Losing the ‘we’ in TV

“The truth is in the whole” might be some of Hegel’s most cited words, and although this phrase has inspired lots of philosophy, art and theory that followed, it seems like current younger generations, particularly known as millennials, didn’t quite get the memo. Apart from infamously taking pictures of nicely arranged dishes until they go cold, stereotypically acting like Wi-Fi is more of a primary need than water, and worshipping Steve Jobs like he created the planet earth instead of the Iphone, millennials are also widely known for their lack of goals and direction. The internet is full of articles, interviews and statistics pointing out this particular problem. Bosses and managers complain more and more frequently about the difficulties in having millennials as employees; mental health issues, like depression and burn-outs, are widely referred to as being epidemic, and switching between studies or jobs is becoming closer and closer to being the rule, rather than an exception.  

A common explanation for this phenomenon is that the generations before had a more collectively, and clearly set out plan. For instance, for most baby boomers getting married, a stable income and having some kids formed the most logical direction in which one should go. Over time, however, these values and commonplaces have become less and less obvious, and more and more one of an almost unlimited amount of different options. This overwhelming level of freedom can make it incredibly hard to even begin thinking about the future, let alone identifying one single passion or aspiration, and since, subsequently, this aspiration will be different for everyone, the millennials’ view on what to gain from life has resulted in being heavily heterogenous. This polarization and pillarization of ideals is not only seen in mental health issues or a lack in financial and career-bound success, but also in other parts of our environment. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify both reflect the millennial’s continuing search for direction by both their form and users.

First of all, the loss of collectivity becomes evident when looking at the ways in which one can listen or view content. Contrary to now old-fashioned TV and records, people are no longer bound to timed episodes or albums. Where in earlier days people had to go to a music store for their music and were limited to buying records –that is, apart from singles- any band’s product was served as an entire album, whereas nowadays anyone can make a very personal, divergently customized playlist, in which singular songs have become way more central. Something similar can be said for TV-shows. Episodes used to be scheduled on set dates and times, forcing all viewers to collectively anticipate cliffhangers and suspense. Netflix, however, gives its users the ability to watch all of its shows in whatever tempo and at whatever time they please, making its content less of a collective experience and more of an isolated or divided one. Although these changes may seem small, they are another example of the decrease in large-scale shared activities and the increase of personal, individual ones.  

This ties in with the diminishing presence of strongly marked out communities and subcultures. As another media-giant, YouTube, showed quite concretely a few weeks ago, when its 2018 Rewind became the most disliked video on its platform, people are no longer appreciating – and therefore actively participating – in the direction or path a certain community is taking, seeking to watch only the content they desire, not interested in that which pleases their neighbors. Netflix has brought about a similar change: where TV watchers are bound to certain channels, each possessing a certain personality and reputation – those that watch BBC don’t come close to MTV, and vice versa – people that use Netflix can arrange any set of shows and movies for themselves. The same goes for music. Just a few decades ago people that listened to Rock ‘n Roll would have more convergent social environments, hanging out in bars with others who liked six minute long guitar solos and hoarse vocals and avoiding those that loved Sinatra. Spotify, however, with its vast, non-excluding range of different songs and compositions, has separated music from social context, making even the tango very accessible to any Iron Maiden fan.

These losses of collectivity, and subsequently communities, also mean a loss of direction. For any group of people that used to be bound by partially certain forms of art or entertainment, all has now become equally available. These communities not only used to have their own clear dresscodes, tastes in music, and ways of behavior, but also their own approaches to or philosophies about life. These are now getting lost, which results in this lack of direction. Millennials are no longer told or what to do or driven by both their social and cultural environment, leaving all choices totally up to them, making life, especially its early stages, sometimes feel like an overwhelming struggle. So next time you’re done with school, life, your friends, and all of the other pressures that are resting on your shoulders, and see no other options than to lay down in your bed, cover yourself in layers thick of blankets and pillows, and watch Netflix for the upcoming seventeen hours, maybe try to battle through. Although those series and films might seem to comfort you more than the best mattresses in the world, they might also only enlarge your problem. Remember, the truth is in the whole, not the individual.

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