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A Declaration of Independence From TV

Jane Hirsch is a writer in Pacific Palisades. E-mail: jane@jsasoc.com

It has been the golden age of access to me, the consumer, the citizen. You have had me in the palm of your hand. Like a fly frozen by the spider’s shot of paralytic anesthetic, I sit there, watching your commercials. And watching the next show. And its commercials, too. I don’t switch the channel. I keep watching the news on your channel. You have programmed me.

But something happened. I got bored. First I hit the mute button, so as not to hear your commercials. Then I switched the channels.

My husband reflexively, repeatedly switched channels. I like stories, and unable to keep up with his switching, I picked up a novel. And that was it: I was gone from your audience. This probably explains the gender gap. It is as wives dispossessed by the remote, not as “soccer moms” that we have moved away. We have tuned out. We are no longer programmed. Now we are at liberty to draw conclusions from the world we see around us. Our parents are old and sick and shut out of medical care. Our children are poorly educated. Our friends are divorced and struggling to get by, while their former husbands zoom down the block in Mercedeses.

Even when I do watch TV, it is a rehash of shows I have seen a thousand times. It is like the day I walked into Toys R Us and realized that I had already bought everything. I was nauseated and ran out, never to return. Just as I have run out on television.

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I can get information from other sources now. I turn to Compuserve, and I have the media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), the Harris poll, Consumer Reports, Peacenet and columns by Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Internet is seen as dangerous because it can bring together pedophiles, bomb-throwers and hatemongers with their prey. It is definitely an organizing and communication tool. But it brings me together with more different sources of information, more tailor-made to what I want to know, things you weren’t covering in your half-hour of news geared to the population at large.

I pick and choose. I graze. I wander and amble and fly around the world, picking my sources and picking my subjects. I link, I use hypertext to hop to the next topic, source or continent. I define the scope. I am sharing control with the reporter or editor by being able to change to different content in mid-article at the touch of a button. Browsing, I find news reporters you wouldn’t have hired, wouldn’t have put on the air, wouldn’t have shown to me.

The Internet is an aid to independent thinking, to question-asking. It will increase the variety of ideas we think about.

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The “marketplace of ideas” is a metaphor ripe for throwing out. Commodities are found in a marketplace and can be bought and sold. Ideas are something more ephemeral, more intangible and infinitely more valuable. Malleable and mutable, they do not belong in boxes with ribbons around them, sold to the highest bidder. They belong to everyone. Ideas need to fly from mind to mind at light speed. The Internet helps that process. It is wonderful. It is not something to be afraid of.

In the future, you will not have automatic access to me, to my mind. You had it. but you blew it. With my new tool, my World Wide Web, I am the spider, not you. You are not invited into my living room to sell me soap. I have better things to think about.


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