I’ve done a lot of TV-watching in my life, but I have noticed a certain circularity to my viewing habits: When I was very young, my parents carefully selected my viewing material, and we watched it together on the fifteen-inch screen in the living room; when I got a little older, I chose the TV shows I wanted to watch by myself, but I still tended to watch them with my parents and siblings, and tried to include them in my enthusiasms; now, my family and I choose television programs – some new, some not – and watch them together on a large screen in the family room, or share them out amongst our various devices. One constant in my experience with television has been the familial nature of it; the other has been the unusual media we use to watch it.
One of my earliest memories of television, besides the usual array of ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ and ‘Barney the Dinosaur,’ is watching part of a baseball game on the tiny, portable television in one of the bedrooms in my grandparents’ house. It was a fuzzy, black-and-white screen, with a convex curve to the glass and an expandable antenna coming up from the back of the gray, plastic casing. I stared at it in awe. The screen was so small! It looked like the portable television the boy in ‘E.T.’ had! I was astounded, and continued to watch, even though I couldn’t – and, for that matter, still can’t – follow a baseball game to save my life. The little tiny television was, in my mind, the coolest thing ever.
Since I was about six years old at the time, I wasn’t really in a position to realize just how outdated the little machine in front of me was. It had no sound and, as I mentioned, it had only black-and-white capabilities. Eventually, my mother, who was in the room with me, told me to turn it off and go play in the yard.
That was fifteen years ago. It took a little while for my viewing habits to catch up to the general public; much of the time, I was just too busy to watch the programs I was interested in when they were on, or I simply borrowed the VHS tapes one of my friends made of the shows we both loved. When I was about fifteen, however, the time and place were finally right: My family and I had settled in Kansas; we had gotten a satellite hook-up, and ‘House’ was starting to air. However, much as I enjoyed watching ‘House’ – and I watched it almost religiously, alongside my mother – that was also the first time my family had a television of any size. It was old, and bulky, and heavy, but it was the first screen larger than fifteen inches we’d had. Of course, my friends had larger TVs, and watching movies at their houses was always a treat. But there was nothing quite as nice as being in my own home, free to watch whatever I wanted, on a thirty-inch screen.
That was five years ago. A few days ago, as I sat in the car, waiting for my parents to finish with the grocery shopping, one of my sisters pulled out her iPod touch. “Want to watch some ‘Trek?” she asked. I willingly agreed. For the next twenty minutes, we were joined in the family car by Kirk, Spock, and a lot of women with suspiciously stiff hair. It was a blast – and it was brought to us via a screen smaller than the one I remember so well from my grandparents’ guest bedroom.
Although my family and I now have a screen of a decent size – albeit one hooked up to a computer – we still like to share TV series and miniseries. We often discuss them during the day, after gathering to watch the latest episode or two (brought to us via the internet) the night before. It’s a far cry from an old black-and-white portable TV discovered in a guestroom, but it’s still almost as exciting – unless there’s a baseball game on.
*This essay was written by Elizabeth B., a runner-up in the DISH Systems Scholarship Essay Contest. The opinions of the author do not reflect the opinions of DISH Systems, authorized retailer of DISH Network.