The DTV Transition

It happened.  Analog has been turned off.  And, I can’t help but feel a little sad.

I grew up on television.  My first memories of television are in the early 80s on a 13″ black and white TV.  We watched cartoons on Saturday mornings in the tiny front room that served as our living room.  I remember looking into that screen thinking, “If I look just hard enough, I can see color.”

When my mom remarried, we took in, along with new siblings and a new dad, but also a new TV  It was one of those TVs that sit like furniture on the ground.  Thinking about it, those are the only TVs that look in place in the corner of a room.  It served as a shelf for knick-knacks, pictures, and trophies.  We had a cable box, maybe one of the early converter boxes.  There was no remote.  We had to get up to change the stations.  The dial on the cable box was quite rigid with notches.  No digital there.

Eventually, our TV grew up, and we got a remote.  My dad (step) watches sports, so cable was a part of our lives since that furniture TV.  I could even hear the tiny whine of the TV when he had the sound off when I was trying to sleep at night.  I’ve long since forgotten the scientific term for that level of white noise.

Then, something happened.  As I began my journey in college (the first time), I stopped needing to watch TV so much.  There was even a five-year period recently where I didn’t watch television.  I do watch movies, and I have not stopped watching movies, but having all-day, easy access to commercials and the latest greatest TV show stopped for 6 or 7 years.

One day, while conversing with a friend in 2000, I commented how I don’t need TV, but I’d be loathe to exist without a radio.  I need some access to the outside world.  It was about that time I found my (liberal as Pete likes to say) talk radio – in the form of NPR.  I was living in Lansing at the time, and my memory traded from memorizing what TV show is on next to which radio station to listen to at which hour, and which station got the best reception depending on where in Michigan I was.

One of my favorite shows was the Todd Mundt show.  Unfortunately, he only stayed on air for about five years, and then decided to move on while he still had it.  He had thoughtful, inspiring interviews, in the ilk of Terri Gross, but focused on other more obscure yet relevant angles.  Whereas Ms. Gross tends to focus on pop culture, Mr. Mundt hosted a broader spectrum of topics.  He had Heather who’d do the weekly (or was it bi-weekly?) tech reporter.  One of my most memorable interviews was about the man who invented the Palm Pilot.  The part I remember is how the inventor missed all his appointments for a month because he used a wood block and a pencil to substitute his planner… thereby not actually writing any appointments down while he was seeing what would work!

This friend with whom I was conversing theorized that it was easier, here in the US, to get a free TV than it would be to get a free meal.  That month, I had THREE offers for a free TV.  I decided to hold out for the TV/VCR combo, which was the last offer, and subsequently the one I took.  After all, I do like watching my movies.  I’ve only been offered one free meal by a stranger, and that was while I was attempting to learn how to knock on doors for the Clean Water campaign.  That is another story.  To this day, I have yet to buy a television.  Although, we did buy a $30 DVD player, $20 on antennaes, and $40 soon to be $0 on a converter box.

So, today, as I updated our converter box, I felt a pang of sadness as I skimmed through the now defunct analog signal.  Sure, there are a spattering of stations that have yet to turn off their signal – but the majority have been switched off.  Today, we enter a new, digital age, and I wonder, how will that affect the next generation as they tell their stories?