Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why I don’t watch television

Until I was about six years old, our family (like most families) didn’t own a television set. Instead, we all gathered around a console radio similar to the one pictured below, and listened to shows like “The Shadow” on Saturday evenings.

We finally got our first TV ( a small black and white set) in about 1955, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that we got our first color television. All of those early televisions, of course, were made in the United States of America. Today, there is exactly ONE company that makes televisions in the United States - in Detroit, no less - and it started business in March of 2012.

In the last decade or so, I’ve evolved to the point that I RARELY watch TV. Part of the reason is that I’d prefer to get my information from the internet, newspapers, or books. The other reason, though, is that it is simply TOO DIFFICULT to turn on the TV.

Our cable television service is provided by Direct TV, and it came as part of our package with our land line and our internet service, through a company called CenturyLink. Our Direct TV service, naturally, came with a remote control, which looks exactly like the one pictured below:

If you count up all the buttons, you’ll discover that there are 45 buttons. In addition, there is also a slider bar at the top. In order to turn the TV on, you need to move the slider all the way to the left and hit “power” button (not the on or off buttons on the right). Then you need to move the slider all the way to the right (to TV), hit “on” . and then “power”. After you’ve done THAT, you need to move the slider all the way back to the left again, but it is NOT necessary to hit either “on” or “power” again. If you are foolish enough to hit the on and off buttons in the wrong sequence, or (God forbid) turn the power on manually, you’ll screw everything up.

If you want to use a DVD player (which has its own remote) then you need to hit the “video” button on the television itself after you’ve managed to get the TV on.

You can also select a “pay for view” movie directly from Direct TV by using either AV1 or AV2. If you’d like to watch regular TV without the commercials, you can also add a separate component for something called Tivo (which comes with its own remote) , which can also record shows that you want to watch later. It even allows you to record one show while watching another. If you’ve got your fancy 60 inch flat screen TV hooked up to a “surround sound” theatre system, you’ll have a separate remote for that, and you can turn the whole thing on using either the AV1 or AV2 position on the slider (I think).

In view of the fact that the average America spends an average of 34 hours of week watching television, it’s pretty clear that all that neat technology can be a dangerous thing. To put that number in perspective, the average American works 34.5 hours per week, and the average employed person in Austria only works 25 hours a week.

Equally disturbing is the fact that we tend to watch more television as we get older. If you wonder how in the world all those crazy politicians get elected, you need to be aware of the fact that FOX News (the goofiest network in existence) also has the oldest viewing audience.

The first PRACTICAL television remote control was invented by a Zenith engineer named Doctor Robert Adler, and it became available in June of 1956. It had exactly FOUR buttons, and it looked like the picture below:

Naturally, other manufacturers rushed to produce better versions, and RCA Victor released what THEY claimed was the first television remote control for a color television in 1961. It had a total of FOURTEEN buttons, which controlled seven separate functions. If you watch the early commercial pictured below, you’ll start to realize that even having fourteen buttons could be confusing.

his master’s voice

(Surprisingly, the first color televisions were available in America as early as 1953, but their high initial cost, as well as very limited color programming, meant that color televisions weren’t very common until roughly 15 years later).

Since our cell phone provider (U.S. Cellular) just got purchased by Sprint, all of us needed to get new phones this week. Since Brian has a Galaxy S3 (which has full data capabilities) the rest of the Brennan family also have some limited data functions, even for our more basic phones. My new phone is an LG Rumor Reflex. In addition to the camera and Bluetooth capabilities that my old phone had, it also has a really neat navigation program, as well as access to Facebook. Amazingly, my phone also allows me to download music, play games, and (hold onto your hat) watch TELEVISION on my phone.

It also came with a slide out keyboard, which makes texting easier.

My late parents would be absolutely baffled by all of the functions that come with modern phones, especially in view of the fact that they never owned an answering machine or a cell phone. Our Direct TV remote control would leave them hopelessly confused, which is pretty much the same reaction I feel every time I decide to watch something on television.

In 1961, the newly appointed FCC chairman, Newton N. Minow, gave his famous “vast wasteland” speech. The entire transcript is posted below:

“When television is good, nothing - not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers - nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials - many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will find a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it”.

When Minow gave his speech, America had only 3 major television networks - ABC, NBC, and CBS, If you’re a subscriber to Direct TV, you have access to HUNDREDS of channels, including over 190 that are high definition. It’s difficult to imagine that all of those hundreds of channels would have high quality programs, and it’s even hard to imagine that the high definition channels, by themselves, could offer anything worthwhile to watch on a regular basis.

If THREE channels could be considered a vast wasteland in 1961, what would 500 channels constitute today?

In the final analysis, that’s actually the reason that I no longer watch television.

Good night, and good luck.

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