Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

The Display Continuum

And Suddenly it Stopped…

Joe was a man of modest means.  He lived in a modest home in a small community on the outskirts of a larger Pacific Northwest city.  Since his retirement from working in a paper mill, he and his wife of many years got by mostly on their monthly Social Security checks.  Their main source of entertainment was an older television set that was the centerpiece of their small but comfortable living room.   Each morning, Joe turned on the television shortly after they had had their breakfast and the TV stayed on for most of the day until they were ready for their daily late afternoon outing into town.  They enjoyed watching the game shows and their favorite “soaps”.   Their lives were not inspiring by most standards, but they were adequately comfortable with what they had.

Then one wintry morning, early in the year 2009, Joe turned on their television and instead of seeing the usual video, all he saw and heard was noise.   No picture on any channel – just a jumble of black and white speckles and a loud hissing sound from the speakers.  For Joe and his wife, this was indeed a major disruption in their routine.  What to do?  What would they do all day without a television to keep them entertained?  Given their modest finances, the thought of paying for a service call was not something that Joe wanted to contemplate.  The best plan he could come up with was to load the television into the back of his pickup truck and take it to a nearby service shop for a diagnosis.  He remembered seeing one remaining small electronic repair shop in the older part of town. 

The kindly older gentleman who greeted him as he carried his television into the shop seemed most accommodating.   As Joe explained his problem, a frown and then a smile crossed the older gentleman’s face.  “Joe, I think I can diagnose your problem without even looking at your set.”   “Haven’t you been watching the news?”   Joe had to admit that the news had little interest for him.  Some years ago he had decided that the world would just have to get along without his active interest in what the politicians were up to.  And hearing about the latest murders and fires on the evening news was also not something that appealed to him.  So, no, he had not been watching the news. 

“Well, Joe your problem is that, as of yesterday, all the analog television signals have been turned off.  You now must have a digital television or tuner box to see your favorite shows.”   “What do you mean ‘turned off’?  You don’t just turn off a television station,” responded Joe, somewhat incredulously.  “Well, yes, that is what has just happened.  The government mandated some years ago that all television broadcasts switch to digital transmission and to new frequencies.  The analog signals would be stopped so that this bandwidth could be used for something else,” explained the repair shop owner.   “What I can do for you is sell you a digital receiver that will make your analog television work with the digital signals.  Television stations have already been transmitting these signals for a few years now, but folks like you didn’t have a need to use them.  But as of today, that is the only way you can receive your programs.  The old transmitters are gone – gone for good.”

All the way home, Joe couldn’t believe what he had heard.  He thought back to the days when he was younger and color television was introduced.  He clearly remembered that the color signals were compatible with monochrome sets.  There was no need to buy a new television or a new tuner just because a station started broadcasting in color.  The old monochrome sets continued to work just fine.  How could this be that so many years ago, we were smart enough to develop compatible standards but in this “modern” era we couldn’t come up with something similar?   All this made Joe feel quite disconnected from this world of new technology, where compatibility and maintainability were no longer valued.  It not only made him sad but the extra money he now had to spend would put a real dent into their modest budget.  And for what?  Just so he could once again see the same programs he had been watching every day for the last several years?      

Has there ever been a similar situation, where products were purposely made inoperative by a government decision?   The closest that I can come up with is the introduction of unleaded gas and the eventual phase-out of leaded gas.  However, that is not really the same, since additives could -- and still can -- be purchased to allow older vehicles to operate if their engines need the lead coating to keep the valves from burning.  

Television sets have an operating life that can extend well beyond twenty years.  Older TV sets typically are not discarded but migrate into other rooms of the house or even into the garage for casual viewing.  How many digital tuners are we willing to buy to keep these older sets operational?  I suspect that we have just created a major disposal problem for ourselves.  Maybe this is good for the economy and perhaps we in the display industry should be thrilled that this will create additional sales.  But it bothers me that so much still-useful technology and so many products that have years of operational life left in them will soon find their way to local dumpsites.  

Maybe I have a bit of “Joe” in me as well.  I do like change and the exiting new experiences that technology can create for us, but at the same time I’m saddened to see that we are contributing to a world of disposable and unrepairable products – to be thrown away whenever something stops working properly.  Why can’t we just replace a faulty switch or lamp instead of having to buy an entire “module”?  If we are going to be concerned about the materials used in our products, e.g. lead compounds, then should we not be equally concerned about the waste incurred when we make them virtually impossible to repair?   Is this asking for too much logic from our political leaders?  Perhaps we should categorize that last question as rhetorical.   

If you would like to send me your thoughts on what you plan to do with the extra televisions in your house after 2009, I would enjoy hearing from you.  You can contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or via fax at 425-898-1727.