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Thursday, Aug. 9, 2006 | Television as we know it is on the way out.

“After the holidays, the days of picture-tube TVs are gone,” a Costco buyer told The New York Times. “One year from now, we will not sell picture-tube TVs.”

Demand is dropping, he said. Consumers want the new, flat-panel television screens that offer better resolution with their plasma or liquid-crystal displays.

From what I have seen of them in the stores, I wouldn’t mind one myself, but there are a couple of obstacles. One is the price, and even if the price were acceptable, I don’t know where we would put the thing when we got it home. It won’t fit in our entertainment center, which really is about to become a dinosaur in the American living room.

If we take the entertainment center out, what do we do with it? In weekends after next year, are we to join lines of citizens at U-Haul counters, renting a trailer to join processions of vehicles hauling our entertainment centers, like worn-out artillery caissons, to the landfills? If so, how quickly will the landfills reach capacity and close? No, the landfill is not an environmentally reasonable solution.

Will we muscle it out to the patio, and bust it into kindling? I hate to do that to a perfectly good piece of expensive furniture that we have only had a few years.

And if we did, what would we do with the VCR, the DVD player, the receiver-amplifier, the tape deck, and the equalizer? And the passel of CDs and VHS tapes in the bottom drawers, poking their corners out of the dust bunnies?

We are looking at a new entertainment center, built to flat-screen specs, or we could just tear out a living room wall and install built-ins, at which time bringing home a new, flat-screen TV is costing anywhere from $4,000 to $25,000.

Fortunately, our old TV is relatively new and should be fine until well beyond the time the manufacturers stop making replacement parts. If we open a special flat-screen TV with furniture and accessories savings account now, it is possible we could have the money at the end of the approximately four years we have left before the broadcasters are providing signals that our old cathode-ray tube TVs will not accept. By then, Father Joe will have figured out a way to build houses out of old entertainment centers, so that problem will be solved. The old TV itself – actually, we have four old TVs in the house – will be recycled.

We’re going to hold short of remodeling the living room for the new flat-panel TV, even though new homes being built now are all designed around a logical place to position flat-panel screens. In a decade, those spaces will make nice art walls, when flat-panel TVs become dinosaurs – one thing about them, they will stack neatly in the landfills – and the next technology arrives.

I am 63 years old, meaning my lifetime is about to exceed the lifespan of the old TVs, the big-tube consoles and portables that started coming into living rooms in the late 1940s. I remember how to adjust the Channel Master, the horizontal hold, the vertical hold, the brightness, the contrast, and the fine tune knob (for UHF). I like telling my students about watching TV in the 1950s, and watching Channel 9, then clicking the big knob over to Channel 12, and rotating the antenna, adjusting the holds and the fine tune, and sitting down for half an hour until it was time to get up and click back to Channel 9 and watch the black-and-white picture shrivel into electronic dust bunnies until the holds were adjusted back to Channel 9 again.

It is informative to look back 50 years, and describe a TV set then, and now turn around and look forward 50 years, and describe the TV set of 2056. I truly believe – and this may actually happen in my lifetime – that media communications in the future will be conducted through sensors we carry around with us, under the skin somewhere, or in a section in the brain, that will project images and sounds from the inside-out, into our eyes and ears, and simply with a thought, we will change channels, or turn off the TV and listen to music for awhile.

I don’t think I am going to like it, but obviously we have no choice. Back in the ’80s, when banks starting making us our own tellers by requiring us to use ATM cards, Americans entered the “like-it-or-not” age. A couple of years from now, we will have a flat-panel TV, somewhere in our living room, like it or not.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His website is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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