The Sciences

Alternating Current

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollAug 1, 2005 11:05 AM


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Don't be fooled into thinking that Internet pioneer Al Gore has been simply experimenting with facial hair while others talk him up for another Presidential campaign. No, he's been hard at work launching a new TV network: Current TV, scheduled to debut today. This is no video Air America, a liberal counterpoint to the RNC propaganda machine at Fox News. No, the hook here is style, not substance. From Current TV's manifesto:

There's plenty to watch on TV, but as a viewer, you don't have much chance to influence or contribute to what you see. This medium - the most powerful, riveting one we have - is still a narrow vision of reality rolled out in predictable 30-minute chunks. It's still a fortress of an old-school, one-way world. We want to bust it open. We're rethinking the way TV is produced, programmed, and presented, so it actually makes sense to an audience that's accustomed to choice, control, and collaboration in everything else they do. So, we're creating a network in short form. Whenever you tune in to Current, you'll see something amusing, inspiring or interesting. And then, three minutes later, you'll see something new. It'll be a video iPod stocked with a stream of short segments and set to shuffle.

Oh good. Because, when I turn on TV, my overwhelming impression has been that the typical American's attention span has become too darn long. Contemporary television encourages a contemplative, thoughtful mood, and it must be stopped. Far too many oppressive 30-minute chunks of programming to sit through. In the future, nothing will be longer than the length of an average pop song! In academia, just to take an example, the consequences will be substantial. Forget about students taking four courses per semester that drone on for hours at a sitting -- they will sift through two hundred distinct iLectures each week, on topical and exciting subjects of their own chosing, none over five minutes long and many taking just a single minute! Physics conferences will have twenty talks per hour, in which each speaker can choose to show either one picture or one equation. To ensure that the field doesn't grow stale and predictable, professors over the age of 35 will be hauled out back and shot. And the Harry Potter septology will be the last of those long-form "books" to be popular -- in the future, written materials will be prohibited from overflowing a single page. And will be printed in an oversize, "edgy" font. Also, in the future the only kind of food to be served in restaurants will be candy.

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