The Disconnect / by Chris Weigl

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day.  We hadn’t really talked since he graduated about a year and a half ago and it was great to catch up and connect even though we’re in two different industries now (he runs the social media platform for a start-up out in San Francisco while I still live in the world of Academia.)  What was strange about this conversation was our shared fascination with the idea of Influencers dinners (influencers dinners were started by Jon Levy as a way for people to bond regardless of their jobs or backgrounds.)  Neither of us are very social.  I abhor the conventional party where I’m forced to listen to stories about people’s jobs and how little things have changed in their lives.  Inevitably, when someone asks about me and what I’m doing I go into business mode and start talking about how excited I am about whatever project we’re doing.  That’s the disconnect.  Most people don’t enjoy their jobs, but what I do is more than a job and I believe more than a business; it’s a purpose.

I work seven days a week.  I used to think that I didn’t need any off time, but then I got realistic.  I take a few hours off during the day to play with my dogs and maybe watch an hour or so of Netflix, but then my mind wanders back to the list of tasks that I’ve created for the week.  I am my own boss, so I set my own goals and arrange my own tasks, which is good because when I work for someone else I’m a terrible employee.  Having an open schedule where I can arrange my day how I see fit allows me to work on all the little things I want to improve without having someone breathing down my neck about everything.  It also forces me to do the things that I don’t want to do, but I get to do them on my terms, which I’ve found makes the process a little easier.  Sometimes I spend an entire day editing a video, other days I get some writing done and when I’m really lucky I can go through my tasks and knock them out in the order of influence they’ll have in my life.  That’s a great feeling right there.

One of the reasons that I reached out to this old friend was because I had a problem that I couldn’t solve.  It wasn’t a little problem.  I had a revelation of sorts, but I didn’t quite know what to do with it.  I laid out my problem.  I don’t like TVs.  I think they’re big, bulky and don’t serve the kind of purpose that something else could if it were introduced into the TV market.  My company is devoted to creating commercial-free TV and finding a path towards new, original and sustainable programming for the future.  I know it sounds a lot like Netflix or Hulu, but this is where I realized we could make our mark; Netflix and Hulu have crappy deals with networks and production companies that allow the producer not the viewer to choose what programming they have access to.  Netflix has close to 150 million subscribers and they haven’t figured out a way to leverage deals so that the consumer can decide what they want to watch.  That’s just absurd and what makes it absurd is the TV.

A quick course in TV history: the TV was developed by Filo T. Farnsworth in the 1930’s and sold by RCA in the 1940’s.  Farnsworth’s system for producing images relied on a scanning system.  He looked out at a cornfield and noticed how everything lined up in rows and thought that doing the same thing on a screen could turn radio into a visual medium and sure enough he was right.  Our problem today is that we operate largely on that same system.  We still get our stations from signals sent out by networks like the National Broadcasting Company (which was started by RCA to supply content to their newly minted TV.)  Granted, some of us still have cable and that’s unfortunate, but the rest of us rely on streaming services.  This made me ask the question: why are we using streaming services on TVs?  Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way?  TVs are big, bulky and don’t serve any other purpose than to deliver subpar content laden with ridiculous commercials to an audience that’s growing older and dying off.  Someone needs to find a mechanism other than a computer or phone that allows people to utilize streaming media, but also serves other functional purposes.

Around 2000, Gateway computers (remember them?) bet big on a new idea that seemed like it could revolutionize the marketplace.  They wanted to take the computer and use it to replace the television.  Gateway invested heavily in new technology for monitors, much of the same technology that led to the development of widescreen HDTVs.  The problem was that people didn’t buy into the concept of a computer replacing their TVs.  There were a number of reasons for this, but the big one was that there was no Netflix or comparable service that could deliver a catalog of programming to this device.  My question for my friend was: how could we create something that allowed you to watch streaming content pretty much on demand while remaining plugged into social media?  Tablets could be the answer if someone comes up with a foldable one that can expand out to around 42.”  The problem that I face as a consumer and ultimately this is the quagmire that I’m trying to make my way through right now is how can I watch my streaming content, my sports, check my Facebook and Twitter feeds and potentially do gaming too eventually.  That’s a big, loaded question that has a lot of obstacles laden in its premise.  Of course, I’m assuming here that such a device could be made, manufactured and sold at a reasonable price.  I’m also operating under the assumption that everyone would be willing to ditch their TVs which is anything but a foregone conclusion.  What I want people to think about though was his response to my question.  He said that we need to change the way we watch and process visual and textual images.

“Remember the opening of the Brady Bunch?”  He asked.  “There are nine boxes and eight of them are filled with the heads of members of the family.  That’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to do this and you’ll have to maintain everyone’s attention on one thing at the same time essentially making it all one interface.”

“What a fascinating answer,” I wrote back.

“No,” he said.  “What’s going to be interesting is how this thing is developed by companies and sold to consumers because that’s where people always wind up getting screwed.”

Another great response on his part which begs the question for our readers: how do we avoid getting screwed?