Why instant media gratification is the New Normal – and we should all be excited

A generation is growing up for whom the TV schedule and patient waits to get hold of a book is an alien concept. What new art with they create in their new context?

It’s Saturday night. Three decades ago, when I was a child, Saturday night TV was a Big Deal. The TV companies – all three of them – threw everything they could at the line-up, and you watched it or you missed out. In particular, I was glued to Doctor Who in the early evening, because if I missed it, there was a fair chance I would never get to see that episode again.

My daughter will never understand that. She’s not even two yet, but she understands – completely – that she can pick and choose the TV she wants. Room on the Broom, or a YouTube nursery rhyme that she loves – the only barrier to her having the entertainment she wants is parental silliness, not TV schedules.

Choice – and instant gratification – is the New Normal, and it’s snuck up on us in stages. My daughter will be able to catch up on the entire history of TV series she likes via streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. The only way I could catch up on the past of Dr Who was to save up my pocket money, and head down to Mr Whiteman’s shop in town – and hope he had a novelisation of an old story in stock. If not, it was a wait of a week or two, while he had the book ordered in for me.

One click gratification

Now, if I fancy a book, a few clicks later and it’s there on my Kindle, ready for me to read. At a push – or if it’s a great picture book for my daughter – I might have to wait for the next day, through Amazon Prime delivery. A few weeks for a book? I’m sure my daughter will laugh at that. And as for waiting for an ordered record – well, even buying and waiting for an MP3 to download is beginning to feel archaic in the age of Spotify and on-demand music streaming.

The realty of instant media gratification is here – it is the New Normal. But the people with the hands on the tillers of power grew up in the Old Normal. Their businesses and workflows are built around the idea of scheduled programming, scheduled series releases, and prime time TV. In many cases, we’re still funnelling content designed for the Old Normal through the new media channels. Our TV shows are designed around week-by-week serialisation, not binge watching. Our books still pad themselves out to traditional publication length. Musicians still compile albums.

The schedule-free generation

I can’t wait to see what my daughter’s generation do with the New Normal for media. When they’re not obsessed by hitting novel-length, or pulling together the requisite tracks for an album, or making a 90 minute plus movie, or hitting Saturday night prime time TV, what will they create. What new forms of entertainment and education will emerge from the minds of those not habituated to schedules and patience?

This is the New Normal, and all bets are off. It’s change, disruption and excitement – and nothing is more likely to drive a new wave of creativity.