The Boob Tube '99 - Think About It !

You've left your problems at the office, had dinner, and you want to just unwind for a few hours. You need to catch up on world events, check the scores from this afternoon's ballgames, and maybe even get the weather forecast for the morning. You settle into your favorite chair, hit the "power" switch, and as the screen comes to life, you are one with the universe. Television you say? Sorry, wrong answer. The fact of the matter is that more and more people, and I mean people of all ages and all walks of life are turning to the Internet for more and more reasons. Mostly the right reasons, but it's the wrong reasons I would like to talk about.

At the dawn of civilization, a period which I refer to as B.G. (before Gates), people were content with the stream of information and entertainment available on the local networks. The TV was the focal point of the house, and most evenings were spent in front of the "set" watching the full spectrum of westerns, sitcoms, police shows, and the obligatory variety hour. Action, adventure, music, comedy... it was all there for us. Cable TV which came about more as the result of poorly designed/installed antennas than a burning desire to shell out an extra $35.00 a month for programming, moved us into the realm of double-digit channels. Satellite programming followed soon enough, and the "dish" became the new status symbol in many neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Internet use began to grow exponentially, and in a matter of only a few years spawned a genuine wealth of collective knowledge rivaled only by the data banks on the Starship Enterprise. In the blink of an eye, this network of universities, research facilities, and government agencies exploded into the "Information Super Highway". An interesting point however is that the busiest off-ramp is the exit for Smut City. Now don't get me wrong here. I could care less about what people choose to browse. It's their choice, and it's their right. What really bothers me is the terrible misuse of both television and the Internet. The way I see it, these are two separate but related issues that we need to deal with.

Television has fallen out of favor for several reasons. Primarily, it's lost site of its obligation to inform and to entertain. News broadcasts are littered with sensationalism bordering on pander, and the information we deserve just isn't there any more. If you disagree with me, just watch any of the national evening news broadcasts and jot down all of the things that you honestly consider important. You'll come up with a mighty short list. Secondly, take an objective look at the entertainment value being offered in non-news programming. The pickings are slim on most accounts. Why not turn to something else? Why not the Internet? I'll tell you why not.

The problem is television. If the Internet didn't exist, I believe there would be an uprising of TV viewers demanding higher quality programming on the airwaves. But not for the reasons you may think. What must not be overlooked is TV's ability to deliver. By that I mean "real-time" moving images, and synchronized stereo sound. You see, what it boils down to is the fact that TV continuously enlists our two most powerful senses; sight and sound. Now whether we've become addicted, or there's a yet to be discovered TV gene in our DNA, the truth of the matter is we need that TV interface, and we're not happy when we don't get it. So what have we done? We've made the Internet our methadone substitute. We've flooded websites with the things we no longer get on TV, and we continue to make those websites more TV-like every day. We add icons and buttons that change shape or color. We animate our pages with spinning logos and text tickers. We offer streaming videos, .wav files galore, and stereo music is only a mouse click away. Commercials? When was the last time you visited a site without some sort of advertising staring you in the face? Information on the web is just information, but TV is in our blood.

What concerns me are the efforts to turn the Internet into something it was never intended to be. By doing so we lose on two accounts. First, we never fix the original problem. Television is one of the most important achievements in our lifetime. Its problems should be addressed, and it should not be left to wither and die. Second, we run the risk of compromising the Internet. If there was ever an opportunity for people all over the world to establish a global basis for the sharing of information, it's through the Internet. Cloning a substitute for television only hinders efforts along those lines, and openly invites regulation by the government, which is the last thing any of us wants.

All I ask is that you think about it, and while you're thinking about it, I'm going to power down my PC, turn off the TV, and do something I haven't done in a long time. I'm going to read a book.

Alan Sadowsky