Everyone watches television, but not many people think about how big an impact
television has had on our society today. Television is the most important invention of the
twentieth century.
TV was developed by David Sarnoff, who thought it would provide viewers with
a better understanding of the world. It uses electrons to transmit images. The first
television broadcast was a presidential speech in 1939, and the next day TVs went on sale
in New York for $1,000 a pop. Televisions were so expensive that only 800 were sold at
first (Fisher and Fisher 281). Though by 1949 940,000 homes owned TV’s and by 1953
the number was 20 million (Douglas). By 1978, 97 percent of homes had TV’s, and
today 99 percent of U.S. homes have at least one television – more than have telephones
The wide variety of shows offered on TV reflects the diversity of our modern
society (Hart 5). This is a good thing, but is also a problem – problems like sex and
violence in our society have caused controversy in television programming too. For
example, children can be influence by what they see on TV. “Many children view two
hours of TV daily, and children’s programs average between 20 and 25 violent acts per
hour – four times as many as adult programs” (Wright 29). “Excessive viewing by
children at a young age can interfere with language development in children” (Winn 90).
Clearly, many children watch TV, with serious consequences.
“Kids who spent more than three hours a day watching television at age 14 were
more than four times as likely to have acted aggressively by age 22 than kids who
watched TV for less than an hour. The connection held up even after researchers
accounted for other possible culprits, including poverty, neglect and bad neighborhoods”
says Jeffrey G. Johnson, a psychiatrist (Wright 29). Increased aggression isn’t the only
effect of watching too much TV. Another author says that TV promotes physical and
mental isolation and passivity, disconnects viewers from reality, and facilitates autocracy
(Mander 27). Clearly, an invention that has this much influence on us is an important
TV has also made information more available than ever before. This can be a
good thing – just as a free press is important to the spread of democracy, TV can be a box
of freedom, as long as the medium is indeed open. When it’s not, the power of TV can
be very dangerous. In some countries, governments strictly control TV in order to
prevent unwanted influences from coming in, as well as to indoctrinate their own
citizens. However, the rulers of these countries don’t always follow their own rules.
Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has 33 set in his office, allowing him to watch all
satellite news channels at the same time. TV has the power to make or break politicians –
as even American candidates have learned (Fisher and Fisher 8). According to Hart,
politicians can even use television to cushion themselves from the hard questions by
projecting carefully chosen images to sway public opinion (28).
There are other candidates for the most important product of the 20th century.
Some would say the computer has been more important than anything else. But the
computer doesn’t reach nearly as many people as does the TV – it’s still geared toward
the educated, and it will be some time before 99 percent of people own one. What
happened on 9/11 showed how important television still is as a source of news – many
web sites crashed as too many people tried to access information, while people could still
access TV news with a click of the remote. Television is clearly the most important
product of the 20th century.