Monday, February 28, 2011

In Defense of Television

When I was younger I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a lot of it off hand-labelled VHS tapes. There was one episode in particular, Season 1's "The Neutral Zone" - the one where the Enterprise finds that ancient satellite full of cryogenically-frozen twentieth century humans, much farther away from Earth than it has any right to be (though that is not really brought up in the episode itself, since in Star Trek space is whatever the writer needs it to be). One of the background details that comes up in the course of that episode is that television, as an entertainment medium, essentially went extinct in the mid-21st century.

At the time, I was all "No! How could that be possible? What would people watch?" Twenty years later, it seems like it may be one of Star Trek's more realistic predictions. Even now it feels like television, or at least the form of television that dominated the 20th century, doesn't have many years left in it. The internet is doing to video what video did to radio, and with services like Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu for the Americans in the audience - the internet is undermining TV's foundations.

As for myself, it's been something on the order of ten years since I regularly watched television. When I went off to university in 2001, I no longer had a regular cable hookup and so drifted away - the only thing I made a habit of watching was Enterprise on the big screen in the junior common room, and that was only an hour a week. I got out of the habit, and never really saw a motivation to get back into it.

Today, I still don't have cable. I do have rabbit ears, though, and they're reminding me of some of the things I liked about TV the first time around.

One of the televisions at the Hotel Ruby in Spokane, Washington.

I don't get all that much over the air. The strongest signal is from KVOS, an independent station based out of Bellingham, Washington that carries a variety of modern and more classic programming; I watch mainly because it airs House on Saturday nights - it's a series that would constantly come up in conversation or on TV Tropes, but I wasn't willing to go buy a DVD set based purely on word-of-mouth. But I will watch it as it streams in.

Plenty of people will be familiar with being spoiled for choice. The way I watch TV now, it's about discovery. I don't have an TV Guide - though I have heard they barely even bother with the program grids now, which tells you how long I've been out of the loop - and I don't have a digital information system with an on-screen guide and plot summaries and what have you. I have the antenna, the remote, and the screen - and aside from easy conclusions like "House will be a jerk" or "it's not lupus," I have no idea what's coming up next. It's almost exploratory - just finding out what's there, with only the barest knowledge of what to expect.

Sure, I'll admit that it's got problems - as an entirely passive medium, there are plenty of ways in which it's just thoroughly beaten by the internet - but I still think that TV does have place in this modern future. I don't think television itself will die - more along the lines of television as I, personally, know it.

1 comment:

  1. You might be right. But television is still alive and well, healthier than ever before, in fact.