Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Archive for the ‘John Logie Baird’ tag

Overload, or How Media Is A Drug That Kills Us

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Bored on the internet earlier I started going through some StumbleUpon links and came across the very useful The site purports to be a kind of warm-up for writers, working the user into an eloquent mood: concentrate and write one word of text. Then write two, then five, ten, twenty, fifty. Very quickly one finds the ability to flesh out an individual thought to the point of being able to write a few hundred words – and being quite articulate in doing so. Great work, and one I’ll be often returning to.

Anyway, the site asked me for a single word. I looked around. Television. OK. Now, two words. Sky News.

The reason I’d been on StumbleUpon in the first place was because the TV was boring me. So, ten words: the endlessly repetitive assault of Sky News on my senses. And suddenly, just like that, we have a blog post on our hands.

I wonder if John Logie Baird could see us now; the role that TV has assumed as the prime shaper of first world society, influencing our politics, our humour, our tastes, our wallets. What would Baird have seen as the application of his televisor? Would it be to share events of major national or international importance? Would it be in reserve for governmental broadcast in times of national emergency, as his homeland would too regularly see in the coming decades?

It was in my Sky News-induced monotony that I realised something quite odd. Even in my humble student abode, we have NTL telly with more than a hundred channels, and high-speed wireless internet… and yet, there I was, going “Blah blah, recession, bad news, blah blah”, and reaching for a Bop-It for amusement. Whatever about the intended use of television when it started back between the two World Wars, it’s changed us – frankly we’re too numb now.

When I was only a few years old and my grandfather came back from work (as a postman, so at about 3.30pm) with a copy of that day’s The Star, I’d be thrilled at the ability to read through another two dozen pages of soccer news once homework was done. Now I don’t even have one, but three 24-hour sports news channels… and I have little compulsion to watch any of them, even though my liking for soccer hasn’t waned in the slightest since then.

But there’s too much stuff these days – there is simply too much media choice. James Joyce could write a novel. Granted, he may have needed to send it to a few different publishers before one would take it, but ultimately his work was seen as being of supreme quality and pivotal brilliance – and the work was afforded the respect it deserved as a result. (The example isn’t meant to be specific, by the way – replace Joyce’s name with any.) Now, though, if someone writes a novel, they send it in and it still lands in a slush pile of reading, competing with too many other works to get the attention it might merit. If it gets turned down, it might be sold as an ebook, or created as a blog with new extracts every day – where it has to compete with even more work for the attention of people who ordinarily have too many TV channels to amuse themselves with other matters anyway.

We have mp3 collections, hundreds of TV stations, millions of online videos and radio stations, digital TV, more books than we ever had before … and we’re bored, disaffected, disinterested. Would life have been different if we hadn’t had John Logie Baird around? Would we have nearly as much media as we now do? What would become of the twenty first century if paradox-free time travel could eliminate him and his creation from history? Would we be as bored, as violent, as liberal, as overweight, as educated, as worldly, as well-informed?

Is a short attention span the price we have to pay for circumstantial intelligence? I’d think about trying to answer that, but Dragons’ Den just came on, and I’m too distracted to think about anything else for the moment.

Written by Gav

January 6th, 2009 at 2:00 pm