I remember my parents saying when television came out, there was a lot of talk about its potential as an educational tool. Watching the medium age, though, it was evident for my parents and the generations that followed, that television wasn’t living up to its potential. Those that have tried and the survivors that continue to try always have lackluster ratings. They are lucky to stay afloat year after year**. The television is mostly an entertainment device and a social crutch, not an educational tool. And it hasn’t given us world peace, or even an 100% literate society that always eats its vegetables.
I didn’t really appreciate the truth of my parents observation until I watched the internet evolve, go mainstream and age in my lifetime. It is truly amazing to have this library of our planet’s activities available 24/7 in people’s homes. I truly did not see this thing coming when I was little. Now I, like many people, can’t imagine going back to life without it. I think I can say that this is the case for a lot of people 50 years old and younger.
That being said, just like television, it has got a lot of indulgent, convenient, distractive, base-nature content. It seems that no matter what goals we have for the new media platforms we create, our base nature always reveals itself in the bulk of its popular content. Simply put, food, sex, status are always there, no matter what.
**Only PBS and a handful of cable channels live up to the original dreams about television’s potential. PBS receives limited government funding, and asks viewer donations practically year round to take up the slack. Other channels, available only through cable package, have joined in the reality show craze by offering slice of life programming to get better ratings (yes, TLC I mean you). Oprah is struggling with her own cable network, which I am sure has high-minded ambitions, like the latter years of her network show. Hopefully a viewer develops some compassion for the subject and their challenges (real or imagined), but there’s little educational value beyond that. News channels are very ADD and few have thought-provoking shows. Even if they discuss an issue for more than 30 minutes, it ends with the credits and tomorrow is a whole new issue.