We live in an era of a new media consumption model--the binge.
We stream whole seasons in a day and knock off DVD box sets in a week. DVRs and On-Demand services allow us to enjoy marathons of our current programming without (as many) ads or those pesky week-long waits between plot points. Spotify and iTunes playlists deliver our music to us in a neverending cycle.
And librarians are particularly responsible for making even books into objects of mass consumption--what else would you call our insistence that we cram as much reading as physically possible into each year? It’s bingeing at a slightly slower frame rate.
So what to make of this burgeoning trend? Is this a positive development, a negative one, or in between? And what role should libraries play in supporting or combating it?
I, for one, am excited about libraries’ ability to promote media-gulping. For one thing, since it’s what people are doing anyway, it’s great that libraries are already equipped to mesh with their behavior; many of us have got respectable runs of popular TV shows on DVD, ready for plowing through, and we already do a brisk business in DVD lending. Why pay for Netflix? (And if you want Netflix too, maybe your local library can help fill some of its frustrating online gaps.)
Beyond that, though, I think that media bingeing is actually a positive development, and librarians are in place to mainstream it and its benefits. My experience with reading, in particular, shows me that the longer a process is strung out, the more comprehension and command of detail suffers.
In an environment where even the most accessible of TV dramas operates on a serialized basis, and where your TV sitcom favorites undergo actual character growth and change across a season, watching TV is more like reading a novel than ever. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t really work with the traditional broadcast television model.
It’s been opined that Game of Thrones functions better as a season-by-season unit while some individual episodes suffer in isolation. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest the same applies for Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey...heck, schlocky Revenge and Scandal are often difficult to keep track of from week to week.
So maybe for some people, it’s optimal to wait for the end of the season or for the DVD release, either for the sake of aesthetic appreciation or for personal viewer comprehension. And again, who has those DVDs ready for free (and who is hot on the trail of various streaming access options)? Don’t make me spell it out for you!
So, bingeing is good and libraries promote it--but sensible consumption is a desirable outcome as well.
Sitting in your basement watching all of Breaking Bad is a closed circuit activity unless you internalize lessons learned, share opinions, and rejoin the community with new things to say and new perspectives to offer. Happily, the Internet provides opportunities for this kind of interaction in droves, and many consumers avail themselves of such things. But a lot do not.
Librarians have a responsibility to perform, model and instill the habits of conscientious media consumption. We need to write and post reviews, in our public and private lives both. We need to call out positive and negative examples of media citizenship--applaud diversity and inclusivity; decry stigma and exclusion. We must encourage our patrons to be canny consumers--introduce them to Goodreads and Getglue and IMDB message boards. Inspire them to become critics in their own lives.
If you want to get really crazy, promote the idea of tracking amounts and types of media consumption--with the goal of demonstrating growth in terms of amounts digested, the complexity of ideas encountered, and the types of genres and media in which fluency has been achieved.
Why promote all of this? Because watching TV and movies, reading books, and listening to music doesn’t have to be a totally solipsistic, zero-sum endeavor. Exposure to ideas and events should change us, and we should be able to recognize how it’s changing us--the better to place ourselves in relation to the world around us.
(Slightly off my desired track, but important to note: the library is a good place to be a media consumer without resorting to thievery Librarians need to make sure potential patrons know about the damage pirating material does, and not just in a self-interested “Don’t sue me, brah!” way. Pump up the library as a legit conduit in the media consumption pipeline, much safer and happier for everyone than torrents or Russian link aggregators.)
And at the end of the day, even if we can’t be THE player in binge media consumption, libraries can act as the great leveler--as we so often have. We can be the solid option for all those who can’t choose to own seven seasons of Lost. As always, it comes down to social justice, and equal access to entertainment is no less important an issue as access to research materials.
(Truly, say otherwise and I’ll fight you. Art is the way we know ourselves.)
I’m genuinely amped about librarians’ role in promoting this paradigm, and I hope I’ve been somewhat convincing on the matter. My fear is that some self-important members of the new crop of information professionals will decide that access to binge-worthy materials isn’t “critical” enough to dedicate resources to. I hope many will join me in talking up the import of this stuff as librarianship continues to evolve.