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What the sale of The CW network says about our media habits in 2022

I never thought that, out of all networks I’ve religiously tuned to during my 21 years of existence, I would be thanking The CW. I mean, it did make me who I am today. A lot of us 20-somethings, in some way or another, have a connection to it. Who would the zillennial generation be without the escapades of Blair Waldorf and her blonde bestie Serena Van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl? What could be a better guide for ditching the real world in favour of a cup of steaming coffee at Luke’s Diner than Gilmore Girls?

Meanwhile, fans of The CW’s most popular shows Supernatural are celebrating online the recent news of the network’s downfall. Yes, that’s right bad TV bingers, The CW will soon be no more, it’s actually going up for sale. But here’s where things get interesting—the news revealed an interesting discovery regarding overconsumption, overstimulation and how it led us to our current media multitasking addiction.

The CW network is to be sold off due to its low ratings and performance. On 5 January, news broke that WarnerMedia (the parent company of Warner Bros) was exploring sale options. A memo to staff, penned by The CW CEO Mark Pedowitz, confirmed that WarnerBros and ViacomCBS—the two main owners of The CW—were exploring “​​strategic opportunities” for a significant stake sale. Though the Wall Street Journal reported that Nexstar Media was in the running to bag the network, Pedowitz stated it was “too early to speculate what might happen.”

@abigail_maybe

no think #shibainu #overstimulation #intrusivethoughts #anxiety #noattentionspan

♬ original sound - Abigail

Before I get to my epiphany, it’s important you understand how the TV landscape has changed over the years. It’s been uncovered that not only was The CW fading into obscureness in pop culture, but the network was haemorrhaging money. According to Hollywood Reporter, the network had “never been profitable since its formation in 2006.”

For a long time now, The CW has struggled to compete with the new age of television programming. Gone are the days of the network’s late 00s chokehold and continued domination of teen television. A lot has changed since then with the advent of streaming services like Netflix and shorter episode shows like Stranger Things garnering millions of viewers, which have made it all the more easy to over-consume content.

There are a lot of theories surrounding why we tend to find ourselves stuck with the never-ending need to look at our phones while watching TV shows. Here’s a simple way to explain it.

Overconsumption and overstimulation

We’ve entered the new year and it seems like it really is out with the old and in with the new, except what is this new new? The rise of popular programmes like Euphoria has everyone recreating makeup looks from the show and might have single-handedly brought back Converse trainers, which is no easy feat. The streaming era has also brought us contentious gems like Riverdale and Emily in Paris  with seasons coming out back-to-back in short but sweet packages all ready to be greedily gorged on whenever we choose. But it has also led us into an interesting predicament regarding the overconsumption of media, making us unable to even fully process them all.

https://twitter.com/khaoticreveries/status/1478949684559417346

Despite The CW’s butchered blunders of representation and downright delusional directions it took most of its shows in—don’t even get me started on finales—it does have kernels of truth to offer while sitting at death’s door. In my mourning, I decided to rewatch The Vampire Diaries’ spinoff, The Originals. As soon as I started it, however, I felt the sudden urge to pick up my phone, to which I succumbed, obviously. This meant that I quickly lost track of what was going on, and in turn lost interest in the show altogether.

‘Generation goldfish’, named after the famously forgetful fish by The Telegraph, is in dire need to fix their forgetful brains. Worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, both overstimulation and overconsumption can make it harder for someone to pay attention, and all the more easy to forget what they’ve watched less than 30 minutes ago.

Debunking media multitasking

@jazsocial_

#stitch with @autumnlanise Tell me the last time you’ve sat through a 10 min video without scrolling….

♬ original sound - Jaz

In the age of social media and streaming, the media well never dries up. Which leads me to the other problem the fall of The CW highlighted: our obsession with media multitasking, which is when a person consumes multiple streams of content at once.

TikTok content creator @jazsocial_ discussed this in a video where she defined media multitasking as “the simultaneous access to different types of content,” and mentioned the example of having Netflix on your TV while scrolling through TikTok on your phone and having your laptop open for good measure. Many people online will have you believe that media multitasking is a skill, but more are coming across its problematic attribute: information overload, which is known to be directly linked to anxiety and depression.

Speaking to The Guardian, Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), burst the bubble on teens touting themselves as ‘masters of multitasking’—more specifically, he pointed out a growing problem with smartphones. Miller explained the effect that switching between different screens has on our brains, which is known as the ‘switch-cost effect’. For most people, it is an unconscious and compulsive habit to quickly check your texts while doing work, but it actually lowers your task performance. And it gets worse—Miller also mentioned that doing this not only distracts you from the task you are set to do, but “you are also losing the time it takes to refocus afterwards.”

If that wasn’t enough, The Guardian’s article also pointed towards research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to measure exactly how much brain power is lost when someone is interrupted by its media multitasking addiction. The study carried out in the human computer interaction lab looked at 136 students who all sat a test where some had their phones switched off and others had them on, enabling them to receive text messages. The conclusions showed that the students who received messages performed 20 per cent worse on average. Following these scary findings, Miller dubbed the current state of our media consumption “a perfect storm of cognitive degradation.”

So, while The CW sale opened up a whole can of worms, it’s also important to look on the bright side—if our minds are so overloaded they’re making us forget most things we’ve ever watched, at least it means that the terrible ending of OG Gossip Girl might be wiped clean from our memory. Fingers crossed, yeah?