Rabbit Hole: The End of Casual Consumption
What we lose when content is more intentionally curated to our exact wants than ever before
“Rabbit Hole” is a single-topic deep dive column that comes out twice per month for paid subscribers. The free newsletter returns in a couple days.
It’s weird to say I saw the future of content at my mother-in-law’s house over Christmas, but it was there I began exploring a new version of “television” that had me laughing and a little afraid for where we were going as a society.
What I saw certainly looked TV-like, but “Freevee,” as it was called, had some major notable differences. There was no MTV, or Bravo, or ESPN. There were some channels that resembled traditional ones — something called “LOL,” which showed comedy programs, or “Midnight Pulp,” which was a collection of cult classic movies. But then there was a channel called “Ice Road Truckers.” Ice Road Truckers was a popular program which ran for 10 years on the History Channel, ending in 2017. This Freevee offering wasn’t the History Channel — or a channel about truckers, or icy roads. It was a literal channel that only aired the show “Ice Road Truckers.”
And it was hardly alone. There was a channel called “Divorce Court,” that, you’ll be shocked to know, only played the show Divorce Court. There was one for that crazy show “Cheaters.” There was a channel that just played the 80s hit “Alf.” It reminded me of that Xhibit meme — ‘yo dawg, I heard you liked Alf, so we built a television channel that just runs Alf after Alf after Alf.’
It’s not breaking news to note that the way we consume content has changed in recent years, and likely forever. There was the introduction to streaming networks, as cord-cutting has become more prevalent. Now you can binge whatever it is you want, practically at all times. Your ideal viewing experience seems to always be at the tip of your fingers. Television was once a passive medium — sit back, click around, see what hits you. But now that’s been flipped.
This is different than appointment TV in the old days. I remember growing up and waiting to watch ABC and TGIF at 8pm to catch Full House at the end of the week. Today I’m a DirecTV subscriber, and make use of DVR and On Demand. But all of these still allow for an environment where choices could be made in conjunction with a more casual consumption, where surprising discoveries might happen.
And it’s not just television. Magazines and newspapers are seeing physical circulation declines, as we see the shift from print to digital. While consumers can still go to a homepage, their experience with what the “New York Times” or “Time Magazine” is has often been curated and whittled down to just their own pre-approved choices.
We are stopping ourselves from stumbling on something new and unexpected in the content we consume. Casual consumption has been replaced with consumption that’s ceaselessly intentional. The massive abundance of choice in the marketplace has become so pervasive that it’s actually made choosing less of an activity — a “choice” becomes a “standard” quicker than ever before. And this presents a very real problem.