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Media, Information and Technoculture 2000F/G Lecture Notes - Neil Postman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Image Scanner

Media, Information and Technoculture
Course Code
MIT 2000F/G
Daniel Robinson

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Lecture on Television November 15, 2011 (read with slides)
-Slide 2: TV As Problem Child of Communication
-TV is unidirectional
-people say “I don’t have time for TV” but no one says that about radio, internet,
newspapers, etc.
-Television wasn’t seen with the high regard other technologies were. It was seen as an
-TV has a discontinuity of emotion to it: “it’ll tell you about a rape in New York and the
next minute be talking about a hockey game score the next”. So Neil Postman is saying
that it doesn’t allow you to think logically, sequentially, even rationally. TV is a way to
enable you to contradict yourself and not realize the logical progression of your
argument to adhere to.
-TV makes us passive; we don’t have to be actively involved with it. Can act as a
hypnotist by making us complacent without really realizing it
-Attention spans have been shortened by TV, instant messaging, smartphones, etc.
-Slide 3: Television
-Argued that TV has a strong effect on the way family interaction has developed
historically. There are different debates around this but it is (50’s 60’s 70’s) a way of
physically bringing together members of a family: in a blackened room, staring at the
-is this really quality time?
-Rutherford reading looks at importance of TV advertising; need to reflect on this
critically. Advertisers love TV. It was a window to the consumer; a way of bringing
goods into the home. Ad agencies were producing television shows themselves. It
wasn’t til the 60’s that networks gained control of the program content.
-Politics and government: Why does the state matter more with broadcasting than with
-Radio gave state the opportunity to build national identity more effectively.
-State regulates broadcasting, it doesn’t regulate print media. You need a license
to broadcast anything. In this sense governments feel they have more influence
in terms of the program content on TV (even the news content) than with
newspapers and magazines.
-President Lyndon Johnson just watched CBS broadcast that’s being critical of
the Vietnam War: Picks up the phone and calls CBS president, telling him not to
do that. He didn’t have this authority with print media.
-Impact on existing media: newspapers don’t begin their erosion in terms of reading
numbers until the 1970’s; so TV doesn’t impact it very hard when it’s initially released
-Radio had to reinvent itself. In the 1950’s people basically replaced the radio
with TV. It did not annihilate radio though as it turns into something
completely different
-Slide 4: Still Image Transmission
-In 1890s there was preliminary work on Photofax Transmission
-Radio transmission of Photos in 1920s
-By 1910’s and 20’s they’re able to send photos through wire, and then through the air.
-Facsimile Machine in 1930s
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-people would get their newspapers faxed to their homes. This was what
everyone thought would happen. It was seen as a new cutting edge form of
-In the 1940s there were Photofax radio stations that transported images and
text to 10 000 receivers -- this technology gets fazed out, goes nowhere.
Television replaces this model. It brings images and text into the home in a
more realistic way.
-Slide 5: Moving Image Transmission
-Instead of taking a photo and then transmitting it, now it was about taking moving
footage and have that broadcast in another location
-Early experiments with Baird in 1920s
-BBC does experimental TV in late 1920’s
-The technology for television was already established by 1920s and 1930s, yet the
upswing of it doesn’t occur until late 40’s
-Slide 6: Patent Fight
-Zworykin patents idea of using magnetic fields to guide rays to put images on TV screen
(1932). He becomes director of RCA
-develops first practical TV camera
-he’s an inventor, well educated man working for a big corporation. He’s up
against Farnsworth
-By the age of 20, Farnsworth had taken out patents on the picture tube, the electornic
image scanner; patents on things that would be necessary to have a fully operational TV
set. He refused to sell his patents to RCA. He went into an arrangement with AT and T,
working out a deal with RCA (licensing deal, not selling it outright). This took awhile to
work out and was much more complicated.
-just because technology exists doesn’t mean that it can be commercialized
because patents are necessary: if there are fights over who should own the
intellectual property, things can be delayed for a long time.
-Slide 7: Early Television
-BBC has limited broadcasting from 36-39
-RCA at 1939 World’s Fair, showing off TV to people.
-NBC broadcasts in New York in 1939
-Slow Growth of the TV and limited use. Also slowed down by WWII
-After the war there were 60 000 TV sets in US, of those in New York City. So it was
still very remotely used.
-Compare the growth to the telegraph to television (exam?)
-Slide 8: Why Was TV Development Delayed?
-economics in the depression weren’t good for launching TV: they were expensive to buy
(2000 to 3000 dollars each by todays standards), and 25% of the population was
unemployed, and people didn’t have disposable income
-In WWII production of TV sets stopped entirely. During the war, economic production
converts to manufacturing war time goods. TV wasn’t a war time good.
-The nature of the television signal vs. a radio signal: TV signals follow “line of sight”
transmission. The signal will go as far as the horizon, and then dies. With radio, the
signals can travel a lot further than TV signals. So if you want to spread out TV signals
it would be expensive (e.g. have to build lots of tv stations)
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