I felt a bit of a phony going to look at televisions recently. I was trying to decide whether to buy a ‘box’ or a new television but the irony of it all is that I hardly watch TV and don’t know my LCD from my LED’s plus the television used to be the BOX!
Many would say television was the reason why céilithe stopped in Ireland but in our house television was the reason why we went on our céilí – we didn’t have a television and our neighbours did! In fact, if it wasn’t for Mohammad Ali and my older brothers I may never have seen television as a child. When Mohammad Ali was fighting we would be wrapped up and walked to the neighbour’s house in the late evening to watch the fight.
I remember the fun of it all, the click of the knob, the snowy screen, the fuzzy fizzling picture coming and going, and the boxer with two names Clay and Ali winning every time. It wasn’t until the late seventies that my parents succumbed to the analogue age by renting a 13 inch black and white portable television—rented for fear of it becoming too big a distraction. We lived with the constant threat that it would be brought back if we didn’t do our homework. After a year, Mum did the maths and bought a new television for less than a year’s rental. A shelf was built especially for it, Ali lost his last two fights on it and Gaye Byrne started appearing on it every Friday night. ‘The box’ became a permanent fixture but it never replaced the radio.
The radio was on in our house morning noon and night, still is, but the new television sat in the corner most of the week without been switched on before 5pm. At 9pm every night the volume was turned down, a towel was thrown over the screen and we would all kneel to say the rosary. Someone had told Mum it was bad to keep turning the TV off and on so it was left on until after the late western but viewing was mostly limited and we still had to read a book if we were bored.
I have my Mum to thank for my love of reading and radio, and my lack of interest in a multitude of channels that reminds me of my first experience of American TV in the mid-eighties. On the fast paced commercial stations it was hard to distinguish between the programme and the advertisements and a far cry from our six channels that were familiar and comfortably predicable.
But things have changed and now we can watch what we want, when we want and where we want and the choices are exhausting. This digital age is trying to re-wire our brains and change our behaviour. It’s lost on me. I don’t want to know how it works or how Smart it is or what letters is after its name…PVR, HD, 3D, PVR, UPC Digital. I just want to press a button. I just want it to work!
But they don’t make them like they used to anymore and digital television will never re-create the wonder that was in my eyes on those dark evenings when I sat on my neighbour’s sofa with my coat still on me as I watched Mohammad Ali from some other planet being projected into mine through a tiny fizzling box in the corner with a forked antenna coming out of its head. Everything is too immediate, too perfect, too unmagical nowadays. I’m sure a ‘box’ or any TV will do. It’s going to be out of date before I leave the shop anyway.