Notification on TV

Once you start thinking about notification, you see it everywhere. Just in the last few days, it’s figured centrally in episodes of PBS’s “Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis” and AMC’s “Madmen” (see also 9.20.2008 and 9.8.2008).

In episode 12, “The Grownups,” Pete chats with Harry with the TV turned down. The audience can see Walter Cronkite talking about a news flash from Dallas but Pete and Harry are too engrossed in their conversation. We cringe knowing what they don’t know but are about to find out. Other characters then crowd into Harry’s office to watch the news. Don emerges from his boss’s office to see the main work area basically empty but all the phones ringing. He’s beside himself trying to figure out what’s going on. Then he does. Later a few of the characters talk about the fact that they “just had to call” so and and so (this even though news of the assassination was one of the most quickly diffused messages in history up to that point.

And, of course, about half of the dramatic tension of the entire show is generated by all the secrets kept by characters from one another (with the audience tipped off and forced to watch painfully as characters they care about remain in the dark).

SPOILER ALERT. In the “Inspector Lewis” episode titled “The Quality of Mercy,” Lewis’ Sergeant discovers some information about Lewis’ wife’s death a few years earlier. He gets the info on a phone call while Lewis is sitting next to him but says “oh, nothing” when Lewis asks him what it was about. When he eventually tells Lewis later that day, Lewis is furious and takes it as a sign that their relationship is really quite flawed. Sergeant Hathaway explains that he withheld the information because of their relationship, but Lewis pretty much says “we don’t even have one if you thought it was O.K. to wait to tell me.”

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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