(Remote) Control and the ego

16 02 2009

Rosen, C. (Fall 2004/Winter 2005). The Age of Egocasting. The New Atlantis, Number 7. 51-72. Retrieved February 15, 2009 from http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-age-of-egocasting.

In her article for The New Atlantis, “The Age of Egocasting,” Christine Rosen reviews a recent history of technologies that have made media consumption more convenient and personal — too a fault. “By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised,” she says. “They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish.” The technologies Rosen refers to, includes:

The remote control: Zenith engineer Robert Adler said in his remote control patent: “It is highly desirable to provide a system to regulate the receiver operation without requiring the observer to leave the normal viewing position.” Basically, if people could chose to be immobile while enjoying entertainment, they would. The remote control was the birth of mainstream entertainment convenience.

DVRs: DVRs (like TiVo) have given us even greater control over television viewing than the remote because we can now choose our programming. Only 4 percent of homes had DVRs when Rosen’s article was published in 2004. According to a Nielsen report, 27 percent of all U.S. households have DVRs as of November 2008. For the week of January 5-11, 2009, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy had the largest audience via DVR viewing with 4.6 million viewers via DVRs. The adoption rate is growing and DVRs are quickly becoming mainstream.

Digital music players: Popularized by the iPod, digital music players have delivered on giving people choice for music entertainment. Whereas cassette players before them allowed people to create “mixtapes” to customize the order in which they played music, digital music players enable instant gratification by enabling instant access to a library only limited to the size of the lister’s music library. Rosen cited price to be a barrier to adoption when she wrote the article, but Apple sold more than 11 million iPods in its fourth quarter of 2008. Combine that with the notion of steady competition at lower price points than iPods, and it’s easy to see that digital music players have become a common entertainment technology.

All of these technologies follow the same trend: Choice is king.

And people want to crown themselves with control over their content. Rosen calls this egocasting — “a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear.” Whereas this freedom to choose what and when we want to consume media could be seen as positive, Rosen takes a more negative approach, calling it “selective avoidance.” She makes the point that if we are too fragmented and narrow in our choices, we have less opportunity to be exposed to other points of view are a therefore less informed public.

What is the next mainstream technology that will bring choice and convenience, perhaps to a fault? I’d argue the smartphone.

Most people today are already used to carrying at most three items with them: keys, a “dumb” phone and wallet (or purse). The smartphone can be all of these. New cars are already keyless. It’s only a matter of time before homes are. With Internet access on a smartphone, you soon will be able to complete any banking transaction you could with a credit card, and probably more. Lastly, smartphones are innately communication technologies, and on most of today’s phone people have access to some combination of voice, VOIP, SMS, MMS, IM and email.

If people are so enamored by nearly unlimited music or video selections of a digital media player today, then that should play to the success of smartphones, because they have multimedia capabilities, too. The only thing I can think of that a smartphone can’t do today is, ironically, be a TV remote control.

Questions for class:

  • What other technologies can you think of have catered to the ego (vs. convenience)? Have they succeeded, failed, or evolved into something different?
  • With regard to remote controls, DVRs and digital media players… Do you own one or all, and how has that changed your media consumption habits? Are those changes positive or negative?

See Robert Adler at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCV4C4AwUj4 (This video can not be embedded.)

  • At 18:00 “How was the remote control first received by the public?”
  • At 25:00 “What will become of the remote control?”



Apple reports fourth quarter results. (October 21, 2008). Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2008/10/21results.html.

Goetzl, D. (November 4, 2008). DVR Usage Tops 30% In Major Markets. Media Daily News. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=94130.

Gorman, B. (January 6, 2009). Grey’s Anatomy has most DVR viewers, 90210 has greatest share of viewing by DVR. TV by the Numbers. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://tvbythenumbers.com/2009/01/26/greys-anatomy-has-most-dvr-viewers-90210-has-greatest-share-of-viewing-by-dvr/11582.




9 responses

17 02 2009
17 02 2009

I like your self introduction in the beginning of the presentation. It makes the presentation formal, respectful and complete.
The questions raised in the end of presentation are very good for discussion. As the topic is regarding to ego, the questions asked in the presentation are encourging people to answer with ego.
Good job!

17 02 2009

Paolo, thanks for introducing this interesting survey in a very brief presentation. I agree that we should open our perception to other channels as well as the ones we usually choose. For the purpose of convenience, we are loosing the track of heteregonic world out of us I believe.

18 02 2009

Digital cameras give us freedom to control, too. Some film cameras and entry-level cameras provides auto model. Then more sophisticated cameras and DSLRs provide manual function. They also build the ego more than convenience.
Nice slides and questions.Thanks.

18 02 2009

Paolo, that was a really good presentation and I was really impressed. Your slides went well with your presentation, you went from your notes to the slide seamlessly, you were very well prepared. I really enjoyed the questions you asked us all as well.

18 02 2009

Paolo – I disagree with her contention that choice = less exposure to the new. One you’ve made a choice there so many ways to branch off into tangential stuff (i.e. ads, hyperlinks, blogrolls) sending you down a rabbit hole into new stuff.

PS The guy in this YouTube claims to be using his I-phone to control his TV and lights. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH6I9xPJ7OE

18 02 2009


Great job summarizing Rosen and then extending the argument into new technologies like the smartphone. Smart.

I also liked how structured your presentation is and how well-prepared your discussion questions were.


21 02 2009

Paolo- this was a really interesting presentation and you did a great job. I can see Rosen’s perspective, but it seems a little extreme to me. I think people are able to be informed despite the ability to choose what to listen to. Very fun discussion topic. Thanks!

22 02 2009

Hi Paolo! You did a great job bringing the reading around to making it relevant to the class. It sounds to me like the article is a bit out-there in terms of connecting remote control devices to egotistical needs. I think remote control use is based on convenience — and convenience is not always based on egos.
Good job!

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