Television, the modern world, and Elsewhere

“The news of television, however, is what I particularly go for when I get a chance at the paper, for I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable distubance of the general peace or a saving radience in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television – of that I am quite sure…

Clearly the race today is between loud speaking and soft, betweeen the things that are and the things that seem to be, between the chemist of RCA and the angel of God. Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound “effects” are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself. Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images–distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar to us than their originals.”

– E.B. White: One Man’s Meat, “Removal” (1938)

Over half a century later – is this true? I think so, but to what extent? Just how much was E.B. White a prophet, or a true discerner?

What is the result of the “test of the modern world”? Have we stood or fallen? Have we even reached that point yet, or did we pass it long ago without hardly noticing because we were so enwrapt in our soaps?

I’ll probably have more thoughts on this. But for now, if you’ve read this, I’d love to hear yours.


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