For Chanukah, my fabulous husband bought me a Kinect. He has also proven to be an extremely patient husband, because the Kinect is still in its box, almost two months later. It’s not that I don’t want to play with my Kinect – it’s that the Kinect assumes a whole lot of things about one’s relationship to space and media that are not really true for me.
Here’s the problem: the Kinect wants to be set up above your television screen, with eight to ten feet of clear space in front of it for moving around.
Assumption #1 has been pointed out by others. The Kinect assumes you have space. A lot of space. That much clear space in front of the TV would have been completely impossible for some of the places I’ve lived. My first apartment in the city had a living room that was 8×10, with nowhere else to put a couch. It would have been a choice between a Kinect or furniture! Even now that I’m living in a much larger space, I own enough furniture that an 8×10 clear spot is not particularly easy to come by.
Assumption #2, though, is the real reason I haven’t set up the Kinect. The Kinect assumes your television is spatially significant, or at least relatively centrally located. This is not true for me! In our room*, the television is deliberately small(-ish), unobtrusive and hung in a corner. To set up the Kinect, that would have to change, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that.
As much as I enjoy playing games and watching movies on my television, those aren’t the things I spend the bulk of my time doing. I spend much more time reading, hanging out with friends, writing, role-playing, singing, studying or sleeping. Instead of a centrally located TV, I have a comfortable reading chair and a big couch and a games table and a bookshelf. My space is set up for the life I actually have – one in which screen time** is not central to my leisure.
It’s not just about convenience, either. You see, I’m a big believer in distributed cognition, which is the idea that thinking goes beyond our individual heads. The objects we use, the spaces we inhabit, the people we interact with – these all change the way we think, the habits we develop and the choices we make. If you design a space where it’s easy to read, you’ll read more. If you design a space where it’s easy to play games, you’ll play more games. And if you design a space around your television? Well, I think you can see where this is going.
I’m not one of those super-anti-screen people, but for me, screen time is work. I spend most of my days looking at a computer or TV screen, and I don’t want to do the same when I get home. At the same time, I recognize that screen time is easy time – sometimes easier than learning a new song or studying mishna or play-testing a new game. If I make it too easy, it’ll edge out other activities that I actually prefer. So I’m just as happy to have my television be a minor part of my living space – even if it means the Kinect is not for me.
* We share an apartment with another married couple; otherwise we wouldn’t have a TV in the bedroom in the first place.
** Though I’m experimenting with reading on my new iPad. So far, so good.