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My grandfather used to complain that technology was always at a point some way in front of him, and moving away at an ever increasing rate. In the eighties he complained that having four television channels was wasteful, as it meant that it was only possible to consume a quarter of broadcasts at one time. In the nineties he refused to tune the television to receive the new fifth channel on account of the fact that there were already plenty of broadcasts he wasn’t watching and didn’t feel the need to let any more go to waste. Now that he has passed on, I pray that his afterlife is a plane of gentle, asynchronous consistency.
The television of my childhood consisted of a small number of general-interest channels. It was felt—-both by my parents and, in general, society as a whole—-that excessive exposure to television would be enormously detrimental to the young mind and therefore the usage of the television was controlled rather like that of the telephone: it was something that should be used deliberately and concisely. Looking back, I suspect that the level of regulation imposed upon my televisual habits was probably stricter than average: the commercial channels were almost entirely off-limits, and the viewing of programmes deemed suitable for my fragile and impressionable mind was limited to a very precise amount of time. Blue Peter was one such programme approved by my conservative, middle-class parents but, even though three half-hour shows were broadcast every week, I was permitted to watch a total of only twenty minutes in any seven day period.
As a teenager, such regulation had lessened, but it was still unacceptable to watch television whilst eating, or alone, or anywhere other than the family living room. I believe that my first act of true teenage rebellion was the purchase of a two-inch handheld television which I would watch under the duvet late at night. The Word will be remembered almost universally as one of the low points in British television history, but I found it as wonderfully delicious as forbidden fruit should be. Though it may just have been that my screen was too small for me to make out just how bad it really was.
[Incidentally, the tiny telly met its end when I managed to knock it out of the top bunk. I believe this happened while a friend and I were pursuing a more conventional teenage sous-duvet activity. Now I think about it, it may even have been during my first attempt at this particular activity that the tiny telly smashed upon the floor. In any case, its demise didn’t concern me until much later, long after I had left home. I decided that I should own a telly, but was too miserably poor to buy a reasonably sized set, so I bought another two-inch handheld television. Curiously, I managed to break this one in very similar circumstances to the first, and then felt compelled to buy yet another. I can happily report that the third one is still intact—-though, now I write all this down, it’s become clear that this is merely symptomatic of the reduction in sous-duvet activities since passing my teenage years. But I digress.]
I’ve tried to receive non-terrestrial television channels before, in the various places I’ve lived. The first attempt was scuppered by trees, the second by landlord’s conditions, and the third by building regulations. In our current residence, there’s not even an aerial on the roof so I didn’t hold out much hope of it becoming a temple of televisual consumption. Despite my doubts, Telewest came up trumps on the telly supply and, eventually, the internet too. Finally I made it onto television’s cutting edge, just in time to see it shift away from me again.
I’ve had a set-top box for six months, and I’m still trying to get to grips with it. When first it arrived, I found the interface to be baffling and obtrusive and, just as I reached a reasonable level of competence at using it, the cable company upgraded the interface causing me to have to start over. Grandfather Morgan’s dislike of broadcasts going unused may seem laughable to us whippersnappers but, as I try to come to terms with the sudden and intimidating increase of television I’ve inflicted upon myself, I can’t help thinking of him and relating to his bewilderment.