Television Looking Beyond the Idiot Box

Select a technology, such as electricity, the internal combustion engine, television, the telephone, etc., and describe how the invention and widespread adoption of this technology changed society. Who benefited or lost out due to the adoption of the technology?

The invention of the television is a momentous landmark in the much trodden path of technological advancements that have changed and shaped the ways in which individuals, communities and cultures interact and relate to each other.

Though scientific and technological research led to the invention of the television, it soon emerged as a powerful medium of communication that not only had tremendous impact on news media and entertainment but also challenged the structure of family, cultural and social life.
In 1962 Malvina Reynolds composed a song about “little boxes” kept inside the other little boxes made of “ticky tacky” and in the blink of an eye the television became a powerful symbol associated with middle-class conformity. Though the little box was not all pervasive in those days as it has become now, Pete Seeger who sang the song had the idea just right decades ago.
The paradox is that even as television has brought the world together, it has driven wedges among people. Watching it is no longer a group activity as it was in the 60s or the 70s; family has disappeared into separate rooms and the nation hardly comes together except for rare broadcast of a disaster or a celebration (Katz and Liebes 2007). 

Until a decade ago it was our major source of entertainment, news, sports scores, weather reports and other information. It was our window to the world and our most persuasive salesperson which continually tries to create new demands. Internationalization through satellite television has led to pluralism which is far removed from the earlier network-defined linguistic and cultural constraints. This is also seen by many as undermining of the shared bases of democracy and community.

Advertisers understood the power of this medium and have been using a number of strategy like rapid paced format and other special effects (Biggens 1989; Huston & Wright 1989) to hold the attention of the audience, especially the children whose vulnerability and largely unmonitored exposure to advertising through television has aroused regulatory concern all across the world, especially in developing countries where the regulatory codes are not yet well defined. Persuasive marketing strategists are gearing up to create customers for life (Donahoo 2007) even as they are inveighed with charges like gender stereotyping, promoting unhealthy body images and consumption behaviors. Armed with the powerful visual impact of television, advertisements have been able to dictate consumer behavior and create markets for new products.

Until the 80s theories related to television watching were implicit with negative connotations but over the years television has also emerged as an educational tool. Research has favorably evaluated the effectiveness of curriculum-based television programming for children in areas as diverse as science, social skills, mathematics, and literacy (Bryant, Alexander and Brown 2004) and established a co-relation between enhanced short and long term learning through educational media. 

The television has called a variety of names— from the idiot box to the devil’s instrument but its contribution and all pervasive influence on the modern cultures and societies cannot be denied or overlooked. The multi-faceted application attributes of “second screen” gadgets like PCs, tablets and cell phones have gradually usurped the central position television enjoyed in our lives but the television is not ready for the dump heap yet. As a medium of entertainment and information it has still retained a measure of its relevance and usage.  

  • Biggens, B (1989). Violence on Australian television. Television violence and children: Report to Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's inquiry.

  • Donahoo, D (2007). Idolising Children. University of New South Wales Press Ltd. Sydney. p164-165, 169, 177.
·         J. Bryant, A. F. Alexander & D. Brown, Learning from Educational Television Programs, Learning from Television: Psychological and Educational Research. M. J. A. Howe (ed.) London: Academic Press, 1983), pp. 1–30.
  • Katz, Elihu & Liebes, Tamar ( 2007). No More Peace: How terror, disaster and war have upstaged media events. International Journal of communication 1:157-66.
  • Huston A & Wright J (1989). Interview reported in Biggens, B. Violence on Australian television. Television violence and children. Report to Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's Inquiry.

Elad Shalom,
CTO at


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