Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Killing TV, Kills Common Experiences

Just finished reading Kill the television, keep the shows from creating passionate users, and I must say that I disagree.

The main thrust of the article is that watching TV mindlessly does a lot of bad things, but a TV can also foster good things like watching dvds, playing games, etc. I would argue that TV is much more than that. TV's, by virtue of the fact that they are one of the most basic plug and play devices out there, help to facilitate a common experience for an otherwise fractured and increasingly disconnected society.

Two cases in point. Katrina and 9/11.

Starting with the most recent, Katrina was a horrific event that put a spotlight on the the tragedies that happened following the devastating hurricanes. Not only that, but it shamed many in the nation to realize that poverty, lack of basic needs, class inequalities -- all exist in a society that was mesmerized by the round the clock coverage on TV. While radio and the web certainly played a large role in what happened post-Katrina, it was the presence of live images that grabbed the conscience of a nation, and briefly woke it up from a haze.

Likewise, following 9/11 this country was glued to the TV, as was the rest of the world. Personally I could not bear to watch much of the coverage, knowing those impacted, and having walked many of those streets day in and out years ago, but still, the images on TV humanized, personalized, and unified the experience who would not otherwise have known the full scope of the destruction. Print can sorta do that. Radio can also do that to some extent. The power of images, combined with voice, sound, and words though allows tv to trump other forms of media.

True, moments such as these (thankfully) do not happen often. When they do, however, TV is the messenger that unifies this country. This power of the news, when broadcast on a television is an incredibly powerful force and should not be underestimated, especially in times of crisis, tragedy, and the like.

One of the challenges to those of us interested in using technology to foster greater civic engagement -- ie, community action -- as I see it is how do you take the best of what broadcast journalism is without the worst of scenarios that lead themselves to great coverage?

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