It is becoming increasingly harder to watch an entire movie without getting distracted. At home, you keep checking your phone for no apparent reason. At movie theaters, others just do that for you – don’t you just hate it when the blinding light of a cell phone screen hits you from a sit nearby? I feel like a deer in the headlights.

Culture evolves over time, changing human habits and practices. Technology is a human practice, and it is deemed to evolve with us too.
When it comes to culture industry, the conversation is more relevant than ever before. Technology is changing the very foundations of our cultural practices. Change is inevitable, and not necessarily undesirable. What it does provide is a chance to analyze where are we standing, and where do we want to go next – this is what critical thinking is all about. Moreover, critical thinking provides an opportunity to consider how willingly we are walking towards the destination that sometimes looks so inescapable.

We have come a long way since motion pictures were first invented by the Lumiere brothers who, by the way, did not even consider their invention posed any commercial value. In the 1920s cinema was a huge success, but intellectuals deemed it “an empty pastime for the uneducated masses”. Today, there is consensus that motion pictures are a form of art.

In 2020, there is more than one way to watch a movie. The death of cable tv has been long foreshadowed, only to be topped by the emergence of a gazillion new streaming services. In this scenario, movie-theater attendance is at an all-time low.

Even award shows are starting to understand the need to please a new industry. Last January 5th, Ricky Gervais hosted the 77th edition of the Golden Globes. His opening roast speech was incendiary, politically incorrect and extremely funny. At one point, he even addresses the new content-watching habits.

“No one cares about movies anymore. No one goes to cinema, no one really watches network TV. Everyone is watching Netflix. This show should just be me coming out, going, “Well done Netflix. You win everything. Good night.” But no, we got to drag it out for three hours. You could binge-watch the entire first season of Afterlife instead of watching this show. That’s a show about a man who wants to kill himself ’cause his wife dies of cancer and it’s still more fun than this (…).”

The comedian understands that audiences are shifting towards home entertainment more than ever, and Hollywood is having a hard time keeping up.

In the meantime, artificial intelligence is taking over the movie industry. Warner Bros. has become the latest studio to embrace AI, by signing a deal with a company named Cinelytic. But what does Cinelytic do? According to the company’s website,

“Cinelytic supports studios and independent content companies to make faster and better informed greenlight, acquisition, and release decisions.”

Cinelytic mainly deals with marketing decisions, but this seems a strong precedent. Moreover, these kind of decisions are bound to affect the content studios produce.

The very nature of human beings is social. We are gregarious, that is undeniable. However, the concept of “becoming social” that technology is applying may have little to do with actual socializing (and more with something else). The following two examples explore that direction.

 

  • Facebook has recently released Portal, a device that means yet another attempt to capture the video segment. Back in 2018, the device’s first generation experienced a lukewarm reception amidst data privacy scandals. What with the platform’s reputation, you cannot expect the public to instantly embrace a device that has an always-listening microphone and always-watching camera. Portal has a few features and purposes: a video phone, a story time app, a rudimentary YouTube browser. You can stream music, you can see who’s knocking on your front door, you can use it as a digital photo frame. Facebook is marketing Portal has a home device, a device that will make you feel as if you are sharing the room with your loved ones who are far away. And although Portal cannot play video from many popular sources just yet, it seems to be the company’s next step. If the future of Portal lies in home entertainment, I can only imagine what kind of experience this Trojan horse of a device may provide
  • Fortnite live events are a whole other municipality. Epic, the game’s developing company, has once said: “We believe this is the future of games.“ Indeed, Fortnite runs on all platforms and is the hottest game right now.
    But Fortnite is much more than a game – it is an environment in itself. Almost a year ago, American dj Marshmello made history by performing in the very first in-game concert. Millions (the ones that weren’t already playing the game) tuned in to watch the feature presentation.https://twitter.com/marshmellomusic/status/1091806371849203712

    Live events are the actual core of Fortnite. The game is actually divided into seasons, just like a TV show, with grand finales to mark every ending. In this context, Fortnite has sealed powerful partnerships. Only last December, Fortnite Debuted an Exclusive Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker After the video played, Star Wars characters and imagery were available for players to interact with.

“Fortnite’s live events give players a unique experience that no other video game has yet to reproduce. For a few minutes, millions of players share the same experience and come away with big changes to the popular video game.”
(Cnet.com)

There is an undeniable sense of connection here. Also, a big chance to acquire some nice FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome. The game is a generational experience, but also a revolutionary way to consume content.
The other day, my 11-year-old nephew walked me through the game. Some ten minutes into the game, the deep voice of a male grown-up startled me: it was the father of my nephew’s best friend, who was absolutely unaware that his son’s microphone was on. I asked my nephew how many private conversations had he heard this way, and he said “tons – nothing embarrassing though”. We laughed it off, but none of us spoke for some time after that.

When human beings think of socializing, they think of human connection and understanding. During the 1990’s, in a scenario increasingly defined by immigration and globalization, technology has provided a way of shortening distances and keeping us together. Our current times are very different though, for it is now about something else.
The devices we are presented with today are (if you allow me a little play on words) just that, ever present. Always watching, always listening. In a permanent state of close proximity with technology, oversharing becomes almost inevitable. In this context, “becoming social” means bonding with bots that monetize our entire existence.