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Social Media Documentary A Sign Of The Times

Channel 4 takes TV to a new low

In order to create narrative in the year 2014 social media must be taken into account as it plays such a massive part in the lives of most people. Channel 4 have recognised the need for social media in modern day narrative, and have created a documentary called The Secret Life of Students.

social media and tv
Source: channel4.com

To say that the show delves into the lives of students would be an understatement, as we see one student, Josie, search up “Is Chlamydia permanent?” on her phone. The show then goes on to explain the back story of this, where it is revealed that she may have contracted the sexually transmitted disease from Aiden, another willing participant in the series. Aiden breaks the news in a tense phone call, and we have just witnessed the entire thing.

Quite unbelievably these are two of many participants in the show who have agreed to have their phones “tapped” in the name of entertainment. The general feeling the show gives is that some things are easier to say over text or social media, and coupled with the general public’s needs for such technological advances makes the show an attractive concept.

The Secret Life of Students is essentially a twist on the traditional “observational documentary” TV format, where TV cameras follow “real” people in the hope that the dramatic highs and lows of their lives will be caught on camera, and broadcast to the rest of the country labelled as entertainment.

This particular series takes this format further, and ensures that no part of the lives of these participants is not documented. In addition to the cameras, the 12 first-year students are given modified iPhones running a specific script that allows the producers to monitor their digital lives as well as their physical existence.

The system used by the shows creators tracks text messages, WhatsApp messages, searches, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, and also phone calls. Each and every single piece of communication via these platforms was delivered to the production team in real time, 24 hours a day.

Joanne Timoney, a producer on the series was positive about the impact and insight that the show offers: “This project really opened my eyes to what a different generation they are.”

“We had 200,000 bits of content from our filming period, that’s a massive amount. They’re a generation that’s much more open with their feelings and more assertive somehow on their digital communication.”

“They were able to say something on a text to their boyfriend, their friend, their mum or dad that maybe they wouldn't say in real life.”

Despite holding about as much logic as Embarrassing Bodies, another Channel 4 phenomenon, the show was met with positive reviews, but Joanne was surprised by the participant’s reaction to the concept: “It was remarkable how open and honest they were about us sharing their data.”

social media and tv
Source: channel4.com
This is a quote that personally I would disagree with, as it is not openness and honesty that triggered such a move, but rather programming by a society that is spearheaded by technology and mobile communication.

The producers of the show have latched onto the idea that communication is now largely held on a digital platform, and have created entertainment out of it. This show is just a more extreme version of “scripted reality” television, as people want entertainment to be more realistic, so that they feel as though there is a more human aspect to the people that they idealise.

This can be perfectly created through social media as everybody uses it, and it has become so important to individuals and businesses alike. It also caters to a section of society of whom feel uncomfortable with simple human interaction in the flesh, due to the overwhelming impact that all forms of alternative communication has.

Despite the criticism in this article, there is no doubt that this form of entertainment is very popular, and Channel 4 have played their cards well, as it proposed low risk. It was guaranteed success due to the track record of other existing programmes such as Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex.

There are plans to make another show similar to the one mentioned in this article, where the lives of school-aged teenagers will be encroached upon. No doubt this kind of intense monitoring will become the norm, and a widely accepted form of communication, and we may see more shows such as this one become a regular sight on our programme planners.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Social Media Documentary A Sign Of The Times Reviewed by Unknown on Thursday, July 24, 2014 Rating: 5
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