Watching TV today is a bewildering experience. With the formal choice of hundreds of channels and programs in multiple languages, both new series and reruns, recorded versions of missed programs and multiple means of viewing them, from 88” television screens to tiny telephones, deciding what to watch on a given evening can be a daunting decision. It almost is too much for a person tired from a long day of work and simply desiring to switch off the brain.
On a collective scale, aside from a few events, such as the Super Bowl or Academy Awards ceremony, it is impossible to guess what a coworker or friends watched the previous night. It literally could be anything. The viewing experience has become extremely personal. Before I can share my experience, I have to inquire what the other person’s choice was.
I remember of the days of limited choice, 1960’s and 1970’s. The United States had 3 channels (CBS, NBC and ABC), not including the rerun channels, which did not count. Israel had one while France had two. Cable and Internet streaming did not exist. The only alternative to TV was radio, not exactly a visual experience, and movie theatres, which required getting dressed and leaving the house.
While certainly lacking today’s choice and abundance of program options, the TV of yesteryear had a bit of a unifying effect. Everybody knew who killed JR. In Israel, no weddings were scheduled on Sunday or Thursday night because of Dallas and Maccabi Tel Aviv European basketball games. Colleagues could begin a conversation by mentioning their impression of the last MASH with reasonable certainty that the other person had seen it. A life basketball or baseball game (Saturday morning, PST) on TV was special. TV was not gourmet but most people shared the same taste, albeit not by choice.
It is not my intention to want to regress to the age of limited choice. I enjoy today’s luxury of being able to watch all 162 games of my beloved Pirates (although I am not that masochistic to actually do so). I would even argue that nothing has really changed in terms of content. The Gershwin song was and still is relevant: we got plenty of nothing. Yet, with this blossoming of media forms, society has lost of a bit of its cohesiveness, a shared experience linking young and old, rich and poor. We did really care to know who killed JR, even in today most of us can no longer remember. In a certain sense, to quote Archie Bunker, “those were the days.”