April 20, 2008

Upgrade to Doom


You’ve probably seen the commercials—the ones that announce that in February of 2009, all television transmissions will be switched over to a digital format. As a result, according to the chirpy young thing in the ad, those philistine Luddites among us who still own one of those dusty old cathode-ray tube dinosaurs will be forced to buy a sleek and shiny new digital TV, since those antique jobs will no longer work. The reason for the shift? Well, according to the commercials, “it’s just better, is all.”

            At first I thought it was a joke. A Robocop-style commercial parody, being used to sell some new electronic crap from Sony. But once again, I was wrong. The commercials were the real thing, and I was reminded once again that here in the early twenty-first century, reality has become a parody of itself. It’s become a Devo world, but without the, y’know, irony.

            In the coming months, thousands of us losers—whether we want to or not, whether we can afford it or not—will be forced to buy these new devices if we want to continue watching any television.

            But you know, I don’t want a new TV. I can’t afford a new TV. The one I have now is about ten years old and works perfectly well for my purposes. It has a large screen and a built in VCR that still works beautifully. They’ve stopped making VCRs, and I don’t feel like learning my way around a new goddamned remote control.

            You know what else? Some of us just don’t care about crystal-clear pictures and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. I can’t see the picture too well as it is, but even if I could, I don’t think I’m much interested in seeing every pockmark, every pore, every bad hair weave, every blade of grass. Aesthetically, I’ve always preferred things to be a little grainy. I can only think of a handful of films that deserve a pristine image like they promise, and I can’t think of a single television show that really demands it.

            I don’t watch that much television anyway; I watch the news for some cheap laughs, and I watch cartoons to catch up on the news. Apart from that, I watch movies, many of them on videotape, many of those tapes third or fourth generation. A digital picture, trust me, ain’t gonna save Nude for Satan. So why should I be forced to drop a couple of hundred bucks, or however much these fucking things cost, on a consumer product I neither need nor want?

            Of course we are apparently being given the option of buying digital converter boxes for our old analog TVs, but I did some looking into that. There are a few out there, but most haven’t even been put on the market yet. And the prices at this point seem to run from about $30 to about $300. It’s clear nobody really knows what’s going on here (though how much you wanna bet when this whole thing shakes out that the prices are closer to $300 than $30?).

            The whole plan just stinks.

            We’ve seen it happen before, of course—the abrupt switch over from vinyl record albums to CDs, and from videotape to DVDs (and soon HD DVDs, and soon after that nothing at all, since everything will be downloaded). It happens regularly with computers, too—without annual software upgrades, things just don’t work very well anymore.

            With each upgrade you lose a little something of the original experience, and there’s some major lifestyle overhaul required to adjust to the new system, whatever it is. It’s always a pain in the ass, but this case is different.

            I mean, at least I can choose not to own a cell phone. If I want. I can still use an old clunky plug-in land line telephone. (It’s still not exactly the phone I want, but the 1947 models I prefer are now selling for upwards of $300.) I don’t have a choice in this case, and that makes me suspicious.

            The immediate question becomes, what’s really behind this? Who stands to profit? And who in the digital industry has a powerful enough government lobby that they could con the FCC into this sort of deal? In those other cases—CDs, computers—the answer was obvious. Corporations like Microsoft certainly stood to profit by forcing you to buy some new gizmo every year or two, but there wasn’t any government involvement in determining the marketplace. In this case it’s the fucking FCC insisting that we buy new televisions. Is there no subtlety left in the world? It really is like a parody—or a dystopian fantasy.

            I did a little research and found some hoo-hah about bandwidth, but that struck me as just another obvious smokescreen. So then I asked a few people who usually keep up with such things if they could tell me what was behind it all. Was it just corporations (like Sony and Panasonic) who were trying to sell more digital televisions, or was there more to it than that? Who really stood to profit the most?

            None of them could tell me a thing. In fact, a few of them even came back to me with the “it’s just better, is all” explanation, going on and on about the glories of digital television.

            That’s when it hit me. This was no simple (if heavy-handed and annoying) government assisted marketing ploy. It was much more sinister than that.

            Unlike cathode ray tubes, digital cables are a two-way technology. If you have digital cable, a record is being kept of everything you watch (just like Google is keeping a record of every search you make). It’s not that big a leap to see this nationally-mandated switch over as the next major leap forward in electronic surveillance.

            But even those of us (like me) who don’t have cable are in danger. They may not be able to keep track of what we’re watching, but they can still send signals that would only work with a specific system. Think of They Live or Halloween 3: season of the Witch. This switch over is in all likelihood laying the groundwork for some kind of massive, insidious mind control operation!

            So what evidence do I have? When normally intelligent people began parroting television commercials back at me in answer to a serious question, it was clear the early stages of the program were already underway.

            Obviously, the plan is to zap the American populace into a numb, happy consumer oblivion. To transform us into a bunch of shuffling, self-absorbed, easily amused zombies who will accept everything we see on commercials and hear on the news, and who will actually come to believe deep in our hearts that the music performed on America Idol is good.

            Oh, wait a second.

            Well, never mind. But I still don’t want to buy a fucking digital television.


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