Our New Family Telescreen

I arrived at home a few days ago to spend Christmas with my parents. The Enos home, were its contents fully revealed, might be seen as something of a museum of television sets. Two TVs are modern and in use, but the others are of the inoperable/vacuum tube category--the latter being kept for sentimental reasons and banished to a dark corner of the house.

For some time, one of the modern TVs has been wanting to join the old soldiers downstairs. From the time it is turned on, it gradually increases in volume and resists all attenuation imperatives given at the controls except OFF. Either by strange coincidence or by profound universal failure in audio circuit design, I discovered upon coming home that the other modern TV (of a different make) has assumed a similar but worse condition: even when it is fully "off" its sound can still be heard at diminutive volume.

I am reminded of the telescreens from my high-school reading of George Orwell's 1984--those domestic, two-way, television-like devices through which the government issues propaganda and spies on its subjects, and which can never be turned off but only turned down.

Of course my situation is not quite as serious as that one. I will not make this an opportunity to preach on present or future corruption of government, but instead let it suffice to be a reminder of how invasive and inescapable technology is in our daily lives.

We live in a world where the TVs are never really off, but not in the literal sense of my family's case. It was once said the sun never set on the British empire because Britain controlled some piece of land in every part of the globe, logically including some portion where there was daylight. But today we find ourselves in a world where the TVs are never really off, not that most TVs do not see OFF as part of their daily cycle, but that TVs in general can be depended upon to shape people's minds or waste their time somewhere in the world on a disturbingly continuous basis.

As if it weren't bad enough that television has been allowed to destroy a great deal of the home environment as it existed previously, technology has been invasive in other areas of life as well:

In church, the pastor wears a techky-looking headset microphone when he speaks to his congregation, the congregation which sings hymns not from music in the hardcopies which rest idly in front of them, but from a larger-than-life array of colored pixels. The distracting sound from a pager or cell phone seems no more avoidable than a baby's cry.

Or how about the night sky? Electric lights have been around for quite a while, but are now being used in connection with new ideas of safety and security. This is at the expense of greater darkness which is most natural at night. Unless you live in a remote part of the world, it's never really dark even in the country anymore. Your condition is most woeful if you live within range of a prison or ballfield. The beautiful stars in the sky and the details of the earth's moon are insulted, and they recede from visibility.

In an effort toward poetic closure, I will point out that even the television creates a light. Its phosphors do not illuminate so brightly as the fluorescent light tube's, but casts its bluish glow on our walls, on our faces, and on our minds. Its sounds silence conversation between family and friends. Let us well take the unspoken promise from the TV that if we will meet in its blue glow, we will meet where there is no darkness.

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