There was a fair amount of gallows humor around here yesterday, what with AOL announcing it would be posting free reruns of 30 Warner Bros. TV shows on the web. "A New Era for TV," read a banner headline on Television Week. "The tipping point has occurred," said Becky Worley, who talks about technology on Good Morning America. (Read more here.)
There’s been a lot of tipping in the last few weeks. CBS and NBC have made deals with Comcast and DirecTV so subscribers can get programs on-demand; ABC/Disney (standard disclaimer: yep, that’s our parent company) lets you download shows onto your video iPod. And the prices are striking. $1.99 in some cases, free in others–though, in exchange, you have to watch commercials, just as you did in the stone age last week.
But let’s play contrarian, for just a moment. A few years ago I did a story for World News Tonight for which our in-house title was, "Obsolescence is Overrated." In Brooklyn, N.Y., right across the river from downtown New York City, with its hustle and bustle and millions of humming computers, we found the Ko-Rec-Type company. In the days before word processing, they were the typist’s friend, selling you little paper tabs that would let you white-out your mistakes.
Naturally, they’ve had to diversify–into typewriter ribbons, and ink cartridges for dot-matrix printers–and there have been corporate mergers since they started. But they’re still there.
We spoke to a couple of historians of technology who were hardly surprised. New technologies come along constantly, they said, but it’s rare that they take over precisely the job the old technology did. They may shove the old one to the side, they may redefine it, but they don’t necessarily replace it.
There are plenty of examples:
- The railroads were not wiped out by air travel, though they mostly carry freight and commuters instead of taking people on cross-country trips.
- Radio survived the arrival of TV, though the days are long past when families gathered to look at the radio as Jack Benny performed.
- I don’t know about your office, but I’ve been to many where there’s one sorry-looking typewriter in the corner–essential if someone has to fill out a form or a label.
"As long as the typewriter has some value, why actually chuck it out?" said Kevin Werbach, a technology analyst and writer who also teaches at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
This is hardly to say the folks who put stuff on TV won’t need to embrace change. (Here I am, for one, a broadcast reporter who’s writing a blog.) But there will still be plenty of nights, for all of us, when we get home, plop down on the sofa, and reach for the remote, muttering, "Lemme see what’s on…."
Intelligent-Design note: a couple of people wondered why I didn’t write about last week’s vote in Kansas. Fact is, I didn’t cover it. ABC has been regarding the intelligent design debate mostly as a cultural-political issue, so it’s fallen to other reporters. Dan Harris has done a fair amount of stuff; you can find a piece of his last week here. Sorry if it was hard to find.