While TV is not set up to be as attention-commanding as watching a movie in a theater, you could argue that the most captivating moments of TV-watching -- a Presidential address, the finale of a beloved series, a breaking news story, or just a great episode of a regular old show -- can be captivating because the audience is willing to hand over its full attention to these programs for a period of time in place of a gift, of sorts, from the program -- a new piece of information, the pang of feeling real empathy, the thrill of seeing the world from a different perspective.
You have to wonder, if second screen technology becomes a new status quo for TV viewing, if a certain guardedness to those kinds of experiences are going to be built up among viewers. How much of ourselves will we give to a program when we don’t even have a complete self to give? The setting of your living room creates a certain casual air to TV viewing, but when you considers that some of the best moving image narratives are currently playing out on the small screen, it behooves us to ask: if we were learning about how the aurochs were made on our smartphone or had the option to buy a prop from the film while watching "Beasts of the Southern Wild" in a theater, would it detract significantly from the experience? If it would, how would this significantly differ from being distracted from an episode of "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men"?
This is how the internet, with its capability for a limitless amount of viewing windows, has been built to operate. What’s interesting is that the way our brains are being reshaped by the structure of this new technology is forcing purveyors of older media, like television, to change the structure of their devices in order to keep with how we use the more contemporary technologies. What remains to be seen is how TV -- currently, you could argue, the site of the best storytelling in America -- will be affected by this adaptation toward newer modes of viewer use. Either way, the success or failure of second screen technology will tell us an awful lot about what viewers want their TV-watching experience to be.