We worry about Social TV

I’m going to get the what-are-you-talking-about emails again. I know it. But I’m a little concerned these days about Social TV, what Wikipedia (yes, guys, I’m quoting Wikipedia), calls “a general term for technology that supports communication and social interaction in either the context of watching television, or related to TV content.” In other words, Social TV means that people will use their computers and other stuff to interact with the TV while they’re watching shows and such. You already see this on the news–tweets running in a crawl at the bottom while the talking heads ramble on. There’s also the viewer voting that some reality-shows use. Sometimes the interaction is interesting. So far most social TV efforts are lame or annoying. But the idea has great potential for community building, and I’m always all for that. How I would have loved speaking with other viewers while I was watching Season 3 of The Wire! Here’s my problem, though. Social TV is likely to make Boomers feel inadequate or inept, the emotions provoked by all the souped-up tech stuff that becomes integrated into our lives. I can hear the refrain: “LEAVE MY TV ALONE.” Yes, I know that Baby Boomers are the largest growing segment of Facebook users. But look at the actual numbers. Very few Baby Boomers use Facebook, and those that are on it are mostly there for the pictures. (You’re a Baby Boomer if you get this joke.) Yes, Boomers love Skype, because that’s all about the seeing the kids. And, yes, they’re using e-readers. They are also a big segment of the BlackBerry market, the smart phone of choice among professionals. Boomers are good with email. They invented it after all. Not so much the iPhone. Too much gadgetry I’ve been told. (I LOVE my iPhone.) I’m tech-y. The average Baby Boomer is not like me, eager to adopt anything new. The ones I talk to feel like there’s an excess of technology involved with TV viewing already. We learned to program our VCRs so the light stopped blinking at 12:00 a.m. Then we had to learn TiVO. And all the buttons on the remote. And memorize what channel Time Warner Cable has relegated CNN to this week. Boomers I speak with say they’ve been pushed too far. They’ve drawn the in the sand. I know this because I am trying to drag the Baby Boomer community into the social media world, and there’s not much interest. Most of my friends can’t see the point. Foursquare is downright scary, Twitter, they tell me, useless. As president of my college class, I’d love to start a Facebook page for us. But not many people in the class of 1974 have broached the social network yet.
At a Twitter conference last week (oh, I’ll explain later), a young man my son’s age referred to us Boomers as “the TV generation”–this after I tweeted something about remembering the first color TV. You know what? He’s right. TV was coming into its own as we were young, and matured with us. Of course, these days the writers are our children’s age, if not actually our children. The people who do TV ratings and thus determine what’s going to be shown don’t really look at the Boomer audience. WHICH IS A BIG MISTAKE. Old wisdom: pitch to the young because they’re the consumers. Today’s reality: Boomers make up the majority of the population and WE ARE THE CONSUMERS! So, Social TV people, is there a way to engage the Baby Boomers? I really hope someone’s on that. It’s a too huge audience to ignore. Maybe Boomers will love new opportunities to interact with their friendly TVs. I do know several people who, like their children, sit in front of their TV sets while simultaneously surfing on their iPads or laptops. You can let me know in the comments section below how you feel about Social TV and if your grandmother or parents owned an early color set like the one pictured above. I remember all the dials, ones for setting the amount of red or orange. But no matter what you did, the picture was still lousy. Only it was “in color” lousy.