This weekend I am attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. It is my first conference, so I’m a little nervous about what to do and whether I’ll like the lunch that the conference agenda has promised me. Is it okay to take notes at a writers conference? At most times it is considered weird to take notes around other people. But maybe this will be a conference where everyone will be taking notes…taking notes on people taking notes.
Remember when TV screens weren’t all flat and measured in acres, and people didn’t throw terms like “refresh rate” and “1080p” and “contrast ratio”?
One day, a long, long time ago, I was in an electronics store, staring at a 32-inch Magnovox TV, with screen-in-screen, sleep timer, and a remote control. It looked enormous. The TV’s screen was like a movie screen. Whatever was being shown on it enveloped me, wrapped me up in it its arms. I wondered how I, suburban peasant, could ever hope to possess something so magnificent. I looked at the price tag. It said $750. I sighed, lowered my head, and walked away to whichever parent had pulled the shorter straw that morning.
Twenty years later I’m standing in my friend’s backyard. It is summer, and he is hosting a barbecue to celebrate the day the Americans defeated the British by tossing M-80s and shooting bottle rockets at them. Katy Perry has decided not to dye her hair avocado, and so there is nothing to talk about except televisions.
“Yeah, just got one myself,” my friend says, straightening his stance and expanding his chest. He turns aside and gazes through the double glass sliding doors, into his den, to the television that doesn’t so much hang on the wall as be the wall itself. He gets choked up and looks like he’s about to cry tears of happiness. He shakes his head and smiles.
“How big is yours?” he asks me when he’s recollected himself.
“How big is your TV?”
“Oh, my TV. Uh, 32 inches, I think.”
“Really?” He looks embarrassed for me. He pats me on the shoulder and walks away. I decide that maybe it is time for me to get a new tube.
Except televisions aren’t made with tubes anymore. I learned this during the six months of studying televisions and television technology, a mandatory course for all television purchases in my state (exemptions for veterans and celebrities).
This past weekend, my moment arrived. The local electronics behemoth was running a special on TVs for $750, the lowest price I’d ever seen for something that still distorted the space-time continuum. I ran to the store and announced to the first salesperson I found, “I want to buy a television!” I thought these were magic words. I thought I was going to be welcomed with open arms and champagne. But instead he pointed to a long line of humans—a line of disappointed humans—and said I had to wait on that line if I wanted to ask any questions before making a purchase.
As I waited on the line I had a lot of time to look at the televisions on display. All the TVs looked the same to me. Only some were bigger than others, or came with a family living inside.
A salesperson caught me looking at a 46-inch LCD. “That’s a nice picture,” he said. “Yes,” I agreed, “it is a nice picture.” I didn’t really care about the picture. I was transfixed by a school of fluorescent fish that was airing on this fish channel, which apparently broadcast to this TV alone.
“It’s nothing compared to the LED,” he said.
I replied that I did not know there was a difference.
“Oh yeah, man, there’s like a HUGE difference. I mean, I don’t want to talk you out of something if you’ve made up your mind. But just check out those two TVs side-by-side. The one on the left is an LED. The one on the right is an LCD. Now look, see that that cat there?” We were watching a commercial for cat litter on both TVs simultaneously. “See the black splotches in that cat’s fur when she scratches in the box? See the difference?”
Not wishing to fight, I squinted like I was squishing around a glass of fine wine, and said that I did see the difference. But then, I really did start to see the difference. The LED had brighter colors, sharper images, darker darks, wrinklier wrinkles. My mind was made up. I would get an LED. There was just one last thing I wanted to know.
“How come the LED is $100 more than the LCD?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but I’m not allowed to answer questions. If you have questions, you’ll have to wait on that line over there.”