DEPENDING ON HOW FAR YOU GO BACK, you may recall that at one time your television was connected to an antenna on the roof and you might be able to pull in as many as three or four channels — Hoo-boy! — in stunning black and white. Until I moved west I had the selection of two that came on the air at 6:00 a.m. and then the station pulled the plug after the national anthem at 1:00 a.m. Jack Paar closed your day. And channel selection was done by rotating a dial — which, of course, you had to get up from the couch to do. In communications class in college they talked about the future wonders of cable and pay television that would give you jillions of programs, including a lot of high brow stuff that hit me as about as exciting as watching paint dry. Opera? Ballet? Ya gotta be kidding!
But we got all of that and more, didn’t we? And is life appreciably better because of it? Ya gotta be kidding!
Well, O.K.: It is great to have more than 120 hours a week of political analysis, along with interminable reality shows, hours of amateurs dancing with washed-up celebs, soaps where characters croak, only to miraculously re-appear two years later, sports of every type that have seasons lasting more than a half-year, and talk shows that talk and talk and talk into the night. Amazing variety, and it’s yours for what? Fifty or sixty bucks a month (about the price of the old antenna)? And for your money you get a remote so you never have to abandon the couch to get food or the reverse thereof.
But that’s not my concern, not to say complaint, this time. It’s the whole business of reliability. Getting a now very complex system to work, every time. Go ahead and tell me your personal rendition of Time-Warner, U-Verse, or DirecTV or whatever pours programs into your living room has yet to crap out. Not to be believed. We recently transferred providers from DirecTV to U-Verse so we could accomplish untold wonders via all four of the monitors that populate this television residence, and I am here to tell you that there is not a single day — NOT ONE — that goes by that there isn’t at least one glitch or problem. Too true, and I won’t get into the details, given the pain. Well, all right, there is this for-instance: The monitor that serves the back bathroom simply refused to function two mornings ago, even while its siblings in other rooms played along merrily. Would not work, despite yanking on connections and pointless pounding on its very own remote. And yet, later on, inexplicably it came on, with not a word to say for itself. Where was a hammer when I really needed it?
Maddening. Truly, we’re not made for this kind of frustration.
But you know; I digress, at least five or six months. Trying to use a cell phone — the smart ones — continues to vex me at every turn, as I have lamented. Portability is their only real virtue. And the so-called advance of home entertainment that would challenge a rocket scientist — and I happen to know several dozen — brings to question the notion of progress, and yes, whether or not we in this fabled land have developed severely stunted attention spans. To the point where we will knowingly endure mind-searing rage as we keep trying to find a movie we haven’t already seen or gobbling up a fifth viewing of favorite cop show.
Were the simpler times in front of the old black-and-white better? I often think so, as I heave one more remote down the driveway. Simpler as in the small TV that my aunt and uncle watched back in Massachusetts; the one that was actually struck by lightning that ripped down through the antenna on the roof. According to my uncle, there was a cloud of smoke, then that pregnant pause, and then the TV revived and worked exactly as it had before. He and Aunt Marge didn’t even need to change the channel.
Now that’s reliability.