Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Generation Gap of Interactivity

I attended a live television broadcast the other day - the governor of Ohio came to the southeastern part of the state to hear ideas about how to make the school funding formula more equitable and understandable. A discussion worthy of live television.

Here's the thing though: the host rather half-heartedly asked viewers to email their responses during the broadcast to the governor as part of the broadcast's interactivity. However, none of the emails ever made it to to the governor. 

So what makes this interactive? As far as I could tell, it was still uni-directional transmission of information. 

The other thing that struck me as I sat in the audience was how carefully orchestrated the event was. Now I know television is rarely done live, off the cuff - this was a major criticism of Barack Obama and his reliance on teleprompters - but he did in the end agree to those town hall meetings. 

The entire broadcast wasn't scripted, just the part where the governor explained the current funding formula for Ohio's school districts, and then he listened to responses from the audience. But the average age of people in the audience must have been 50 (and probably would have been higher if it hadn't been for me and the 3 other thirty somethings in the audience.) 

I came away with this realization: the technology was not being effectively utilized. The public station, who organized the whole thing, and taped it, didn't engage its viewers through its website. The governor's staff had a website, which they directed people to, but in the interest of a partnership, couldn't the public station, and its website, have been leveraged more? The conversation ended at the moment they hit the stop button on the cameras - and it got me thinking how public broadcasting could be more of a tool of a civic engagement, and revitalize itself, if it could figure out how to connect the audience with its content via the web. 

There are stations, and programs, already doing this - but it just hit me as I sat there, watching the traditional model of "interactive" media, that we have a generation gap about what interactive even means. And of course, one could argue that the purpose of the forum wasn't to make it interactive - it was to allow the governor the opportunity to hear from people he doesn't normally hear from (although I really question that - the forum sounded like an education conference with the familiar refrains of calls for all day kindergarden, lengthening the school year, and redistributing taxes more equitably to fund more impoverished areas.)

Clearly, public broadcasting has the ability to pull off what I saw this weekend. But I wonder what it will take for them to take it to the next level of "interactivity". 


Anonymous said...

Sounds like interactivity was not the goal... Presenting an error-free broadcast was the goal, which means (as you implied) the station doesn't "get it."

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