Family's Best Friend - NBC New York

Family's Best Friend

Why the "idiot box" wasn't so stupid after all



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    It used to be that television got a bad rap for corroding people's minds and producing too much stupidity, sex, violence, etc.

    As the song goes, don't know what you got till it's gone: Parents are increasingly worried by the amount of time that their kids are spending online, a study shows. This time, it's not just that parents are scared of what the kids are viewing -- it's the sheer amount of hours that they are spending on their computers, phones, etc.

    Whether it's around the dinner table or just in front of the TV, U.S. families say they are spending less time together.The decline in family time coincides with a rise in Internet use and the popularity of social networks... 

    This may well be the first time that watching television is described as a shared family activity like sitting down at dinner together.

    TV has historically been seen as something negative in American culture -- at best, a vast "cultural wasteland" or, at worst, a purveyor of material offensive to the right (sex) and the left (violence). 

    But the idea that television is something unifying is a fact. The golden age of television (roughly from the '50s through the mid-70s roughly tracked the growing and early adult years of the baby boomers -- from "I Love Lucy" and "The Andy Griffith Show" to "Gilligan's Island" and "All In The Family"; from "Gunsmoke" and "Peyton Place" to "Star Trek" and "Dallas."  It continued somewhat into the '80s with "The Cosby Show", "Cheers, etc., before the explosion of cable created more options and a more diverse and diffuse audience.  

    Those eras created a shared societal hearth, around which families gathered.  Today's shows, even those watched by all members of the family inevitably are seen at different times because of DVRs or online or on iPods.  That old so-called "idiot box", in retrospect, doesn't seem so stupid now.  

    Its successor as the ubiquitous technological tool -- the personal computer -- may be the doorway to the information age, but it sure doesn't lead to a shared cultural experience.    

    New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.