Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Being a child in the 1950’s and having a family with enough disposable income to afford a television meant that on days, evenings and just about any other time that we were home and didn’t have homework, the entire family was gathered around this fascinating new entertainment machine. It was turned “on” constantly and it dramatically changed the way our family and millions of other families dealt with each other.

    Instead of talking about what went on in school or work, in the evening we watched “I Love Lucy” or “Our Mrs. Brooks.” There was little talk about what was going on in the neighborhood or in the news of the day because we were busy watching “What’s My Line” or “I’ve Got a Secret.” Instead of the family sitting at the table and having a meal and conversation, eating became something that was done on a new folding contraption that snapped together and became a “TV tray.” This was convenient for my mother to watch her “stories” during the middle of the day and for my younger brother and me to watch our Saturday morning cartoons avec Cheerios au lait.

    Later, some savvy food companies invented and sold millions of metal trays containing barely recognizable, frozen food and called them “TV dinners.” Pop ‘em in the oven at 425 degrees and 25 minutes later, a healthy, delicious meal was ready for the entire family, just in time for “The Real McCoys.” Thus began another love affair. This time it was with food that some company prepared. It was not necessarily as tasty or nutritional, as mom made, but it was fast convenient and gave us time to watch TV.

    McLuhan was of course prescient. We fell in love with the medium, often despite the message. And why not? Dinah Shore’s ebullient singing of her theme song that promised us untold adventure and good times if we would just “see the USA in your Chevrolet” was much more interesting than anything that happened at 501 Bleeker Street in some little town in Texas. Some comedy show or quiz show (whether it was rigged or not) that emanated from New York City was magical compared to the one-horse towns that most of America lived in.

    In his remarkable book, “The Master and His Emissary,” Iain McGilchrist discusses in fascinating detail how the left and right hemispheres of the brain have been largely misunderstood by everyone from philosophers to neuroscientists and how this divided brain affected the making of the Western World. Simple right? No one ever accused Mr. McGilchrist of being intellectually lazy. .

    In one chapter he discusses whether we actively choose our surroundings (as our left hemisphere would suggest) or if our environment manipulates us. He posits that “the world comes to meet us and acts to attract our gaze. Vitality, life and movement themselves draw the eye.”

    He notes the fact that television that is switched on becomes the focus of a room, much as the fireplace and hearth had been in previous generations, because it portrays life and movement. It is no accident that the word “focus” is the Latin word for hearth or fireplace. The TV, as the fireplace did before, allows for a closeness among the people in the room, without having to “focus” too explicitly on one another.

    Some would contend that these distractions of the television, smartphones, email, social networks – often being consumed simultaneously by those clever multi-taskers – are another stage in the evolution of the human mind. This very well could be the case. There are likely research studies gathering virtual dust in some academic database at this very moment that show that WITHOUT these distractions, there would be more divorce, family violence and assorted mayhem resulting from unfiltered human interaction. Human contact is such a messy transaction.

    Photo credit: Fickr Creative Commons ajmexico
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.