My daughter watches Say Yes To The Dress and the new version of 90210, as well as Downton Abbey. Mir and Nate are hooked on Breaking Bad. Me? I’m a Walking Dead guy.
Do we have cable TV or satellite? No. But we all watch our shows online. Often we watch our show while in the same room, through the Wii or Playstation or one of our computers/tablet/iPods. Even a few months ago it would have been unimaginable, although we did watch shows online or on DVD. We have one television in our house.. and it’s almost obsolete. We do watch television together, HD digital, through a standard antenna that was in our house when we bought the house 18 years ago. But not like my family did as I was growing up.
Those were the days of popcorn and orange Nehi while we all gathered around the large black and white console TV, sometimes at my grandparents, to watch Daniel Boone or The Wonderful World of Disney or Lawrence Welk. It was a big deal, an event we looked forward to every week, a privilege and a treat. Grandpa sat in his easy chair next to the coffee table that held his Borkum Riff and pipes, puffing away, the sweet aroma of the tobacco drifting in the room. My brother, cousins and I played on the floor with the wood blocks in front of my parents, uncle and aunt as they enjoyed the show together. Grandma served the popcorn, brought the drinks, and sat in her own plaid easy chair on the opposite side of the room from Grandpa. We watched the shows that everyone decided we would watch, our television show less of a focus than the time we spent together.
Grandpa bought the first color TV in the family, an Admiral. Disney was much better in color. Donny Osmond had purple socks. Andy Williams, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Laugh In all became staples for our entertainment as we became more and more accustomed to the age of television. As television became more common and each family bought a television of their own, we went to my grandparents’ less to watch television together. Cable television came along, more channels came available, movie channels came into being. MTV. VCRs.
And television became less and less of a family event, evolved into a more individual privilege. Video rental gave us less reason to go out to the movie theater, another big deal that became commonplace as television took over the home.
When I had to go to high speed internet in order to have my office at home seven years ago, I also went wireless. It was nice to be able to work anywhere in my house from my laptop, enjoy my St. Louis Cardinals through an online subscription even though I live in Chicagoland. Adding different devices to our online home network has been easy. I was amazed the first time my son and I played video games through his Playstation online with people on the other side of the world. We still were behind the rest of the world since we watched our TV through an antenna — but suddenly we find that we have caught up with the rest of the world, a world of individuals tied to their own personal device, their own personal entertainment.
What have we become? I think about how my own family communicates simultaneously with each other and the rest of their world, their interaction evolving into a mix of face to face and online social media, texting, and video chat. When my daughter came home from a church youth group retreat yesterday, she rushed to go online to view the YouTube videos of the retreat posted online, sharing her weekend with us in a whole different way. My kids say good night to me after their bedroom light has been turned out, by making a play in one of the many social games we play on our iPods. What usually follows a “hello Dad” when one of my kids gets home is a trip to the computer to post pictures on Facebook and share with the friends they were just with.
The world my kids will know will be one of little solitude, of constant interaction. Will they burn out? I wonder how far all this will go.