Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Rabbi and the (Digital) Television Converter

For those who do not live in the US, or just have not been paying attention: The government of the United States of America has decided that a top item on our national agenda should be the conversion of television signals from analog to digital.

That’s right: We may not be able to bail out the banks, provide national healthcare or bring peace to the Middle East, but we can give you better television.

Sounds like bread and circuses to me, but anyway…

Since the old-fashioned Torczyner television depends on broadcast signals rather than cable, we need to install a converter box to change the digital signal into analog heiroglyphics our TV will comprehend. If we refuse, we will lose all reception in the next few months - PBS has already switched to digital, so that's gone.

Fortunately – I kid you not, you non-Americans! – the US Government has provided us with a $40 coupon so that we could afford the converter. (Re-read comments above about banks and healthcare, please.)

But it’s not going to be quite that easy for us to get better television, oh, no. We have to install it. Should be easy, right? Plug green wire into green socket type stuff? No challenge for the guy who adds RAM to his desktop, installs outdoor lighting, and opens up the VCR to fix it?

Not so much; the following was the initial line of instructions in the one-page installation guide for our Sansonic FT-300A ATSC Digital-to-Analog Converter:

Make sure you have a good antenna you have 50/50 chance your old analog antenna will not work well even if its an expensive outdoor antenna the signal has changed to digital, all older antennas are analog the only way to find out is connect it.

I kid you not. I did not remove any apostrophes or add any punctuation. Even the GOOD LUCK, in caps, is theirs. So this is going to be a challenge.

In truth, I have mixed feelings about the conversion, anyway. I didn’t want a television in the first place.

My reluctance is not due to the usual concern for keeping the outside world out of the living room – First, the TV isn’t in the living room, it’s consigned to a hutch of ignominy befitting its lowly status in our home. Second, if I were in the business of barring the blathering ether, I would have to take a stronger stance regarding the Internet.

It’s not a concern that I will be drawn into wasting time on it, either. Taxi and The Muppet Showsee this great article on the origin of each Muppet, by the way – were the last great television shows, save perhaps The Simpsons. (I think I could probably get into RenReb's beloved 24, but I don't want the addiction.) Besides, I don’t have the time to waste sitting in front of a box.

No, my issue is for my kids and their standards for leisure activity.

Right now, we get only two channels – PBS and a very fuzzy NBC – because we live in a valley and have no connection to a roof antenna. There’s no real temptation for the kids, outside of videos. But this digital converter will bring more options, if I understand the PR material correctly.

My kids’ standards for entertainment are immature, and they have lots of free time at their disposal. I want television to be something they do for entertainment on an occasional basis. I want them to see TV the way most people view going to the movies.

I don’t want them to think of television as a normal part of their lives, a normal way to spend their time, like reading, eating, learning Torah, using Lego and playing sports. It’s too easy for children to accept the television’s unchallenging form of relaxation, and became disenchanted with reading or learning or playing challenging games.

In the end, though, I will give in and – if I should receive the GOOD LUCK wished for me by the instructions – install the converter. It’s just going to be one more test of our parenting skills.

GOOD LUCK, indeed.


  1. I try (unsuccessfully) to make my computer be something for work (and even occasional entertainment), rather than something to spend every waking moment of the day. The paradigm difference you're talking about is important, and I wish I could find a way to extend your lesson to my difficulties.

    As I understand it, the main point of the digital TV switch is not to increase the quality of TV, but rather to free up the wide bandwidth currently being used by TV stations so they can be used for other purposes, such as emergency communication and the like. See Why are we switching to DTV?

  2. It doesn't fit with an Orthodox lifestyle, but we've conditioned the toddler that TV is a "treat" which is saved for Shabbat (and the occasional Sunday when he wakes up too early).

    Right now, we control the remote, but I wonder what will happen when he learns how to turn on his Thomas the Train pictures himself...

  3. Michael-
    The site lists the benefit you mention side-by-side with (and with dedicated space than) the goal of benefiting the consumer.
    Re: computer - Yes, this is a problem. I suppose it ultimately relies on self-control, since you are an adult, managing your own time...

    Thomas? An Anglican reverend's creation? Next thing you know he'll be reading the Chronicles of Narnia! And you call me a kofer...

  4. To be fair this is something that has been in the works for a number of years, And the money that the government brought in by selling off the analog spectrum rights was huge.

  5. Did you know you can get all the original seasons of The Muppet Show on DVD, so you can watch them anytime? We have reintroduced our children to this classic favorite and they love it.

  6. Zach-
    If it's that huge, how about they use it for something serious instead of coupons for converters? (Yes, I know the arguments, I'm just been cranky.)

    Oh, dear. I think if I were to purchase those DVDs, my children would never have a shot at them.