In the 21st century, the television has become an essential and ubiquitous piece of technology, which we consume on an everyday basis without even actively thinking about it. Indeed, with 99% of Australian households owning at least one, the television has obtained the status as a default family member. However, this has not always been the status quo. Since its inception in the 20th century, the television and the viewing habits of audiences have evolved. While we now take modern technology for granted, it is useful to hear the voices of those who experienced the powerful transformation the television had upon their family households. My dad (Mr Singh), now 53 years old, tells of his experiences of watching television and what it was like to grow up in a world where technology was —and still is— continually changing.
Let’s time-shift back 42 years to the bustling heart of India, New Delhi. It is 1973 — two years after the Indo-Pakistan War — and Mr Singh’s family have bought their very own, first, black and white television. Asked of his initial reactions as an 11-year old boy, Mr Singh describes the moment as ‘fascinating’ and ‘pure excitement’, which left him feeling as the ‘richest boy on the planet’. This is no surprise, as ownership was an exclusive and rare phenomenon. After all, up until 1975, only seven Indian cities had a television service.
This excitement was further triggered by the accompanied anticipation as ‘you could not just walk into a store and buy a television; you had to wait at least two weeks before you could actually get it’. On arrival, it became ‘a street affair’, with the television embodying a celebrity status. As Mr Singh recalls, ‘everyone in the neighbourhood knew you were getting a T.V’ as the process began with the television being paraded in the street, followed by the technician arriving with the big antenna ready to install the set.
Before this memorable event, Mr Singh’s only access to the ‘magical’ black box was through one of his best friends. ‘Owning a television was a luxury and made you popular in school’ and thus Mr Singh’s best friend became very popular with most of the neighbourhood kids attending his house many times a week to watch television. He remembers how 8-10 kids from the block would gather and sit around the television with their eyes glued to the screen. He jokingly claims that he was treated like VIP as he always got a front-row seat. As Mr Singh laughs, ‘it was always good to have a friend who owned a T.V’.
When asked if the television set changed the family household, the simple answer was ‘yes’. Echoing Sonia Livingstone (2009, p.2)’s findings of how television viewing became a symbol of ‘shared pleasure’, Mr Singh also claims how watching television became a ‘family affair’ which ‘you did together’ every night in the collective family space of the lounge room. This reflects Linvingstone (2009, p.2)’s assertion of how the television ‘acquired a meaningful place within the family’. Mr Singh recalls how his parents used to sit on the ‘adult’ lounge, while he and his sister would sit on the floor. While there weren’t many channels and broadcasting was restricted to 6-10pm every night, Mr Singh remembers key prime time sessions which his family never failed missed. For example, every Wednesday evening, Bollywood song clips were aired, while every Sunday night an Indian movie was shown. However, Mr Singh’s personal favourite was the British television series, The Invisible Man.
Upon reflection, Mr Singh was amazed by how technological advancements have shaped the current televisions (total of four) he owns in 2015.
‘Now we have smart TV’s which can record television, play games, show hundreds of channels, access the internet and even show Indian television through satellite TV! Things have changed so much’.
However, my dad and I concur that as a result of such changes, television viewing has changed dramatically in the past decade. Now, consumption has become a more instantaneous, flexible and individualised viewing experience. Choice comes in both the range of content available and the means by which it can be accessed. For instance, the diversity of channels has resulted in a greater fragmentation of audience.
With the rise of the internet and streaming technology, viewing habits have also changed as we now can dictate and control how and when we want to watch our television shows. Furthermore, Australians now have the opportunity to watch television on other screens i.e. tablets, laptops, and mobile phones. As Livingstone (2009, p.3) claims:
Although for a time the arrival of television signalled a temporary but culturally significant grouping of the family around the living room set…historical evidence reveals that this only briefly bucks the longer term trend towards the multiplication and diversification of media that has facilitated…the processes of individualisation, consumerism, and globalisation that characterise Western societies in late modernity.
Based on personal experience, I agree with Livingstone and believe these developments have collectively influenced the family dynamic. Whether such changes are for better or worse, I will let you decide! But if you are interested in reading about other people’s experiences with television, I highly recommend sambcarroll’s blog and lucmarsden’s blog.
Livingstone, S 2009, ‘Half a century of television in the lives of our children’, American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 625, no. 1, pp. 151-163.
Oztam, 2015, ‘Australian Multi-Screen Report’, viewed 14 August, 2015, <http://www.oztam.com.au/documents/Other/MultiScreenReport_Q1-2015-Final%20amended%20P7.pdf>.