Based on how engrained the television is in our society, one might think that it had been around for centuries. With the ubiquitous presence of TV’s in houses, schools, banks, cars, cell phones, and more, people wonder how they ever survived without their daily dose of Oprah and Monday Night Football.
Yet, television was not officially introduced to the world until in 1939 at the World’s Fair. At that time, many people did not think that families would have enough time or patience to sit down for long periods in front of a flickering screen. “The average American family hasn’t time for it,” said one commentator.
TV ownership explodes
World War II stalled the development of television. After the war though, TV sales took off faster than you could say “Hi Ho Silver, Away!” By 1950, about 9% of American homes had a television set. By 1953, half of all households had a TV. By 1962, 90% of all households had a set . Today 98% of American households have at least one TV set and 76% of families have more than one set.
Initially, only two networks distributed television programming for approximately 3½ hours per day . Today there are hundreds of channels providing entertainment twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, people are glued to their screens for an average of 4½ hours per day. This is more than half of people’s leisure time. Many people cannot even imagine life without TV. This phenomenal transformation occurred within only three generations.
Trend for TV viewing still rising
Now television technology is exploding in other manners. No longer confined to the home, TV’s are popping up everywhere in public and private life: in schools, banks, stores, public transportation, cars, cell phones. It is now possible to turn your computer into a virtual television set and download programs from the internet.
The trend for TV viewing is rising higher as well, propelled by new technology. For example, a recent study showed that people who had digital video recorders (DVRs), like TiVo, watched 12% more TV than those who did not have DVRs. The growth of “on demand” programming will also likely increase viewing time for the average family.
Many people see TV as a necessary part of life. For example, when I announced to my mother that I was getting rid of our TV, she responded, “What am I going to do when I come to visit?” She, like most people, still cannot imagine living without TV.
"No Couch Potato Left Behind"
In November 2005, there was a huge debate in the US about cutting food stamp benefits. At the time this debate was proceeding, Congress was also considering a law that would help the poor transition to HDTV. Congress was concerned that millions of poor families might not be able to watch TV after the networks switched from analog to digital TV. Unlike food stamps, this entitlement received bi-partisan support.
Columnist George Will aptly named it the "No Couch Potato Left Behind" entitlement. President Bush signed the "No Couch Potato Left Behind" bill into law in February 2006. The final version earmarked $1.5 billion to pay for converter boxes for older television sets. Society is a long way from "the average American family hasn’t time for it".
It is time to ask, "What is the cost of this transformation?"
About 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series:
What happens when the average American spends 4 hours 32 minutes every day watching television? Trash Your TV's 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series explores the multifaceted problems with TV in eleven hard-hitting articles. Read the full series and you will never look at your television set the same way again.