Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture? - Part 1

Not long ago my crystal-clear, very-expensive-though-now-hopelessly-outdated rear-projection TV suddenly developed ghosts on the screen; red ghosts to be precise. This, in and of itself, was not a completely unreasonable event: the TV was 11 years old after all.

However, the way it happened totally threw me. I had accidentally hit the "Off" button on the remote instead of "Mute" before heading into the kitchen for a snack and, when I returned to the Living Room five minutes later and turned the TV back on, the picture resembled a Picasso painting.

This sudden collapse left me a tad unsympathetic to my TV which was obviously seriously ill.

"You know what you are??!! You are a $3,300.00 enormous piece of useless junk taking up valuable floor space in my living room!!!"

That was the printable portion of what I found myself screaming at it. Obviously, my unbalanced reaction was the result of being completely unprepared for this tragedy. I was in shock and just not thinking clearly.

This is the problem with our ever advancing technology: as more and more of our possessions become "solid state" and contain less and less moving parts, we no longer have the ability to emotionally prepare for their loss.

Things were very different in my childhood: when the tube-filled TV behemoths of that era broke down we had plenty of warning. Consider the VHF tuner for example (the only other functional control found on the black and white sets of that era was the volume control - the UHF dial being only for decoration). First, the user would notice that the picture would no longer cleanly change from the old to the new channel when the tuner knob was turned but there would be a few seconds of static, visually and audibly. As things worsened, the static would no longer clear up on its own but would require the operator to "jiggle" the knob a bit to fix the problem. Eventually, some months later, even the "jiggling" became useless. Even at that stage, though, there was no need to panic: chances were that one or two of the seven VHF channels (available in the New York City area where I grew up) were immune to the problem. If you were lucky, the exemption might have included at least one of the network stations. If you weren't so lucky, your choices might have been limited to such dreck as "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9.

Thus, several years might elapse between the first signs of trouble and the fateful choice of repairing or replacing which, anyone would agree, is plenty of time to get acclimated to any kind of change, even one as momentous as buying a new TV.

But now a five minute break to get some food is all that is required for a superb TV picture to become a Cubistic mess. The impact of this state of affairs cannot be exaggerated: it undermines our belief that life has some predictability. Without that how can we trust anything or anyone??

I think some solution to this fiasco must be found. My own suggestion would be to program the computer chips that control so many of our devices so that we would be given sufficient warning when a component begins to die. Remember the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey"? He told Dave that one of the antenna thingeys on the spaceship would fail within a certain period and recommended its replacement. (OK, HAL was lying but that was only because he was programmed for human emotions which, thankfully, none of our stuff seems to possess - a great boon in my case considering how often I scream obscenities at mine!)

In the meantime I am seeking grief counseling as I seem to be permanently stuck in the anger phase of the grieving cycle.

TBC