Second Screening: Breathing New Life into the Living Room

third screen?

It’s one of the more popular narratives spun by technophobes and the perennially grim: the proliferation of mobile devices is facilitating an erosion of the very fabric of civilisation.

Naysayers delight in the perceived paradox that all of those social media platforms designed to bring people together are instead driving them apart. The online ego, they warn, is eclipsing the collective conscience via the promotion of a life lived inches from a pixelated screen.

Well, no. Return the pitchforks to the 18th century, because a study released by communications regulator Ofcom indicates something quite to the contrary. Second screen viewing, which describes the use of “companion devices” like smart phones and tablets whilst watching TV, is encouraging a return to the living room.

Leading the charge back into the shared domestic space are, surprisingly, teenagers. Companion devices in tow, they are eschewing the fragmentary architecture of the traditional private bedroom TV and reintegrating into the family fold.

While it’s tempting to claim at this juncture that the mediated experience of the second screen hardly represents a reintegration, Ofcom are quick to point out that parents too are getting in on the act. Of the 91% of adults who view their main TV set at least once a week, 49% are dividing their attention between the main attraction and their companion device.

The family space of today, then, is one characterised by the coincidence of domestic propinquity and global conversation. Companion devices are encouraging togetherness, not atomisation.

A typical instance might see living room chatter recede for a moment as a programme’s chosen hashtag appears on screen, effectively signalling that online conversation is about to commence. With 25% of those adults who divide their attention between two screens also using their devices to share their views on programmes, all signs indicate that the integration of social media with TV has been a success. But the fact that it also might be breathing new life into the living room seems an unexpected, albeit quite pleasant, side effect.

The bygone era of family harmony - recall the rose tinted image of parents and children assembled dutifully around the wireless - is less an anachronism than it is an augmented reality, then.

Photo (cc) dilchaw.