These days, we spend a lot of time on screen. iphone, ipad, computer, laptop, tv and from time to time the big screen in a cinema. There are screens in the mall, blaring out council messages, screens on King George Square with free-to-air tv, screens in the lift, screens in the office, screens in the Gallery, screens on the QPAC lawn. We use screen for entertainment, staying in touch, learning, working, creating and finding our way. Children today are born digital natives.
In 1969, when I was only two, I had my first cinema experience. Disney’s first animated full-length movie production of Cinderella from 1950 had finally come to the big screen in my home town. (Or perhaps it returned, but distribution was a differently slow game then.) I don’t remember anything: I curled up in the deep soft seat and fell asleep in the dark. I woke up in a puddle. The next screening would be a wet experience for someone.
My father was an early adopter of technology. In 1960 in Denmark, there were 8 television sets for every 100 people with an average of 3.2 hours of programming broadcast each day. As a 19-year-old man, my father bought the first television set in his rural community in Lundfod, so he could watch the Olympic Games in Rome. He still lived at home on the farm and instead of paying board, he would pay installments on the black and white television he bought on credit. Rather than peering through the window at the electrical store in town or at the pub, he could follow the Olympic Games from the couch. The novelty attracted friends who came to watch the test picture for hours, he reckoned.
In 1974, my father bought a colour television so he could see the World Cup in full colour. While football shirts had adapted to black and white television so you could recognise your favorite team without difficulty, actually seeing the game in colour was almost like being in the stadium. Like a reverse Wizard of Oz experience. From then on, long Saturday afternoons in our living room were blue-green with the Premier league games, the air filled with the rise and fall of the roar of fans in the stadium. I was really not that interested and still am not keen on televised sport. Except when Denmark plays international games. But that is a completely different motivation.
Despite my father’s enthusiasm for new technology, my childhood was not overwhelmed by television. Up until 1988, there was only one broadcaster with one channel. Danmarks Radio. If you lived in Copenhagen, you might be able to watch television from Sweden or if you lived close enough to the German border you might be able to tune in to three German channels. My grandparents in Jelling were close enough, and we sometimes watched dubbed American Westerns. ‘How awful to watch John Wayne speak German,’ my mum would howl. She was an English teacher and had a particular affinity with the English language. Danmarks Radio did not dub and before I could read, and some time after, she would read the subtitles aloud for me and my big brother. We loved this for more reasons than just understanding the plot of the movie.
Where I grew up in Herning, we were limited to just the one channel. Since 1951, special productions were dedicated to children. Children’s television was from 9.30 to 10.00 in the morning and 19.00 to 19.30 in the evening, except on Friday afternoon, when youth programming ran from 16.00 to 18.00. Between the morning children’s show and the afternoon show was the test picture – in colour.
Today we can turn the television on and be rewarded with a multitude of channels that broadcast 24/7. Even more: the very idea of having to wait for a program to come on is now foreign to us. We can access, buy, download or stream almost everything our heart desires for watching right now on our computer, smart tv, ipad or phone. Waiting for the afternoon show on a Friday is not something young people do these days. Hand them the ipad and they will find their favourite show on YouTube. When I visited Copenhagen in 2013, my two-year-old nephews happily sat still to watch Lucky Luke shows on the ipad (in whatever language my brother would find). They will grow up digital natives.
I don’t remember the last time I turned on the television to watch a show when the broadcaster was screening it. We tried Quickflix for a while, but found it too cumbersome, thanks to the draconian restrictions on parallel importing resulting in movies only available on dvd posted to you. I am a fan of ABC iView and SBS On Demand and apple tv is their perfect match. You might call it impatience, instant gratification and inability to anticipate. You might even call it narrow casting. For my money, it just means I don’t have to wait for the sport programs or commercials to end or watch dubbed movies or monocultural, bland programs.
Instead I can watch programming I find stimulating, informative and entertaining, when I am able. I watch a lot of quality Australian content and non-Hollywood international content, in particular Danish movies are regular in my home and particularly relevant to me culturally. The time I spend on the television screen is quality time that I treasure.
How about you? How has the way you have interacted with screen media changed?