The end is near! (If it hasn’t already happened by the time you read this.) To watch the endless barrage of commercials on TV these past many months, you’d think some horribly life-changing event was destined to strike all of humanity today. We’ve been soberly warned by the federal government and every TV station. Even the big electronics retailers and cable providers have issued breathless reminders and dire warnings that this day was coming.
So what calamity will befall humanity and how did it escape the prophetic powers of Nostradamus? Today, at long last, television stations across the nation — from sea to shining sea — begin broadcasting exclusively using digital signals, as opposed to signals of the analog persuasion.
I won’t try to explain the difference between analog and digital signals, not only because the vast majority of readers won’t give a rip, but also because I have a dear friend who’s actually an engineer at one of the major local stations and any lame attempt I make at a technical explanation would likely send him into gales of laughter.
I’ll simply say that, if you get your TV signal from those V-shaped “rabbit ears” on top of your TV set, or from an antenna on the roof of your home, you will, as of today, need a small, magical converter box to see your favorite shows. For everyone else already receiving broadcasts from cable, satellite or alien mind-meld, today will come and go with absolutely no difference in your viewing experience.
This distressing digital D-Day was actually supposed to have happened several months ago, but the new Obama administration felt that too many Americans simply weren’t prepared yet. I kid you not. Even after months of public service announcements and millions of taxpayer dollars already spent giving out $40 discount coupons to help cover the already low cost of buying a converter box. There was actually fear rippling throughout our increasingly nanny-state government that some poor soul in East Ratpaw, Kentucky may temporarily not be able to watch TV. Oh, the inhumanity. Say it ain’t so, Katie Couric! Where was the comparable concern when eight-track tapes became obsolete?
For me, all this manufactured hoopla only emphasizes how depressingly important television watching has become throughout society. According to the A.C. Nielsen company, the average American, in fact, watches nearly four hours of TV every day on one of at least three TVs in his/her house. That’s a whopping 52 days of nonstop TV watching every year. It gets even more depressing. By age 65, the average American will have spent nine years glued to the idiot box. (If you have to ask why it’s called an “idiot box,” you’re spending too much time in front of one.) Balance these numbers with the statistic that shows the average parent today spends an anemic 38.5 minutes each week in meaningful conversation with their own kids. By meaningful, they mean more than “What fast food do you feel like tonight?” Which brings up another sobering statistic; namely, that 40% of all Americans even eat dinner while watching TV. My guess is the other 60% are driving and eating.
It’s for good reason that therapists liken television to an “electronic drug” that lulls viewers into a trance-like state. It’s also not surprising that our society is raising so many ignorant people. A recent survey found that 54% of young people surveyed could identify the Three Stooges, but only 17% could name even three Supreme Court justices. As a wise person once said, we get the government we deserve.
I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t the real reason our leaders are determined that every set of eyeballs in the country has uninterrupted access to television. After all, what might the populace do without our daily dosage of drivel, deception and distraction?
Maybe the switch that’s truly important today is the one on our remotes marked “power.” As in, the power to turn off the tube and plug back into our families, friends and communities.
See you ’round town.
JIM CHASE is a freelance writer and longtime Crescenta Valley resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.