When people first got televisions, watching a program was a family event. It was a miracle. It was like traveling without having to travel.
We take it for granted now, but imagine buying your first TV set in 1951. You didn’t need to go to the movie theater. The theater was in your house. You could watch somebody in New York reading the news. You could watch the St. Louis Cardinals while you played chess with Grampa.
Everyone sat in the room and couldn’t believe the bounty that was before them. They talked for a while and then they stopped talking and just watched.
Televisions became cheaper, more available. It wasn’t that big of a deal to have one and, eventually, more than one. TV became an escape. You didn’t need to sit in the living room with everyone else. You could turn it on, tune it in, and drop out.
There were a few channels that went from dawn to 11 p.m., then they went all night, then there were five channels, then cable, then 57 channels, and then countless channels. MTV. HBO. You could watch whatever you wanted on your own, whenever you wanted. You could watch surgery at 3 a.m.
Time passed. There were computers, and then there were really big computers and then smaller computers that could connect you to anyone and anything. You could play a game with somebody in Indiana. Botswana. You didn’t need Grampa.
At one point there were enormous things you could put by your ear that looked like walkie-talkies but were called cellular phones. They got smaller. And smaller. Then they were smart. Really smart. Everyone got one. You could talk into them. Then you could look into them. You could play a game with somebody in Botswana while you ate a chalupa at Taco Bell.
You didn’t need to be in the house or the office to surf the web. You could stare into the device all day long. You could look into it deeply like you were doing something important even though you were just checking on your fantasy team. There were a lot of interesting things on there. There were a lot of interesting things on your iPad. There were a lot of interesting things on your Kindle. There were limitless interesting things and many ways to look at them.
Everyone in the house had at least one device. Everyone in the house looked at the device of their choosing. You could turn them on, tune them in, drop out. You didn’t have much time to think about what you were going to say to the people in your house because you were busy thinking of what to say to your friend in India. It was okay because everyone else was also thinking of what to say to their friend in India.
At some point you all reached maximum overload. It was too much. There was an intervention. What to do? You all agreed that at a certain time, on a certain day of the week, you would put away your devices. You would do something together.
All this time, the TV was still there. It had gotten bigger, and it had gotten clearer. But it was still there. You could order any movie. You could watch any show. You could record any show. You could order a show on demand or through Netflix. Eventually, there was something everyone could agree on. You didn’t have to watch Jersylicious. You could watch something good.
The Super Bowl was on. The season finale of something everyone loved was on. The devices were in another room. You were talking to each other. Talking about Tom Brady or the decline of Mad Men. Grampa had the chess set ready for you.