Digital delight

I'm not quite certain how I've managed to find the time to write this column.

You see, I just upgraded my cable service to digital television, and I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to leave the television again.

It's not just the fact that there are hundreds of channels, showing niche programming at every hour of the day and night. It's ... no, actually, it is the fact that there are hundreds of channels, showing niche programming at every hour of the day and night. But there's more to my relationship with my DTV than just the coolness factor, and the fact that I now have a remote control that looks like it would be able to launch a first strike against the Al Qaeda training camp of your choice.

First, it's a bit humbling. Even a faithful and devoted fan of the contemporary cultural arts such as yours truly recognizes, in the face of this digital onslaught, that there is absolutely no way to get a handle on the diffuse and diffracted streams of the American entertainment complex. To do so would result only in embarrassed failure, not to mention ruined eyesight, a pasty complexion, and a somewhat alarming tendency to talk like the Powerpuff Girls. That's not to say that I'm not willing to take the risk, though.

Secondly, digital television is a bit worrying. When you look at some of the things that get their own shows – not just their own shows, but their own channels – you begin to wonder about the health of the nation. I'm as much a fan of golf as the next person, particularly if the next person isn't much of a golf fan, but it seems hard to believe that even the most diehard plaid-wearer and drive-shanker could want to watch other people play it 24 hours a day.

But thirdly, digital television is a bit heartening, because it suggests that no matter what kind of person you are, no matter what your background or belief system, no matter whether you like watching people hit tiny balls with big sticks 24 hours a day, there are plenty of people out there in the world just like you. Enough, at least, to support a show on cable.

After too many hours of watching digital television, and being humbled, worried, and heartened, my head started to spin, and became filled with wild and crazy ideas. Namely, let's use digital television to ensure world peace.

UN peacekeeping forces should go into dangerous areas, lay fiberoptic cable, and place televisions in the homes of the world's enemies. Hopefully, they'll be so busy channel-surfing that they won't have time to plot attacks or to make bombs. (Do you know how long it takes to go through 500 channels?)

Once the televisions are in place, then UN sanctions will really have teeth: international content providers will be authorized to "block out all the good channels" in the wake of non-compliance with inspection commissions. After a couple of days of weather channels and HBO Zone, you can bet that they'll be ready to do whatever they have to. And anyway, if they try to complain, the sheer amount of time that they'll have to spend on hold with their local digital cable company will prevent them from doing anything harmful.

Not only could digital television be responsible for world peace, but with a judicious amount of flipping between exercise and home shopping channels, healthcare costs could plummet, while industry and manufacturing could rebound from its current slump. Finally, mastery in channel identification by number could lead to a renaissance in mnemonic and educational techniques, particularly in math ("Timmy, what's Starz!Cinema divided by TMC-X? Thirty-four.")

A starry-eyed idea? Impractical and foolish? Maybe. But you'll be laughing out of the other side of your easy chair when, in decades to come, this column will be held up as the manifesto of the new, digital era. The documentary on it will be on channel 27,654. Set your VCRs now.

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