The Internet Killed the Video Star

While there might be plenty of excellent reasons to stop watching television – like books and booze and riots and exercise – for me, it happened simply because I discovered something better. It was called The Internet, and it evolved entirely within my lifetime from a slow, confusing, blinky-bleepy thing that boring people used to contact other boring people about maths, into the single most satisfying and efficient distraction that humanity had ever devised to waste my life.

Suddenly I didn’t have to show up to my sofa at a specific time of day to bother my brain-cells with whatever other people had decided to schedule for them. Now I had access to an infinite amount more everything than I was previously aware the universe could contain, and my interaction with this expansive abundance of knowledge and fun was entirely guided by my own agenda; my interests, my preferences, my curiosity, my time, and my attention-span. The wacky days of ‘channel-hopping’ were over. Now I could do anything: learn guitar, look at my house from space, follow a revolution, or just watch Berlusconi get smacked in the gob by a flying model church on endless repeat, and all from the same bum-worn seat.

While I was gaining complete control over how I could piss away my existence, however, TV was still being tightly directed by the same handpicked huddle of fuddy-duddies whose jobs were to keep as many people watching as possible, except suddenly they had to compete with this Big New Unknown Thing, that could show you everything TV could and porn at any time of the day it wanted. As budgets dwindled in this hostile, volatile and wank-happy environment, executives invariably took fewer risks, and increasingly carved out the niches for millennia of safe, low-budget, populist shit like Britain’s Got a Pie or whatever.  In a decade, it seemed, mainstream TV morphed from a cool, experimental chef concocting exotic new recipes that punters could sample from a dynamic menu, into a sycophantic grandmother aggressively stuffing people with endless cake in the hope they won't stop visiting at Christmas even though she's actively demented and smells like an old chair.

Meanwhile, the Internet was too busy YouTubing its Twitter all over your Facebook to notice, and all of mankind’s best ideas were competing and collaborating fairly in the same space for the first time in history: the capitalist drive for progress and profit, the socialist equality of access, the democratic ideal of participation, all of which settled happily in the playground of innovation generated by an anarchistic free-market system. Everything you ever wanted ever swiftly arranged itself, and algorithms efficiently replaced people as the best gatekeepers to finding it.

Television, then, might well be safe while the BBC is still giving David Attenborough shedloads of cash and cameras, and American behemoths like HBO keep sending out slave-boats to capture all of the best scriptwriters in the world, but things are going to change. TV has no future competing with the Internet, after all, but at best could hope to blag its way into the cyber-orgy, even for the opportunity to tickle prostate for scraps. If it can’t do whatever-that-probably-means successfully, we could all be left staring at the big box in the corner of the living room, not quite sure what it is or was, but swearing to Google it used to have a painting on it or something.