According to eMarketer, U.S. adults spend twelve hours each day consuming media; that amount has increased 24 minutes since 2012. These numbers may seem impossible, but consider that consumption sessions can overlap:
For example, an hour spent watching TV while simultaneously using a smartphone counts as an hour of usage for each medium, and therefore as 2 hours of overall media time.
Here’s how those numbers break down for the average American:
My only takeaway from these numbers, on their own: it’s amazing how much time the average American carves out for TV. I’m at least a little bit jealous.
Here’s my attempt to estimate my own daily media consumption:
- My total consumption hours are almost exactly the same as the average American’s: twelve hours each day. I’m not sure whether to be alarmed or relieved by that.
- My definition for each medium may not match eMarketer’s. For my purposes, “TV” is anything I watch on our big screen—i.e., it includes streaming media (Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime). In my “radio” bucket, I do listen to a bit traditional FM broadcast in the car (mostly NPR). But that category also includes Spotify (instrumental music is the soundtrack for most workdays), podcasts, and my voice-guided meditation app. My ‘radio’ hours are high, but is that because I’ve bucketed things differently?
- Along the same lines, what counts as “consumption”? I use my devices all the time—literally from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. But for big chunks of the day, I’m making stuff: designing collateral for work, drafting blog posts, recording podcasts, composing emails, etc. I assume that eMarketer is making a similar distinction between active, productive work and passive consumption, but I’m not sure.
- My media consumption on weekdays differs dramatically from what happens on the weekend. For example, during the week, I rarely watch more than one episode of a TV show before I get sleepy and stumble off to bed. On the weekend, though, I’ll often watch a movie or binge on Netflix for several hours.
- Similarly, my smartphone use skyrockets on lazy weekend days; I’m far more likely to exhaust my iPhone battery on a Sunday than on the average work day.
- Looking back, it’s astonishing how much my own habits have shifted in the past few decades. In high school, before I had easy access to the web, I would often spend my study hall flipping through the local newspaper. These days, my print consumption has dwindled to nearly zero—yes, we subscribe to the local newspaper, but I rarely get past the first fold.
- Another big change since my teenage years? Back then, my media world revolved around the TV. Between traditional linear television and console gaming, I probably spent 5–6 hours each day planted in front of the boob tube. Now, I don’t game at all (I haven’t owned a console since the PS2). And even when the TV is on, it sits on the periphery of my attention. TV mostly serves as background noise for my #1 media consumption activity: browsing Twitter on my smartphone. ■
Last week, rumors of a pending Seinfeld reunion sent fans of the hit 1990s sitcom into a frenzy. What, exactly, were Jerry and Jason Alexander (who played George Costanza) filming on the streets of New York—in costume? When asked about it, Seinfeld played coy.
The results were revealed last night during the (otherwise less-than-riveting) Superbowl. The Seinfeld alums had worked their 90s characters into a mini-episode of Seinfeld’s brilliant web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”:
The spot has its moments. For one, you’ve got to love the car choice; Jerry ferries George around New York in a 1976 AMC Pacer. As Seinfeld snarks, “It doesn’t work; it looks ridiculous; and [it] falls apart—which makes it the perfect vehicle for my guest today: Mr. George Costanza.” Another pleasant surprise? Wayne Knight cameos as Jerry’s arch-nemesis, Newman. His wheezy cackle still makes me giggle.
But this mini-reunion has its problems, too. First, it’s too short. As a series, Seinfeld specialized in comedic payoffs. It took its time, establishing the plot threads, then entangling them hilariously at each episode’s climax. The Superbowl segment doesn’t have space to work this way. The closest we get to a “payoff” is the lame recurrence of a mumble gag established just two minutes earlier.
Another problem with the bit? George Costanza. Oh, he’s still the same neurotic kvetch. Actually, that’s the problem: George hasn’t changed at all. He sports the same wire-rimmed glasses, the same frumpy red jacket—even the same-colored hair (likely dyed). But the self-obsession that made George funny back then makes him unpleasant now. He’s less “charmingly crabby” and more “crotchety crank.” If anything, George seems more cynical and selfish than his younger self. Only now, it’s harder to overlook.
Listen: I’m not ungrateful; I’m glad Seinfeld & Friends shot this piece. We got a whimsical, nostalgic reminder of TV’s best-ever sitcom.
But the brief reunion shows why Seinfeld should never be renewed. Sure, society has generated plenty of script material in the intervening years. No doubt Jerry and the gang would have plenty to say about today’s “excruciating minutiae”: smartphone etiquette, Skype faux-paus, Netflix binges, and “reality” TV.
But would audiences want to hear them complain? The quirks that made these characters funny as thirty-somethings would make them unbearable as fifty-year-olds. Kramer’s wacky antics as a young man were lovably eccentric; they’d seem borderline creepy for a senior citizen. Elaine’s sarcastic narcissism was cute back then; from a middle-aged woman, it would likely grate.
As it turns out, the show’s original finale got it right: it’s probably for the best that these characters were “removed from society.”