Some may say that Captain Obvious has paid us a visit with this topic. Forecasting the death of television goes way back. One that comes to mind from my research days is George Gilder’s Life After Television written way back in 1994. Even in our own work 2025 (published back in 1996), suggested that homes would on average have 37 “screens.” We were careful to use the language of screens as generic displays rather than television screens.
So why write about it now? Think about what the concept of television is for you. Let’s start with the physical device. I suspect most of us can see that there is really nothing special about a television screen compared to a computer screen. Nicholas Negroponte highlighted the importance of bits vis-a-vis atoms in “Being Digital” bits are bits (or whatever that quote was) in 1995. The conversion to digital is pretty much complete such that analog and broadcast are no longer useful distinctions. I suppose we still have the rather horrible handheld remotes for television versus keyboards for other digital devices. The spoken word may end both of these eventually. Will we long for “keyboarding” in the era of voice as we did for discursive handwriting with the onset of keyboards.). As my colleague Peter Bishop reminds us, the old technologies don’t go away, they just become less used — you can still get a horse-and-buggy ride.
So, let’s look at the content side. Those growing up in the pre-web age of television probably still conjure up the notion of “prime time.” These strategic time slots aiming for the largest mass audience allegedly produced the best programs, with little recourse if you couldn’t be in front of the set at the scheduled time, until the VCR, DVR, and now on-demand has pretty much demolished prime time. And the web-based content is intruding onto the main screen (still know as a television), as one can watch youtube videos and various other web-based offerings on any screen, further blurring the notion of a distinct television. I suspect we have among us young folk who will one day grow up and wonder what a television was. Andy Hines