A few weeks ago, Kyle Chayka wrote an essay about the Netflix show “Emily in Paris” and what he calls “ambient TV”—shows that provide “a numbing backdrop to the rest of our digital consumption” and allow us to easily divide our attention among multiple screens and household activities without missing anything important. TV has, of course, been ambient for most of its history—something we’d frequently turn on at home while we did other activities, without necessarily watching (the television is, in fact, an essential centerpiece of many American domestic spaces, and must be turned on in order to make them feel complete). The rise of Netflix and other streaming services initially seemed to make our viewing more intentional and focused, as we’d select specific shows to watch instead of just rolling with whatever happened to be on cable at the moment. “But now,” Chayka writes, “we’re learning to stream as if we never abandoned cable in the first place, especially during quarantine, when nothing’s stopping you from leaving the TV on all day long.” This year, our homes have become densely-layered media environments, with visual and audio content continuously filling our foreground, background, and whatever space remains in between. As the distinctions between work and leisure become blurry,
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