Being, myself, on the threshold of antiquedom, I'll relay a story about television and parenting and the absolute joy of telling your kids about how it used to be. Remember when Gramps used to tell you about fighting bears and walking twenty miles to school uphill each way? When my children were small, I used to tell them about when I was a child and there were only three TV channels available in living black-and-white. Their eyes would widen with amazement as I would explain that cartoons only came on on Saturday mornings. Then they would begin to squint at me like I was from Mars, telling tales of an ancient society from some galactic netherworld.
My father, being an engineer, bought one the first remote controlled TVs available. The remote was a unit about the size of a big cigar box and had two lantern batteries inside it. It could have been life-endangering to say, "Hey, throw me the remote." With this technological marvel we could turn the set on, change the channel, and raise or lower the volume, but it could only change the channels on the VHF stations because the TV didn't pick up UHF stations.
Before the invention of the remote control, parents opted for the slave labor approach. "Go turn the sound up! Get up and move the antenna! A little to the left, there, let go! Go turn the sound down!" Child labor laws were completely ignored, even when it became obvious that the future of the children was in doubt. Would parents bother to bring children into the world if they could be replaced with a remote control? Think of it. No sitters. Or whining and crying. Just push the button!
About that same time my buddy's brother-in-law spent $1200 to buy a VCR, and we all loaded up in the car to go see it. It was a unit about the size of a small suitcase. He took out a bank loan to buy it, and by the time he paid it off VCRs were selling for $300.00 in the stores.
It was a time of great technological changes; a time when mankind reached the threshold of its technological understanding. Most people at the time had trouble trying to set the clock on the VCR, or God forbid, programming the damn thing! Please don't laugh at us; we just weren't brought up with such things. Programming the TV back in the day was a public pronouncement. You only hoped it didn't interfere with something your parents wanted to watch, or you were dead before you started.
I remember my first cable-ready TV and then my first computer, and it reminds me that the train indeed kept a-rollin' all night long. My father put in satellite TV, again one of the first; he was just a glutton for punishment. I suspect it was the invention of cable TV customer service standards that made satellite TV possible. Imagine how dark the world must have looked to foster that dream. "You know, if you spent a hundred million dollars on a satellite and then thirty million dollars more to launch it into space, I bet people will buy TV from you."
I spent half a day reading manuals and trying to assemble all the pieces of my first computer. "Hmm, do I have an internal modem or an external modem?" Then listening to it dialing in on one of the six phone numbers available, and always getting a busy signal the first time. Then it would redial, and the magical tone came on. "Honey! Come quick, I'm online!"
It was a country road back then; just the novelty of it made it special, but those days are long over. I now cuss at my computer all the time. "Come on! What's the hold up? Damn it all! Oh, you b*tch!" Over the years the computer has become so integral to modern life that I think back on the world pre-Internet and I shake my head in disbelief. To think, when my son was born we took out a subscription to the "National Geographic" because we wanted reference materials in the house. I lived a long way from the library as a child and I wanted better for my son.
Being away from TV now has forced me to use the Internet, and what I've found is pretty interesting. You can watch almost any old TV show you wish to watch, on demand. From "Car 54" to the "Simpsons," it's available out there. The difference is that you must be proactive and go get it. Is that enough to save TV as we know it? As for the newer shows, I have to watch Olbermann at 11 o'clock. Some programs are difficult to watch because of the time slots. They seem to try to limit the Internet audience, and I wonder what they are afraid of. They can relax, I'll still watch the commercials.
Watching regular TV again made me realize that a change was a-coming. The owner of the TV I watched only had basic cable, and I realized that there was much better TV on the Internet now than on cable. Justin.tv has God knows how many channels, Movies, Westerns, Old TV and New TV. Where "The Truman Show" was once seen as a comedy, it has almost come to pass with live lifetime TV. People live their lives for you in front of an Internet camera. See, and you thought "Sing Along with Mitch" was a stupid idea.
I remember watching "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and seeing Gort the giant robot walk out of the ship and freeze solid. Today when I see that powerful, super-human robot freeze up like that I wonder, "Was it a glitch in the software? Did his hard drive just crash?"
There is so much entertainment and much of it isn't new, but it may be new to you. My son introduced me to Ricky, Julian and Bubbles as the Trailer Park Boys, Canada's answer to Cheech and Chong. They are very funny, but they would never get even one episode on American TV. The boys drink and smoke weed; they steal ATM machines and do other things that would not be approved of by the American Blue-haired Ladies Against Freedom Federation or Bubba's Better Bible-thumpers.