Remote hope


- by Adel Ziani

Adel Ziani believes mobile devices have fractured his family's TV viewing practices. He attempts to do something about it - even if it means watching his wife's favourite talent shows.

Consuming media is similar to dressing up. Some of us like to think that the clothes we pick are just a matter of personal preference. But this is only part of the story. In fact, the opinion of others plays a bigger role in our fashion decisions than we might like to admit. Likewise, the television shows we watch, movies we go to and music we listen to are heavily influenced by our social surroundings.

New technologies are presenting us with endless hours of media on a multitude of platforms. Making a choice in this environment is a maddening task. We have to navigate a complex matrix. What to watch, where to watch it and with whom.

This is how, not long ago, I found myself in my living room listening to a British comedy podcast on my phone, my wife streaming her favourite show on her tablet, while the children enjoyed Toy Story for the millionth time on the television set. There we were: three universes, three devices, one living room and one family. I couldn't help recalling the days of the remote control wars, with a sense of nostalgia. In those days, no matter who won the battle, with joy, indifference or rumbling anger, we always ended up watching the same thing.

I decided to take action! At first I was tempted to have television sets in each bedroom, this way we could all watch what we want, when we want. We could do that without imposing anything on anyone else. I quickly realised that such a move would radically affect our family life. My second thought was to switch off all devices, forcing much-needed physical social interaction. But that was never going to work, unless we went the whole way and joined an Amish community. Tired from my living room dilemma, I opted for the status quo.

Instead of trying to change reality or stop development, I chose to make more effort and show interest in my wife's talent shows and my children's fairytales. I have to admit, it was hard at the beginning. But those talent shows, I found, provide excellent conversation topics. I could engage with my wife at unprecedented levels. Also, children’s movies weren't that bad. They had sophisticated storylines and were actually very funny. I actually cried watching the latest Toy Story. What's more amazing is that I laughed and cried with my kids. On the other hand, sadly, neither my wife nor my children seem to be taken by my British satires.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy my own media; things that will probably not interest my immediate family. But I like to think if they ever show interest or curiosity, I could be a guide for that particular cultural niche.

The media we consume is a reflection of who we are. It doesn't define us, but it does give a starting point into discovering each other. Mass media has the role of informing, educating and entertaining us. Through this, it also creates cultural landmarks that are known and understood by most of us. Choosing a program over another is then a social behaviour. We do it for ourselves, but also for others.

Fragmented audiences needs not to translate to fragmented families or fragmented societies. Showing open-mindedness and curiosity might lead to better understanding. So make it your challenge, every now and then, to watch your most hated television show, listen to your nightmare radio presenter or read your dreaded newspaper. It might prove an excellent ice-breaker and starting point for the unlikely social discoveries.

Adel Ziani grew up in Algeria and lived in Europe before recently settling in Australia with his family. He is active in the Algerian community in Melbourne and visits the UMMA Mosque and Islamic Centre on a daily basis. Ziani has worked in customer services for the last eight years. He has worked as a journalist in the United Kingdom and is currently studying broadcast television. He has a strong interest in the role of television in community building and how broadcasting can be used to represent multicultural Australia.

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