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Television Television!

TV_Shows_We_Used_To_Watch_-_1955_Television_advertising_(4934882110)
TV Shows We Used To Watch by Paul Townsend, CC-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1940s, there were only three stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC.  The programming was live and broadcast out of New York, then distributed to local areas.

Less than 30 years later, 44 million households had televisions, and there were 566 TV stations.  Advertisers spent over one billion dollars to reach that audience.

As of 2007, there were over 1,300 stations, and advertisers hit the 60 billion dollar mark!

I missed out on the golden age of television.  I didn’t get into the TV scene until the 1970s when I was a kid.  Saturday morning cartoons, filled with Saturday morning advertising.  Specials on weeknights that made me beg my mother to let me stay up late, stuffed with – you got it – more advertising!

With all these great things to watch but no time to watch them all, VCRs got popular.  People could record television shows and watch them later.  Then they could skip over that advertising that they had paid money to avoid once upon a time.

Now new services and devices, like the DVR and Tivo, have come out onto the playing field.  People can once again skip ads, even easier than before.  No more needing to hold down the “fast forward” on the VCR or press the remote control.  Now you just skip the ads and go along your merry way, watching TV without interruption.

And the advertising people aren’t happy.

But advertising now permeates everywhere.  Movies don’t just have previews: they have ads for cars and Coca-Cola.  Shows include product placement, whether overt and obvious or nearly subliminal.  Cars seem to be the worst offenders, with The Glades not even hiding their Kia endorsement, Psych’s love for the Ford Focus, Bones and Booth being in love with their Toyotas, and Big Bang Theory’s Wolowtiz celebrating his return from outer space by buying a Mini.

To a lot of people, advertising is the best part of the Superbowl.  There are contests and games based on the commercials that are shown, and advertisers shell out big bucks to make a statement and get their brand out there.

Do advertisers need to change their tactics?  Maybe we’re moving away from the golden age of advertising.  Maybe instead of having 30 and 60 second ads tossed into the middle of shows, we need to just let them take over and sponsor shows like they used to, like General Foods sponsoring I Love Lucy and Buick sponsoring The Honeymooners.  Or let the characters use and sell the products.  Yes, all the viewers will know it’s forced, but aren’t ads forced to begin with?

Technology is going to keep changing.  Advertising needs to keep changing, too.

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The Digital Divide and the Panacea of the Masses

Family watching television, c. 1958 By Evert F. Baumgardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Family watching television, c. 1958 By Evert F. Baumgardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2002, Dickard and Schneider reported that only 54% of Americans were online.  According to a recent CNN Money article,  52% of lowest income families (making $20,000 or less) don’t have a computer in their homes.  However, 62% of those in that low bracket own between two and four televisions (as of a 2009 survey).

What does that actually mean?  And why should we care?

CNN Money asks if it means that they aren’t poor.  But maybe they’re missing the point. 

It IS poverty to own a TV and not a computer.  Literacy does not refer to just reading skills.  Illiteracy, according to Ribriro (2006), is not just a lack of schooling but anyone who has a “limited mastery of reading and writing skills.”   In this day and age, reading and writing occurs online. 

It isn’t just reading and writing that gets accomplished online, though.  In order to make a difference, in order to start a movement, in order to get involved and be able to be empowered, one must be able to get online.  Grassroots organizations solicit members, get donations, and even sign petitions.  They make others aware of problems, get people involved, and get ideas for helping to overcome problems. 

How can someone nowadays find a job that will help them earn more than $20,000?  They have to look for it online.

How does someone get the training and skills they need for that job?  They have to look for it online.

Not owning a computer, and not knowing how to use one, is part of what keeps many of these people at that level.  It’s easy to buy a TV and know how to use one; it’s hard to buy a computer and know how to use one.

The last time I went shopping for a laptop, I walked in knowing what I wanted and how much I wanted to spend on it.  Even then, the salesman questioned me.  Why did I want that computer?  Did I know about this computer?  What was my budget?  If I hadn’t been sure of myself, I might have crumbled and caved, given in to his “I know more than you” attitude.  Would someone, earning less than $20,000 a year, who may already be unsure of him or herself, give in at that point and allow themselves to be bullied? 

Even if they don’t give in, even if they buy what they intended to buy, what about being able to afford everything that goes along with it?  Would that person be able to afford monthly connectivity charges to the Internet, ranging from $30 or more a month?  Would that person be able to buy the software that comes as a free sample and then runs out?  What would they do if the computer broke – or was broken when they got it home – and they couldn’t tell how to fix it?  And just how many computer shops (that aren’t pawn stores with questionable stock) are located in the middles of areas with median incomes of $20,000, anyway?

There are more questions than answers, but I think the important thing to take away here is the fact that we can’t judge that someone who has a TV or two instead of a computer is “not poor.”  If anything, they are far poorer than they know.

 

 

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Do you need some aloe vera for that burn?

aloe veraSometimes I think it’s kind of scary how much TV influences my life.  Most of the time, it’s amusing.  Quoting TV one liners that are funny and appropriate, like The Big Bang Theory’s line about needing aloe vera for a burn.  But other times…maybe it’s not such a good thing that so much that I say references TV. 

 I’m slowing down my Facebook addiction by limiting my log-ins, but do I need to limit more than just Facebook?  Do I also need to limit my tv watching?

Although, to be fair, if I’m going to stop checking in at Facebook and stop watching so much TV, when do I stop listening to music and surfing the web? When do I become a total Luddite and start avoiding all technology? Should I stop blogging? Should I only look for jobs that are listed in the print newspaper?

I hate to go back to the old adage of everything in moderation, but that might just be where I’m going.  I don’t want to stop doing anything, but I do want to stop doing it as often.  Checking Facebook ten times a day is probably excessive.  Checking it twice, not as bad.  Watching an hour or two of TV a day, definitely not a horrible way to unwind. 

So maybe I won’t give up everything, but I will watch it.  And maybe I’ll let myself get addicted to something better, like a bit more exercise and writing.