "Apple Generation" is wedded to tech. A recent China Daily article quoted a survey of more than 5,000 primary school children in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou suggesting an incredible 90 percent played Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds on iPads and cell phones, while 82 percent logged onto the Internet daily.

"It's the End of Televison as We Know It" - which incidentally was the title of an IBM document seven years ago predicting that the singular authority of TV and its programming would fragment. The paper further suggested the market would split into one segment that remained "largely passive in the living room" while "the other will force radical change in business models in a search for anytime, anywhere content through multiple channels".

It looks like the future has arrived.

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