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I have selected television as my technology subject because, on a global level, television has the greatest impact on the largest number of people of all the technologies available to us today. I have found that television has become widely distributed for many reasons, the most important being the fact that television sets have become more affordable over the years. There is also a desire by poor people in poor countries to have the same gadgets that are owned by the people in rich countries and only television can satisfy that need. Television can also be the means by which all levels of government can communicate with their populations.
Thanks to satellites, television signals can be received just about everywhere on the planet. In the Third World, a single television can bring people together in order to watch a program on the community-owned set. In less educated cultures, television must seem like magic and its magic can draw those people closer together for the common experience of seeing a TV program. However, that same technology in the hands of advantaged societies tends to drive people apart.
In America, you can often find a TV in every room (and sometimes in the bathroom), and various family members can spend hours and hours watching their own programming preferences on their own TV sets and not interacting with each other at all except during meals. Even the dinner hour cannot guarantee family communication. Too often, after-school activities such as sports and other outside interests draw people away from a shared meal. Those who eat alone often do so with a television for company, thereby replacing two-way conversations with the toxins of modern television programming. Television unifies the poor and separates the rich. It is both an anesthetic and a pacifier but it is never a reliable source for the truth.
Thanks to the wealth of this nation, American television has always had the resources needed to do very great things for the citizens of this country. It could bring profoundly important documentaries to the attention of those who are removed from those stories, it could teach children who have outgrown Sesame Street foreign languages and critical thinking skills plus it could easily spread the truth with each news broadcast. A higher level of entertainment could encourage more sophisticated tastes and cultural expectations. Instead, American television offers a disgusting collection of trash at all levels and that trash makes Americans a very proud but ignorant people.
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In America there is a very strong class system that nobody wants to recognize. In the case of TV, there are the affluent, highly educated that can’t be bothered with TV and then there is the rest of the population who get fed the lies and distortions that have been packaged by the upper class communications elite. It is in the interest of the affluent, stock-holding upper classes to alter truth in order to maintain the ignorance of the second class, consumerist culture.
In spite of television’s capacity to provide a great deal of accurate information, it lies and spits out more of a toxin than a treasure. News programs rarely cause people to think and the political spectrum runs from gray to grayer. There is no true debate just the usual brainwash that is set up to pretend that there is a "right" and there is a "left" but that is just one of the lies.
Through its loud and senseless claims on "the truth", American television has become the greatest propaganda machine on earth. In the kitchen you have a dishwasher, in the laundry room you have the clothes washer, and, wherever you have a television, you have a brainwasher. It is the brainwasher that is the most efficient machine in America otherwise Americans would be asking some very tough questions of both the TV networks and their advertisers. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t like to ask tough questions.
The news is so distorted that it only amounts to carefully packaged propaganda. This absurd nonsense gets delivered to millions of people with their brains stuck on hold! How else can one explain the fact that the three main networks all cover identical stories at identical times and never seem to challenge the lies they are telling. Why doesn’t anybody revolt over this situation? The only excuse I can find is the fact that Americans have been brainwashed all their lives and, as it turns out, they like it that way! It is truly amazing that so many people believe everything they see on TV.
There is also a force that keeps international stories fairly trivialized with limited coverage and minimal analysis. That force is the sound of money talking, shouting and finally screaming out loud. That noisy money is in the pockets of the advertisers. Their influence is sufficient to keep the networks in a constant state of self-censorship, hiding from view any story that paints a true and critical picture of the network’s advertisers or exposes failures of America’s monstrous foreign policies.
Tienamen Square is a prime example of that self-censorship. Most of the outside world watched in horror as that young man challenged the massive tank during the democracy demonstrations. Nobody in the United States actually got to see the next horrible scene where the tank drove over that hero in a show of murderous hostility towards their fellow countrymen, the pro-democracy fighters. The only excuse for distorting this is to shield American eyes from the human rights abuses of Mainland China. If Americans had seen the full story they might not be so eager to embrace China as a trading partner until China cleaned up its act. It is reasonable to assume that the voters just might not reelect a Congressperson who "looked the other way" when all of those Chinese students were killed.
The networks’ sponsors, on the other hand, don’t give a damn about human rights issues; they just want to get their hands on the one billion Chinese who make up the largest potential consumer block in the entire world. It is, therefore, the corporations who are deciding what truths are safe for you to see. They just want you to suck up their vulgar commercials and not do any of that smart stuff like critical thinking. They intend to build up the demand for their products at any cost. Commercial television has messed up America and now it threatens to mess up the world.
The one recent development that is the most threatening to the truth involves the combining of computer-generated images with videotaped realities. Now you can no longer trust anything you see on television. You can no longer find reality unless you first follow the money and the money is in the commercials. The commercials are in the interests of the corporations and it is the corporations who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this new and dangerous combination of technologies.
Sometimes computer-enhanced (or altered) images don’t mean very much but at other times they can be very threatening. I find the alteration of the facts on a news program to be very threatening but, at other times, I enjoy those images very much. For example, I like MTV and VH1 because they play the latest music and their videos are so cool. I can see all sorts of amazing technology in any one of today’s music videos. I can see terrific styles and wonderful locations along with great sounds and fabulous dancing. It is only when I can no longer tell what is truth or what is fiction that I am most frightened by the computer-television monster.
Computer animation is scary because it is changing the ways that we view the world and those changes have no respect for reality! When I was a little kid you could tell when somebody was messing around with a photographed or video image. You could actually see when something wasn’t real because the lighting wouldn’t be the same for all of the subjects in a frame or the color would be off to a certain degree or the resolution would be low in one place but not in another. Today, that has all changed thanks to the level of the technology that is used to fool people. The same generation who believed that something was real because they saw it on television or in a newspaper picture is now being manipulated with phony images that look as real as any snapshot taken of a family member. Many old people have no idea that what they are seeing is unreal. That is understandable because they have always lived with terms like: "I saw it with my own eyes!" or "It’s true, I saw it on television." What they fail to realize is the fact that what they were seeing were manipulated images. This is where technology comes in to alter the perception of many Americans. If what they are seeing has been delivered to their eyes in pixels and those pixels have been precisely altered in order to tell them a lie, how can we expect them to know the difference between what is real and what is phony? Technology has an evil side in that application and I think that this is very, very dangerous.
Yes, there are some image enhancements that are obviously fake no matter how pixel-perfect they happen to be. If TV broadcasts a video of Janet Reno wearing a hot pink bikini and dancing on the beach with Michael Jordan, my logic detector would tell me that what I am seeing is a lie. However, if I saw Bill Clinton shaking hands with Pat Buchanan, I would have no way of knowing if that event was real or if it was phony. Some campaign manager could use such an image to persuade the voters that Buchanan has liberal support even though the incident may never have taken place.
This is where television can become a terrorist. Dangerous, powerful people could manipulate entire populations simply by using subtle, pixel-by-pixel falsified images. That capacity was amply demonstrated in the film, Wag The Dog. In that case, a very believable, heavily manipulated image gets created and broadcast in order to deflect the public’s awareness of a candidate’s illegal affair. The message in that fantasy claimed that this country was at war with Albania. That war did not exist in reality but pictures were there to prove that there was a war and that people were getting hurt in that war. The entire motivation was to keep the voters from examining the presidential candidate’s morals and it worked in the movie. Wag The Dog may be something of an exaggeration as to how far the image-makers might go in controlling the American consciousness but there is a great deal to fear from the developing technologies they might use in the future. The danger lies in the fact that the new developments in broadcast/cable animations can presently alter reality down to the smallest pixel. In the future it is hard to imagine just how much further they might go or what improved technologies might be available to help them go that distance. What if they could get a personal history of each viewer and tailor their pitch to suit that person’s interests and philosophy? If you didn’t know exactly what was going on, how could you trust your own thinking?
Today, television is the technology that is available to the greatest number of American citizens or citizen-consumers. Money is calling the shots because money is what it takes to gain access to the most powerful technologies. The wealthy corporations control the images that everyone else is seeing and therefore, corporations are controlling the thoughts of TV viewers. What the corporations’ gain, the citizens lose, giving the corporations too much control over the lives of those citizens.
What has been lost in the evolution of TV is the ability to trust, to believe in what you are seeing and to make decisions based upon what you have seen television, heard on radio or read in the newspapers. Computer technologies will continue to improve on a level that has the greatest impact upon the individual computer owner-user. For the rest of society, there is television… distorted, misinforming television. The high-resolution next generation of televisions will simply apply that improvement to the lies and distortions that are already coming in on low standard, high decibel cable and broadcast channels. For someone who is interested in the truth, that objective may be very hard to locate and even to define.
Perhaps what will be needed is a warning light that flashes on the remote control and shows up on the screen saying "BS Alert, BS Alert! What you are about to see has been poisoned by image manipulation. Any conclusions you might draw from it are to be regarded as irrelevant and superficial. This concludes our broadcast of the BS Alert system!"