Turn on, tune in, log out

Social media is stopping us getting on with the real business of watching telly

Sorry, am I distracting you? Were you doing something more important before clicking your way here?


According to new research, browsing the web, checking email and engaging in social media are changing the way we’re watching telly. In short, we’re missing all the good bits.

The report, commissioned by Sky, cites all kinds of web-based faffing as an impediment to home viewing, particularly mobile multi-tasking (29%), checking emails (21%) and social media (19%). Plus, an embarrassing 65% of us forget what happened in a film after watching it only once – and that’s 100% more shameful when you work as a film critic (ahem).

Having the luxury of being able to stream films via the Internet means I’m forever flicking between Vimeo and Outlook. And while I only joined Twitter a few months ago, since then staying focused on a blank page is even harder than before. 

Now excuse me for a sec, while I check what’s trending…

Consumer psychologist Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos explains: “With so much modern technology to distract us it’s no great surprise that when it comes to relaxing and watching a film, we struggle to switch off and concentrate on the plot.

“There is only so much detail and drama the human brain can handle in one sitting, meaning attention levels will dip during the duration of a film and we may need to re-watch it a number of times to fully understand and appreciate it.”

Thanks, doc. That makes me feel a bit better.

However, in this age of multiplatform media, programme makers are instinctively moving towards a split-screen experience to make it easier for viewers to comment on what they’re watching, while they’re watching. This may be a natural progression in terms of the technology, but it’s arguably a point of devolution for the human brain as it struggles to retain so much information.

I mean, you know what it’s like when you’re trying to watch a film, or your favourite TV show and there’s someone in your ear twittering away… Yes, you may love that person to pieces, but you’re also tempted to take a fistful of popcorn and shove it in their gob because how many times can you keep pausing and rewinding without losing the plot completely.

Of course, whatever else is going on in your virtual life, there are some shows that demand repeat viewing; layered philosophical sci-fi movies like Inception, or languid crime dramas such as True Detective (where the actors are so deep in a Southern drawl, you need the recap) and then there are the ones that just make you feel good – for me, Groundhog Day, over and over again.

Your shortening attention span may let you down and that’s when it’s useful to have your own personal library of entertainment to refer to on an actual, physical shelf. Because in a world where our cultural treasures only populate a virtual space, they run a greater risk of slipping out of sight, out of mind.


Above all, though, we have to be able to sit quietly and give full consideration to what we’re watching in the first place, instead of giving in to the constant, bleeping message alerts. You’ve got to know when to log off.