Local12 Interview: The Race for Your Child’s Attention

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Before English scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were still working out of their garage, Steve Ross was fascinated by a closed-circuit TV system in the Otani Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. Ross was Chairman of Warner Communications and was concerned about the financial viability of his cable company. He wondered whether the Otani Hotel model could be duplicated and brought to homes through his struggling cable TV business.

By the late 1970s, his idea was coming together, not in New York, LA, San Francisco, or Chicago. No, it took flight in a town better known for its fast-food corporations, Insurance companies, and of course, “THE” Ohio State University.

Branded as QUBE, this nascent, interactive technology debuted with 30 channels – which considering most homes only had access to four over-the-air TV networks, was a sea change for nearly all American families.
QUBE V also offered ten pay-per-view movie channels along with broadcast channels from around the state, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Canton, Akron, and Cleveland – and the state capital of Indiana, Indianapolis.

It seems somewhat simplistic and low tech today. Still, to the 30,000 homes during its test in Columbus, it was something straight out of Star Trek, with its much stated corporate goal, “To create a faster method for groups to communicate and interact across distance.”

At the time, I was a young married father working on my Master’s Degree – and studying television production. I also had recently joined NCR Corporation in Dayton, Ohio as a writer and director of interactive video programs for their computer systems. I was fascinated by the QUBE technology, telling my boss and mentor, “This is the future of television and the future of advertising.” I remember he looked at me and said, “Well, put together a business plan, and we’ll see where it goes.”

It eventually landed on the desk of Steve Bowen (yes, the 4th Steve if you’re counting) our VP of Communications, who said, “The time is not right.”

Of course, he was right. The QUBE technology never really took off as was planned. However, in its short seven years of existence, it sparked the development of several pioneering cable television networks, such as MTV and Nickelodeon, brought about the evolution and growth of infomercials, and launched the ability to have instant television ratings.

However, with all of its positives, it was also the first media venture that provoked serious apprehensions about user privacy issues and persuasive technology. Sound familiar?
Forty years later, few of us ever thought the World-Wide-Web, or the creations of the three aforementioned Steves, would bring us to this place in history, where the activity of nearly everyone with a device is recorded, analyzed, and sold.

That little interactive button on every QUBE box, that allowed us to respond to products, politicians, and TV show content was just the beginning. Today, we are reaping the consequences.

The objective of almost every app on your phone or tablet is to gain your attention. That sounds benign enough. But when you realize that the business model for these apps requires that you stay on the app as long as possible – what cost are we willing to pay for the app’s use.

As you scroll, respond through emojis, and move about the day from location to location, that app builds a replica of you that is your digital DNA. Over time, it knows what you like, what you want, what you need, where you will go, and more. But it is the science behind gaining your attention that is most concerning.

We discuss the four top methods of how app developers gain and keep your attention during my interview with Local12’s Sheila Grey. I encourage you to take a look. For the purpose of this article, we provide the top 8 methods of dialing back your time on these apps following the video below.(By the way, I’m the 5th Steve mentioned in this article.)

8 Steps To Curb The Allure of Apps


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