always on has its drawbacks

Today I received my annual notification that my TV license fee is due at the end of this month. For those of you living outside of Ireland, and/or the UK (they have a similar system) this is a fee that is levied by the state upon every television set. Currently the fee is 155 euros; yes, many, many pints of Guinness.

The money is given to RTÉ, the public service broadcaster, and it goes towards a variety of endeavours, including fostering Irish-based programming on their television channels, as well as funding a variety of radio stations and orchestras. Presumably, a large chunk of it leaks away on bureaucracy and administration. Such is the way of things. The debate about whether this is a good or bad service is the topic for another day. I still have to pay the bill.

It’s a good thing I don’t possess more than one television set in the house.

Most homes have them scattered around like confetti. You stumble upon them in the hallway, the closet, and in the laundry hamper, especially since they are all slim HD LCD or plasma screens now that can fit into any nook or wicker basket.

At some point I’m sure I’ll see on MTV Cribs that a starlet or country and western trio have embedded LCD screens into the flight of stairs in their gold-encrusted mansion so they won’t get bored as they walk to the next room with a television.

Children stare at little screens set into back of the seat headrests of the massive vans that carry them the ten feet to school. The petrol station closest to me has a monitor over the pump that flickers into life to distract me from how much it costs to fill up my car’s tank.

Yesterday, a friend and I met to discuss writing-related topics, and alighted upon a reliable coffee shop that has a long-tradition in Galway city: Javas. Well before late-night caffeine emporia arrived in Dublin, Javas in Galway was serving high-quality freshly ground coffee, a selection of teas, and the usual sandwiches and pastries you expect at such an establishment.

It’s been re-modelled recently. There is much to commend the new design, but one of the first things I noticed was the large flat-screen television attached to the wall. The black rectangle remained inactive the entire time we stayed in Javas, but it doesn’t suit the airy continental vibe that the café is attempting to convey.

When we were considering a location to sup upon the fruit of the bean we had specifically discarded pubs as an option even though most serve passable coffee. That’s because in the corner of almost every pub there is a screen (or a dozen) showing a football match, ruby scrum, or hurling melee being commented upon by a fast-speaking and enthusiastic sports presenter. There are pubs in Galway that have never allowed the black box onto the premises, but those bastions of conversation are under siege.

I love to watch good-quality television programmes and movies, but there are times when I want to interact with people, or spend time on my own reading, thinking or writing. If there is a flickering box within line of sight then your attention is compulsively drawn to the screen. It’s irritating when you’re trying to talk to people and one of the group is following the footie on the telly, or laughs sporadically at the antics of Homer Simpson, who is bumbling about on the screen above your head. I’ve seen conversations lag, and then lapse, as the group eventually succumbs to television’s siren song.

There is something sad and lonely about witnessing a group of people sitting together in a pub whose uplifted pale faces are lit by a massive screen, and who raise their pints to their mouths robotically and barely speak to one another.

There are many conveniences of modern life, and I do not hanker after the days of limited channel options and the long dark variety show of the soul.

Sometimes I just want a café rumbling with conversation, a wobbly table that is sorted with the assistance of a folded napkin, a simple cup of coffee, and a good friend with whom I can discuss the merits of all the television shows and movies we’ve watched.

Life is full of ironies.