Sunday, July 10, 2022


My TV, a Toshiba 32LL3A63DB

I have been without a television for a week at the time of writing. I had just finished summer cleaning, sat down to relax, turned on my TV, and found no picture. A troubleshooting phone call revealed it was still in-warranty, so I sent it away to be fixed.

Being the year 2022, this inconvenience has reduced me from four screens to only three, as my phone, tablet and computer attempt to fill the gap temporarily left by the TV, but their nature as multi-purpose devices make them poorer substitutes than I had reason to expect, as I sit over to examine programmes I am more used to seeing in a more relaxed, laid-back position.

In having to actively look for content to watch, I have missed the opportunity that TV provides in just switching it on and showing me something, to effectively switch myself off for a moment, as it were - getting to sleep has taken longer in this last week.

This would also be the week that Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party, his petulant speech underlining his tenure as Prime Minister as one of the most divisive and sordid in modern times. Instead of letting the TV take the strain in reporting what happened, able to recede into the background as I relaxed into the evening, I continued to scroll through news updates on my phone, like my work day never stopped.

In my experience, television is a passive medium, even if I play an increasing role in choosing the programmes, as both the number of channels, and the number of ways to send programmes to it, have increased. It is not the same as radio or podcasts, where you are listening intently by nature of its form – I found that I have not had the radio on at home in the evening to substitute for the TV, because that would force me to listen more intently at a time when I am trying to relax. There is an argument for my experiencing a withdrawal from the higher dopamine and serotonin levels experienced when watching TV, but I will only know that for sure when my TV is fixed and sent back to me.

I had intended to write about Marshall McLuhan’s concepts of “hot” and “cool” media, from his 1964 book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, which I have talked about previously [link]. His definition of TV as “cool”, through the user having to do the work in connecting with the TV’s message, and filtering out any distractions from outside it. 

This hasn’t fit with my experience – I have more control over what my TV shows me than McLuhan, who witnessed the medium’s introduction in his native Canada, and would only have access to two networks, CBC and CTV, by 1964. Bigger screens and better sound also make TV and its programmes more cinematic, film being codified as a “hot” medium through its handling more of the work in relaying its message.

However, McLuhan defined a “medium” like an extension of the human body, such as  switching on a lightbulb to change the nature of your surroundings. Even if TV is just a way of packaging what I want to see, I now realise how well it did that job.

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