One of the most amazing inventions during the past couple decades has been the flat screen TV. Not too long ago, having a quality television meant you had to own a big, hulking cube — with at least as much depth as width — and it had to weigh more than a mid-sized Buick. The “big screen” TVs of the 1990s were like having a washing machine sitting on a table in your living room, except instead of a round window with soapy clothes swirling around, you had a square screen, and oftentimes, what was available to watch on TV was more boring that watching soapy clothes swirl around. (Still true today, actually.)
Nowadays, it’s amazing that such quality, high-definition images can appear on a device which in many cases is no more than an inch deep and weighs less than 15 pounds. If you suddenly showed up in 18th century New England with a flat screen TV, you definitely would be burned at the stake for witchcraft. And if you did a frantic Google search on your iPhone to try and explain to them that the technology is not demonic, they’d just throw more logs on the fire. (But come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Siri is a minion of Satan.)
Even more amazing than the quality, thinness, and lightness of modern flat screen TVs, is the cost. You can get a rather large screen for only a few hundred bucks. This is a double-edged sword. It means almost every household can afford to have a big, beautiful screen hanging on the wall in the living room. But on the other hand, it means every public facility now is plastered with flat screen TVs.
There are some places that have traditionally had televisions, such as bars and restaurants. But in “ancient times” (20 years ago) there was a single 19-inch TV up in the corner above the bar. Patrons would say to the bartender, “Hey Fred, put on the Knicks game,” or, “Hey Fred, turn on the news.” These days it’s not just the patrons of bars and restaurants who are plastered; the rooms are plastered with flat screen TVs. It’s actually cheaper now to install a wall full of TVs than it is to put up wallpaper. You can’t go out to eat these days without being blasted from all directions by blaring TV images.
Other facilities that never had TVs in the past now have them: the Motor Vehicle department, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, doctors’ waiting rooms, car repair facilities, and funeral homes. I was at a wake recently and the big screen TV had a heart-warming slide show of the dearly departed, but someone was able to fiddle with some buttons and put on the Patriots game.
There’s a small diner a couple blocks away from my office that has a terrific and inexpensive lunch menu. But they have a couple of big screen TVs that are always blaring The Jerry Springer Show during the lunch hour. It’s a proven fact that if you watch Jerry Springer for more than 10 minutes, your IQ drops 30 points. I no longer can eat lunch in that place. I have to order take-out and bring it back to my office. (And no, I don’t watch Springer on my computer.)
Although I complain about being inundated with TVs, whenever I’m waiting in line and there is not a TV to watch, I find myself getting uncomfortable and fidgety. I grab my iPhone, press the button and say, “Siri, I need some entertainment.” Dutifully following her master’s command, the screen in my hand starts playing The Jerry Springer Show.