Earlier this week, a new streaming service joined the crowded lineup. Meet Quibi (short for “quick bites”), a platform offering six- to 10-minute episodes, designed exclusively for mobile phones.
According to founder Jeffrey Katzenberg (former CEO of DreamWorks Animation), in 2019 the average 18- to 44-year-old consumer watched 80 minutes of video per day on-the-go. For this generation of digital nibblers, Quibi is preparing a feast.
The platform’s keynote presentation is an intoxicating display of technological innovation, market analysis, and stunning storytelling—which left me dazzled but conflicted. As Quibi takes streaming from the massive flatscreens in our living rooms to the mini screens in our hands, how might this shift affect daily life and faith?
In answering, I hope to avoid the reductionistic poles of paranoia (streaming is inherently sinful) and passivity (streaming is spiritually neutral). With Quibi, I see room for both affirmation and caution in the quest to be discerning in a digital world.
Christians should applaud human creativity, knowing that God commands us to fill and cultivate the earth (Gen. 1:28). Theologians call this the creation (or cultural) mandate, and while I don’t endorse all of Quibi’s content, the platform itself reflects our God-given itch to harness creation for the common good. Here are a few examples.
Viewers will be introduced to a technology called “turnstyle,” which optimizes camera shots for phones, in both landscape and portrait mode. Modern filmmakers are frustrated when their panoramic shots are visually squashed by tiny phone screens. To remedy this, Quibi episodes are filmed from two perspectives, so no matter how you hold your phone, you see exactly what the filmmaker envisioned.
Quibi also seeks to make streaming more interactive, leveraging phone features like the gyroscope, GPS, camera, touchscreen, and microphone. What will this mean for viewers? Imagine a thriller that knows what time of day it is, a scary series with episodes that only become available at night, or toggling between portrait and landscape mode to see the same scene through the eyes of two different characters.
While these ingenious features will doubtless delight many and spark a lot of creativity, a few things about Quibi’s stated mission give me pause.
A driving value of Quibi is mobility: the ability to watch wherever and whenever, in the short time it takes to walk your dog, wait in the doctor’s office, or eat lunch. It’s a platform for the crevices of life, the transitions, the in-between moments.
But margins matter. Where we turn for joy, in the tiny windows of time throughout the day, not only exposes our hearts but also shapes them.
Jesus says, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). How we manage the margins of our lives—time on the treadmill, commuting to work, walking between meetings (when we can do those things again)—matters. We are already prone to fill our gaps with entertainment, social media, sports, emails, and news at the expense of prayer, memorizing Scripture, and silence. Quibi will only accelerate this tendency.
Where we turn for joy, in the tiny windows of time throughout the day, not only exposes our hearts but also shapes them.
When office work begins again, I can picture coworkers huddled in a circle, watching Quibi episodes in the break room. These connections can be meaningful, but as we gauge the pros and cons of mobile streaming, may our in-between rhythms be defined by abiding, not binging (Ps. 1:1–2; 119:97).
Capacity Over Convenience
With its episodes all less than 10 minutes, Quibi confirms that our attention spans are shrinking. My quibble isn’t with short-form storytelling. One of my favorite podcasts delivers mysteries for the “curious mind and short attention span.” A few years back, I enjoyed the Banff Film Festival, which showcases mini documentaries by outdoor adventurers.
That said, it is concerning that deep contemplation seems increasingly obsolete in a Quibi world. Twelve years ago Nicholas Carr foreshadowed the effects of digital overstimulation:
And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
Our soundbyte appetites don’t just shape how we consume information, but also how we worship. John Mark Comer writes:
How do we have any kind of spiritual life at all if we can’t pay attention longer than a goldfish? How do you pray, read the Scriptures, sit under a teaching at church, or rest well on the Sabbath when every chance you get, you reach for the dopamine dispenser that is your phone?
As some of us enjoy Quibi’s conveniently packaged thrills, let’s remember that loving God and neighbor rarely fits into 10 minutes or less. Even if we sip from other areas of life, we must linger at the well of Christ, drinking deeply of his Word (Col. 3:16).
Quibi will drop 8,500 episodes of original content in its first year, but most of those stories will quickly (and by design) fade into obscurity. Be entertained, but seek your nourishment in the much grander and never-changing gospel story, and make your hero the Son of God.