True story: Some years ago I was a welfare caseworker and on a home visit to a family home sat in a living room with people ranging from grandparents down to little children. The centerpiece of the living room was a big screen color television set. But something was wrong. It took me a while to figure out what it was—there was not a shred of reading material in the room. No newspapers, magazines, books or anything. Not even a TV Guide. I wondered how many in that family could read.
Television is a relatively new part of our family and social experience. In my early years there was little or no television to be seen. We listened to the radio if we wanted at-home entertainment—or sometimes we played a record player (my mother’s parents had an old-fashioned wind-up Victrola.) Once I learned how to read I usually preferred reading to other methods of entertainment.
My first regular television viewing was when I lived in a small town in Colorado. When our town finally got television in 1954—from Grand Junction—there was one channel that signed on in the afternoon and signed off around midnight. Most of the programming was playback of national programming. We had no live national programming at that time.
Later, in New Mexico television was available on four channels—out of Albuquerque—and we had live network television. My parents decided we should limit television viewing by skipping one day each week—Thursdays. They liked sitcoms and some drama—nothing serious. Of course we had one television set—that was before color—and it was in the living room.
In the early days of television there were news programs, some documentaries, situation comedies, some dramas, and usually very old movies. Once I began to acquire a taste of my own in what I liked to watch I liked news and documentaries and some drama. Situation comedies were never my favorite. Not having a choice in what was on made it pretty easy to decide—I watched what my parents watched or I went to my room and read.
Today we have a lot more viewing choices, ranging from sports to worldwide news to the ever-present sitcoms, drama and pretty much anything a person could want. Television had a broadening effect on me. It was good to be able to put faces alongside the ideas of people I was reading or hearing about and to see them in action. But I never stopped reading or loving reading.
My radio news experience gradually changed me into a television news viewer as well as a newspaper reader. I still like to keep my mind occupied in other ways. I don’t think television changed me all that much, but it did change me and I’m sure it changes almost everyone.
Parents are wise to limit television viewing time for their children and should also limit their own viewing, but giving children a choice on what to view is good as long as it is supervised. Not all programming is suitable for kids and the best experiences for a child are still family interactions, and school age children should be readers at least as much as they are television viewers.
Television has definitely changed our society, and we’d best get used to it. It’s here to stay, but we should also keep on reading, and have other activities to keep our minds active and healthy. We need that balance as adults and our children do as well. (Now where did I leave the remote?)
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.