As a technology medium, Television is something that’s hard to pin down. The simplest way to describe it, is that it’s a medium that transmits audio and images together. But as The Verge article explores, the technology was hard to grasp at first. People didn’t understand what it could be used for, or what it could potentially be used for. From it’s early conception of a “telephonoscope”, to visual telegraph, to visual radio, the medium was a tough sell in it’s early history. And even today we’re having a hard time giving it a specific definition.
We live in a time when it’s hard to define what television is precisely. Is television defined by the device you’re watching it on? Is television defined by the length of a certain piece of visual media? Am I using television if I chat with someone through a TV screen over the internet? The thing is, it’s always been that way. The history of the future of television is particularly messy because no one at any given time has been happy with defining exactly what it is.
My hunch is that in the future, thinking of media as different categories like print, radio, or television, is going to be silly. The networked computer is already starting to make that happen. For example, the idea of a Television as we have known it doesn’t matter any more. What is a Television in a world with Netflix and YouTube? The device in itself is starting to matter less and less. It’s just a screen. The content that we put in it is what’s going to matter.
The message is the medium. Take that, McLuhan.
*Post title is a reference from a scene from Back to the Future were Marty McFly tells Milton Baines that has already seen a brand new Honeymooners episode from a rerun.
*McLuhan believed that the particular content on a medium didn’t make a difference. The medium was the thing the really was affecting you in some way, and not the particular content. Thus, the medium is the message.