Thursday, March 3, 2011

Second Screen: 'Bambi' for the ADD Generation

John Lasseter on the Grid at the Oscars
John Lasseter brought his iPad to the Academy Awards last weekend.

The picture says it all. There he sat on the aisle inside the Kodak Theater, Pixar's creative guru perusing the Oscar Backstage Pass app. It had live streaming video of various behind the scenes locations including the press room and a "Thank You Cam" where award winners could issue addenda to what they didn't have time to say on stage. John was wired in. Maybe he was keeping tabs on the broadcast control room or even following Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich's play date with destiny after winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The choices were many. There was red carpet coverage prior to the ceremony and shots of the Governors Ball afterwards. John himself had been caught on camera near the lobby earlier in the evening, joyously waving his iPad in front of the "Champagne Cam" as if to say, "See? I'm hip, I'm cool, I'm connected...and I'm at the Oscars, bitches!"

I know this, of course, because I was following John--and Colin and Natalie and Christian and Melissa and the rest of the Hollywood elite--on my iPad at home while I watched the proceedings on TV and simultaneously tweeted a steady stream of 140-character bon mots on my iPhone. 

It's all about the interactivity, baby.

My girlfriend--who remembers a time when the two of us would do things together without the company of 2,000 virtual friends--watched me with bemusement.  She's not particularly tech savvy. More like tech indifferent, actually. She has a cell phone that just makes phone calls, can you imagine?

As my fingers danced nimbly and relentlessly between Twitter and Facebook, my right eye comparing backstage camera angles and my left eye tracking Anne Hathaway's wardrobe changes, Jeanne asked me if I really had to watch the Oscars this way. Her question was based on the assumption that no sane person would do this voluntarily. I assured her that not only was I on the brink of sensory overload of my own free will, I was HAVING FUN DOING IT.

(help me)

There is a popular website for those of us who need to disengage from our ADD behaviors. It's called Do Nothing for 2 Minutes, where you basically, umm, do nothing for two minutes except listen to the sound of soothing ocean waves while a clock silently counts down the seconds. Move your mouse or otherwise fiddle with your computer and you'll receive a "Fail" message, requiring you to start over with a fresh two-minute clock.

I've found I can easily master two minutes of inactivity, sometimes even longer (I call those periods "naps"). Where the challenge comes is trying to do one thing--and only one thing--for any period of time. We live in a world of multitasking, whether in the workplace or at home. Our jobs and our families are constantly competing for our attention, not to mention the presence of the Internet, trash TV and the 24-hour news stream. Do anything remotely interesting and you feel compelled to text, tweet or Facebook about it to anyone within reach. You know you can't resist.

You've got your smartphone in your hand right now, don't you?

Man was in the forest...and he installed Wi-Fi.
Exploiting our need for more input, Disney released Bambi on Blu-ray this week with a devilish add-on feature called Second Screen. Remember when we were content to view Disney DVD bonus features after we saw the movie, immersing ourselves in all kinds of concept art, games and "making of" featurettes? Now you can do it while you watch the movie, provided you have a computer or iPad handy. The movie is synchronized with what's on your secondary device, so while you're watching Bambi chase a butterfly on TV, you can manipulate the same scene on Second Screen like an electronic flip book and study the detail of how the images were drawn. That's just one element. There are plenty of design sketches, trivia pop-ups and games to create even more distractions. And, should you get sidetracked on a puzzle or activity, Second Screen keeps track of where you are and gets you back in sync with the film.

It's extremely clever technology, the bonus material is fascinating and it's all free (just enter the "magic code" found inside the Blu-ray box), but after about 15 minutes, it gets pretty tedious and frustrating. What do I watch, the movie or Second Screen?  OMG, Bambi's moved on to the next scene and I'm still piecing together pictures of birds. I'm falling behind! ACCCK!

Attention deficit disorder, FAIL!

With time, I discovered the best way to appreciate Second Screen is to just focus on the app and not worry about watching the TV. As long as you can hear the movie, it's easy to follow along. That's the work around, but does that mean Second Screen really enhances your movie-viewing experience? I'm going to say no.


Thank you Disney for pointing out one thing I can do without succumbing to distraction: Enjoy a well-crafted piece of animation history with no smartphone or Internet connectivity necessary. I know Jeanne appreciates it.

Hey, I may be onto something here.

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