What we lose in a world without Saturday morning cartoons

Today, the camaraderie of the Saturday morning routine has been exploded by the marketplace. The quality of animation is higher; the availability of options is essentially unlimited. Children today have the ability to pull up a fun, dark, or interesting cartoon anywhere at anytime, streaming through the air a fix of three decades of takes on Batman or any other superhero, a lifetime of homicidal cats and mice, giant robots out the ears. No longer limited to a single slot in the week, they are able to access this entertainment for themselves on-demand whenever they please.

But we should recognize there’s something lost here, as well, as it is in so much of the on-demand economy. The Saturday morning cartoons and breakfast cereal meant that children experienced things as they came, together, and could talk about those shared experiences after. It was inherently a community activity, a definitional moment in childhood, with ties of shared reaction to surprising moments and turns of plot, not individualized to the user’s priorities. What replaces it is more responsive to our desires, with more instant gratification, but also more atomized. The loss of that shared experience is a minor thing in the scheme of Burkean collapse – but it is something, and I suspect something more meaningful than we might understand. And we won’t get it back.