TheWorldIsFlat

Baby got back:  A profile shows the massive 18″ rear end of obsolescence.

The great, hulking beast that was our RCA 32″ television is dead.  Purchased specifically because it amply filled the cavernous interior of our corner armoire, the technological dinosaur gave no hint of its impending demise.  Maybe we had been working it a little too hard by our constant streaming of The Office on Netflix.  Whatever the cause, our old TV was unresponsive one afternoon, and we knew that the time had come for us to say goodbye to picture tubes and enter a new televisual frontier.

I was born at a time when accepting the demise of a television set was preceded by valiant attempts at resuscitation.  To simply say, “Well, the TV isn’t working; time for a new one,” was unthinkable.  If you were reasonably handy and had little fear of electrocution, you might have removed the back panel and pulled out a vacuum tube for a quick diagnosis at the corner drugstore’s tube tester.  At the very least, you would have called a repairman.  Not until the grim-faced technician signed the death certificate would a family concede that a replacement was necessary.  It was, after all, an expensive proposition.

Today’s electronics are relatively inexpensive to the degree that paying for repairs often makes little economic sense.  Frequently a replacement can be found that is twice as nice as the original unit for the very same price.  What’s more, it’s not unusual for electronics to be obsolete at the time of their expiration.  This was certainly the case for our silenced RCA.  Who could find a similar television set being retailed today?  More importantly, who would want to?

Just turning the old behemoth around in the armoire for the odd cable change was always a struggle.  Removing it from the cabinet was a procedure that may or may not have been covered by my health insurance.  Certainly it was an act of faith in the integrity of my spinal column to lug the bulky set from shelf to floor.  To think that never again, no matter how large a TV I might purchase, would I encounter such a backbreaking concentration of dead weight made me grateful that the era of the flat screen is here.

Okay, it’s been here, I will admit, but I was a technological Rip Van Winkle as the revolution occurred.  With the demise of our old set, I woke up to discover that the world of big-box electronics retailers is now a different place.  Gone are the familiar components of my youth, and a strange new jargon has swept the land.  1080p?  HDMI?  120 Hz refresh rate? I stood bewildered before the endless arrays of LCD and plasma sets, humbled by the knowledge that I have begun the humiliating journey toward becoming a clueless old man.

A little Internet research and a Consumer Reports article later, I had progressed from total ignorance to a working knowledge sufficient to fend off teenage Best Buy associates.  I strutted the aisles with an aloof detachment, waiting for a television worthy of our living room to present itself.  Meanwhile at home, an emerging debate over size and placement threatened to derail the whole endeavor.  Should we keep it relatively small and inexpensive, simply filling our existing armoire space and attaching existing components?  Might we go for the full home theater experience and have a ridiculously large screen mounted on our wall?  Perhaps something in between?

What about wireless Internet connectivity?  PC connections?  Bluetooth remotes with slide-out QWERTY keypads?  Just how many HDMI ports do we want, anyway?  Will we even be able to tell the difference between the various resolution and refresh rate options?  Considering all of these questions made me realize how much more complicated buying a TV has become.  More than once it also made me want to forget the whole thing and get by with our little no-name import that had served as a seldom-used bedroom TV.

Ultimately we decided to save ourselves a lot of trouble and expense by choosing the “biggest set that fits within our armoire” option.  That turned out to be a leading brand’s 32″ LCD with a resolution of 1080p and a 60 Hz refresh rate.  So conditioned was our family to the traditional enormity of living room televisions that some of us insisted that there was no way we could bring home our new TV in our little Civic.  Of course, its slender packaging fit right into the trunk with plenty of room to spare.  The store from which we purchased it directed a beefy warehouse employee to carry it out to our car, which is a little like having the grocery bag boy help you manage a 2-liter bottle and a bag of chips.  The new TV is so ridiculously light that I could have toted a pair of them without fear of vertebral collapse.

This made installation painless, as it was nothing to pick up the new set and move it this way and that way to make the necessary connections.  After the obligatory automated channel-seeking setup, we navigated through our basic cable offerings and were pleased with the overall quality of the picture.  Then we happened upon what we had not expected: a dozen or so HD channels featuring the digital feeds of local network affiliates.  That was when the full potential of 1,080 progressive scan lines smacked my retinas and left me as open-mouthed as a rube encountering his first six-lane highway.  Gosh!

I stared at our new TV with infantile fascination.  The content hardly mattered, so long as it was bold and colorful.  I sat through an entire Tonight Show monologue absolutely mesmerized.  Commercials were equally entertaining.  I knew that my brain was operating on its most primal setting when I found myself enthralled by the local news.  The weather, in particular, was spectacular, with its endless parade of eye-popping graphics.  “And it looks like we’ll need to put a few more blankets on the bed and another log on the fire as wind chills dip into negative territory tonight.”  Really?  Spellbinding.  Show me more.  I don’t care what it means, just keep it sharp and visually striking.

One day, long after my total engagement with high-def images has ebbed to unappreciative complacency, I’ll hit the power button of our flat-screen and nothing will happen.  Then, like Rip Van Winkle awakened, I’ll immerse myself in the technology of the times.

Hey everybody!  Come on down for “World’s Funniest Holograms”!  It looks great!