We're not quite at the stage where we, from the comfort of our living-room couch, can dictate what happens next in an episode of Neighbours, but we can discuss and create our own narratives like never before.
Not so very long ago, if there was a hit TV series or a riveting sporting fixture, the only people we could talk to about it were those in our immediate vicinity — a slight problem, if the person next to you didn't share your passion for said show. Alternatively, you might hurriedly send out a flurry of SMSes, or do as our fathers and mothers did, and wait until the next day to discuss it around the proverbial water cooler.
Today, though, if your family, friends and colleagues aren't an obliging discussion forum (or even if they are), there's another way. Thanks to Twitter on smartphones, tablets and lightweight laptops, we can comment and engage with others in real time.
If you're reading CNET, you probably don't need me to tell you any of that. No, what this column is really about is what the TV industry should do about our newfound ability to talk back?
Live TV should embrace it fully. Many have taken to answering queries posted on Twitter on air, but only the ABC's Q&A has taken it fully into its bosom. Not only are select tweets shown to a nationwide audience, but by using it as a second "studio audience", the producers have also give the show an edge, as well as allowing those not living near the ABC's Sydney studio a chance to participate.
What about the tightly produced reality series that proliferate across the airwaves these days? I know I enjoy MasterChef a lot more when I'm monitoring the quips and barbs on the #masterchef hash tag. But before the producers jump on the MTV bandwagon and start displaying the best one liners or most blatant 140-character encapsulation of fanboi-ism, I'd caution that such a feature would alienate as much as ingratiate.
To satisfy our need for an online, real-time communal fix, the burden should, instead, fall on TV manufacturers to include a Twitter app that displays a feed from the appropriate hash tag as either a ticker, an overlay or a column running down the side. That way, those of us who need that type of fix won't be putting out those who don't. It would also reduce the chance of us missing an important piece of action, as we're no longer monitoring the feed on another screen. To complement this, TV makers would need to add Bluetooth connectivity to their new screens, as entering five characters, let alone 140, via a TV remote is an act that would even test the patience of a monk.
As for those in the business of making scripted programs, they should probably avoid diving in. Listening to and being swayed, even subconsciously, by a cornucopia of voices pulling this way and that is not a good thing. I can certainly think of a few dramas whose narrative arcs and emotional punch would be lost if directors and writers had paid attention to the affections of the audience.