See how technology has changed everyday life as we re-examine a classic 90s sitcom.
Looking back at Seinfeld, the so-called show about nothing, makes us realize how mobile technology has changed everything.
Let’s examine The Chinese Restaurant, a classic Seinfeld episode that first aired in 1991. That was over 25 years ago, when smartphones and tablets still didn’t exist. If Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine had mobile devices back then, how would that iconic half hour of television have unfolded differently?
I’m choosing Seinfeld because it was a TV show about the small things that happen, the daily minutiae that would never seem important enough to form the plot lines of a television series. Finding a parking spot. Battling for the last loaf of bread at a bakery. Or, as in this particular episode, waiting for a table in a restaurant.
By analyzing how mobile devices would have impacted these everyday moments in one broadcast of Seinfeld, we can see how those devices have changed almost every facet of our lives since the show’s heyday.
As its title suggests, the entire episode takes place inside a Chinese food restaurant.
Jerry, George and Elaine have stopped there to grab a quick bite before catching the cult sci-fi flick Plan 9 From Outer Space at a nearby theatre. But the maître d’ makes them wait for a table.
Jerry worries about missing the movie. Elaine gets hangry. George waits to use a payphone so he can call his girlfriend. (Sorry, Kramaniacs — Kramer doesn’t appear in this episode.)
At the end, they give up waiting and leave the restaurant. Seconds later, the maître d’ calls out that a table is finally available.
With mobile devices, it all could have been so different …
Elaine: “Jerry, get menus so when we sit down we’ll be able to order right away.”
With smartphones or tablets, Jerry could have just viewed the menu online and used an app to reserve a table before leaving his apartment. According to figures compiled by Benbria, more than 90 per cent of smartphone users search for information about restaurants on their devices and 70 per cent use their phones to view restaurant menus.
Mobile movie tickets
Jerry: “If we’re making this movie, we gotta get a table immediately.”
The movie tickets also could have been purchased on a mobile device, easing Jerry’s worry that the film would sell out before he reached the theatre. A 2014 study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found 30 per cent of movie tickets were purchased on smartphones.
Jerry: “Well, let’s just order it to go, we’ll eat it in the cab.”
Elaine: “Eat it in the cab? Chinese food in a cab?”
Elaine could have used her smartphone to order takeout in New York with an app like GrubHub or Uber Eats. She would have tracked her meal’s progress in real time, had it delivered to her outside the theatre, and eaten it right before going into the movie.
Research released in 2016 by RetailMeNot indicated 35 per cent of consumers had used their smartphone to order food for pickup or delivery.
Mobile movie watching
Jerry: “I don’t see any way we can eat and make this movie.”
Although Jerry, George and Elaine probably wouldn’t have crowded around one mobile device to watch Plan 9 From Outer Space, people today are increasingly foregoing theatres to watch movies on phones and tablets. Based on Telefilm Canada data, the average Canadian watched 11 movies on a mobile device in 2015.
George: “I can’t go anywhere, I have to wait here for Tatiana’s call.”
Instead of waiting in line to use the payphone, George could have just texted or called his girlfriend on his smartphone. As mobile devices have become ubiquitous, payphones are now a dying breed. No wonder the number of payphones in Canada has plummeted since the 90s, from 185,000 in 1998 to only around 60,000 in 2016.
Elaine: “It’s just a movie.”
Jerry: “Just a movie?! You don’t understand. This isn’t ‘Plans 1 through 8 from Outer Space’, this is ‘Plan 9′, this is the one that worked. The worst movie ever made!”
Remember when people could engage in friendly arguments over trivial things like who won the 1987 best picture Oscar or, in this case, how bad a certain movie really is? Now a quick smartphone or tablet search on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes can instantly shut down those types of discussions.
Jerry: “Well, I can’t go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?”
In 2017, Jerry would have many opportunities to make snarky comments during bad movies (to friends as well as total strangers) on social media.
A 2017 eMarketer report found that 19 per cent of adults use their mobile device to have social media conversations about movies and TV shows while they’re watching them on their TV sets. For example, Nielsen data indicates the 2015-16 season of The Walking Dead generated an average of 435,000 tweets per episode.
Maître d’ (talking to Jerry about Elaine): “Relationships are difficult. It is very hard to stay together.”
These days, mobile technology is making it even trickier to navigate the tunnel of love. In a 2016 study, 70 per cent of people said tech-based interruptions or distractions led to tension, fights and lower satisfaction in their romantic relationship.
This fun flashback to one classic sitcom points out all the ways mobile tech has changed our lives and our behaviour: how we eat, communicate, express opinions, consume content, buy things, argue and pay attention to the people we love.
Who knows how new technology will affect our lives 10 or 20 years from now? You’d need more than a fortune cookie from a Chinese food restaurant to predict that.