An amazing thing television. It has changed the world. It has an amazing effect on us all. The very first television was invented in 1911 by Boris Rosing. He was able to successfully broadcast crude images of Dick Clark and American Bandstand using an electromagnetic system. But since no one else had a television set the show got poor ratings and was cancelled. The next television was invented in Scotland in 1925 by John Baird. They showed nothing but bagpipe players, however. Many people died and the show was yanked from the air.
Mr. Baird is responsible for the first transatlantic broadcast, London to New York, in 1928. Unfortunately, since it was BBC, it went over most Americans’ heads and it was not terribly successful. The first fully functional demonstration of a working television occurred in 1934 in New York as performed by Philo Taylor Farnsworth. This consisted of several comedians repeating Mr. Farnsworth full name to the sound of thunderous laughter. However, Vladamir Kosma Zworykin is also credited with the invention of the television and which is the true inventor is still hotly debated to this very day. Final credit will be given this March on ABC on the upcoming program, “Battle of the Network Silly Names”.
Ever since the invention of the boob tube, the idiot box, society has fallen in love with the invention as is evidenced by its charming nicknames. There is proof that it is television that is responsible for shortening the public’s attention span. When television shows first began, TV cameras were huge bulky things and very difficult to move. So the early shows were all broadcast much like a stage play in front of the camera. The camera was more or less like an audience member at a play. During the commercial, halfway through, (yes, there was only one 1 minute commercial), the camera would be moved for a different angle. So the scene did not change for roughly fifteen minutes. During the sixties, new, more movable cameras were developed and now they remained focused on an actor for periods of about 5 minutes.
Huge advances then occurred in technology largely because we had stolen the alien television technology after the crash at Roswell. Newer cameras became more and more portable until, thanks to MTV, the average amount of time that the camera rests on one image is less than two seconds. There goes the old attention span. Now, if the images are not constantly changing, we get bored. Also, this has the effect of making old people like me not like TV so much because the constant change of images is a little disconcerting.
Television has even changed our nation’s pastimes. In the late forties, when television executives were trying to figure out what to put on television besides Milton Berle and Dick Clark, they would have heated arguments in the boardrooms. These men were, of course, among the ultra wealthy in our society. One gentleman actually stated that he didn’t know why they bothered to put anything on the air on Saturday morning’s since everyone is at the polo matches. Now there’s a fellow with his finger on the pulse of the American public. They finally settled on cartoons and cereal commercials since sales of sugar had slumped since the end of world war two.
Believe it or not, golf was not a popular game among the working and middle class in the United States during the great depression and world war two. Adjusted for inflation and all, a set of golf clubs back then would set you back half a month’s pay or more. But, all the TV executives golfed. Golf was an upper-class game. They wanted to put in on TV so they hired a bunch of TV commentators who were good at whispering and started putting golf shows on Sundays. People watched them because they were the only shows on and TV was so magic then, they would have watched ice melting if ice had had an agent. So suddenly the interest in golf balloons and now everybody, except me, is out playing golf. Alice Cooper, for Christ’s sake, plays golf!
Being really old, I can tell you that if anyone had told me back in 1970 that one day I would be paying for television, I would have laughed in his or her face. But then I would also have laughed at the idea of each of us having a personal computer. I guess that explains why I’m not rich. But television at that time WAS seen as sort of the right of the people. We had a right to free television by God and nobody better mess with it. And we still have free TV. Nobody watches it much, but it’s still there. Actually, network television has made strong come back in recent years. Thanks, mostly, to those wonderful people who gave us “The Real World” at MTV. Reality shows seem to be the backbone of network television now. And people are really addicted. We were at a family get together for Thanksgiving (go figure) and when we admitted that we did not watch some show called “Lost” they all looked at us like heretics. We left before they could get the tar suitably heated.
There is a National Turn Off the Television Week sponsored by the librarians in the spring each year. Every year I make it a class project for my students to turn off the television ( with the help and cooperation of their parents). In the beginning it’s very difficult. They go through withdrawal. But soon they started developing other interests. Some of the kids started to build models from kits. A couple of kids started going on walks with their parents. That was really cool. The kid got in shape from walking and developed a relationship with the parent at the same time. Kids began to read. Kids began to do puzzles. It was great. But soon the week was over and the television came back. But those two girls kept going on walks with their dads everyday. They liked going on walks with their dads, and the dads liked it too. That was nice. Let me just dwell on that for a moment. Ahhhhhh, big smile. Back to reality! It’s a shame that National Turn Off the Television Week has yet to really catch on. Maybe if they announced it on Television.