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TV Fills the Void

I've always wondered why the television show Friends was so popular. It had an improbable concept (young people with no visible means of support living in gorgeous New York City apartments), formulaic sitcom banter, and some consistently annoying characters and story lines. Yet people, myself included, watched it with a devoutness that would be the envy of any church. The show was, in fact, an anchor for years of Must See TV.

Could Friends' popularity be due simply to its title? Perhaps, if one stretches the argument Jonah Lehrer reports about in his latest post on The Frontal Cortex: "the benefits of watching television when lonely . . . provide the same sort of emotional relief as spending time with real people."

Media ecologists have been observing these effects of television for decades. Marshall McLuhan identified television as the most significant electric media of his day, because it enabled the viewer to transport beyond time and space and engaged multiple senses, thus stimulating our evolutionary proclivities toward a fragmented, tribal society. Neil Postman then took up the yolk, exploring the darker implications of this feature of electric media.

But even television itself is limited, primarily by schedule, distribution, and level of interactivity. We still must watch our shows either according to a network's schedule or must wait for the DVD release, and we can't enter the narrative played out before us.

Which leads me to wonder where the Internet, which breaks through those barriers by being always already available and completely interactive, will take us. Lonelygirl15 aside, how much less lonely will we be online, even if it forces our attention away from our physical environment and into our own isolated head-space focused on a device?


Sex or Conan O'Brien?

India's Health and Family Welfare Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has a solution for exploding birth rates: give poor villagers electricity so they can watch late-night TV and stop fucking.

According to Rhys Blakely of the London Times, the minister said,

Don’t think that I am saying this in a lighter vein. I am serious. TV will have a great impact. It’s a great medium to tackle the problem... 80 per cent of population growth can be reduced through TV.
Why stop at TVs? Give them laptops and smartphones, and they'll never even want to touch another human.