Rhythms and plasticity: television temporality at home

Irani, L., Jeffries, R., and Knight, A. Rhythms and plasticity: television temporality at home. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 14 (October 2010), 621–632. [PDF]


This work focuses on new temporalities of media consumption in the home as enabled by new media technologies. The authors conducted in-home interviews and diary study with 14 households over two weeks. They found many instances of the classic image of television temporality, namely families relaxing together in front of the television. They also found examples of time-shifting to adjust broadcasts to fit one’s agenda. However, they also found a range of complex temporal patterns that sit between these two extremes.

They found many instances of rhythmic television watching. These are subject to change and are negociated. When made visibles these are a source for social coordination. DVR technologies allowed people flexibility in the times they watched television.

They found that rhythms might span across households. However, while most of the previous literature focused on the synchronous nature of these social events, they found instances of watching television independently at individually convenient times that still sustained the rhythm of the collective discussion experiences.

They also found accounts of “plastic” television watching. Plastic time activities are the variable, ad hoc time that fits between or along with other activities. On Demoand cable television allowed users to browse lists of shows, find one that fit into one’s anticipated amount of time, and immediately begin watching. This kind of television would also allow users to skip not relevant or interesting content or to watch more episodes of a series of interest.

The study concludes with interesting and relevant design implications:

1) the design and support of temporal awareness may support the sociality of television. Design that support asymnchronous sociality might also support some users keep up with television shows.

2) on demand TV might support plastic time by having a selection of very short video segments;

3) recommender systems would benefit from sense of timing and social awareness and realizing that timing might be as important as the stories or genres presented.

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