A New Toy
I was eight years old when our neighbors across the hall got a television. It was very small and very expensive, but that didn't matter. It was wonderful. Everyone in the building came up to the fifth floor to see this latest wonder of the modern world. Some people, the lucky ones, stayed for a while and got to watch a whole program. That was in 1948.
Soon a lot of people got new televisions, but not us. My parents didn't like television. They didn't think it was good for children. Being a good, docile son, I didn't argue with them. But I did secretly watch television -- at my friends' homes.
By 1955, television weren't so expensive and they were much larger. My parents still thought television wasn't good for us, but my sisters insisted. They said we were the only people in the neighborhood who didn't have one. All their friends talked about certain programs and actors, but my sisters couldn't. Their friends laughed at them, and my sisters felt wretched, very unhappy.
One day, my youngest sister came from school and started to cry. She said she was never going back to school and that life without a television wasn't worth living. She cried and sobbed. My parents' usual arguments only made her more inconsolable. Nothing they said made her feel any better. Well, what could they do?
The next morning, without telling us, my parents went out and got a new TV. That afternoon an antenna was put on the roof. Suzanne came home from school and ran into the house.
"Where is it? Where is it?" she cried. "! knew it's here." She was breathless, and her eyes were shiny with excitement.
"It's in the living room," my mother said as my sister ran off to look at, to admire, this beautiful thing called a television.
Later, I asked her, "How did you know the TV was here?"
"The antenna. Now our house looks like everyone else's."
She had a wonderful smile on her face.
When we were young our parents allowed us to watch TV two hours a night. Oh, yes. And we couldn't watch until our homework was finished. But after a year or two, TV wasn't exciting or new anymore. It became just another part of our lives, like shoes or soap. My parents still had fears about TV. We were going to forget how to read, they said. And we were not going to read books because watching TV was easier, they said. And TV was going to fill our minds with violence, they said. They said lots of things like that -- once a day at least. I disagreed with them. I thought they were old-fashioned, thinking too much of old ways and ideas.
Today, people still argue about the value of TV. Nobody can deny the power of TV. It has an enormous, a very powerful, influence on our lives. On the average, Americans spend 30 hours a week watching TV. Is this influence good or bad? This is an unanswerable question indeed: It is hard enough to measure influence; and it is even harder to decide what is good and what isn't. What is good, I suppose, is that many people are concerned about TV's influence and that we have the power to change what we don't like.
Recently, I read an article in the newspaper about the people of Monhegan Island, 18
off the coast of Maine. These people don't have electricity, and they decided, once again, that they liked it that way. Only a handful of people live there during the long winter, and they live without electricity -- by choice. Electricity, they think, would make things too easy and spoil their way of life. Maybe the young people wouldn't want to go to town dances anymore. Maybe they would be more interested in staying home and watching television.