Shangri-La doesn’t want MTV

I have a love-hate relationship with my television. Some of the programming is outstanding and entertaining. And much of that outstanding programming is filled with sex and (sometimes graphic) violence. It’s something I could live without, but I’d rather not.

On the other hand, for the first 8 years or so of my life, I knew little of television. For most of that we had no TV, and when we finally did, I was limited to Walter Cronkite, Wild Kingdom, and Jacques Cousteau specials. I remember sneaking a peek at Sesame Street at a friend’s house and being unimpressed. Anyway, I think having little or no access to TV was good for me, and when we finally have sprouts, we will probably hide the TV.

This Guardian story on the troubles that have come with the introduction of TV–well, more exactly, Western media–to Bhutan help to reinforce this idea. I think seeing a wide range of activities and ideas on television sometimes provides people with more options. I love watching programs that tell me how stuff works or is done. Last night, over dinner, Jamie and I learned how to sweat plumbing joints. But it is fair to ask whether this is more trouble than it is worth.

Can’t stuff the genie back into the bottle now. The solution? The Savior of the Land of the Thunder Dragon? Could it be some form of Tivo?

Esther Dyson, years ago, longed for friction in an increasingly frictionless society. Television reduces friction–the sort of inefficient exchange within social systems–in all the wrong ways. I am increasingly worried that we are exploiting our margins in the same way we have exploited the rain forest. The diversity of the rain forest exists because of a natural friction that does not allow for an all-consuming winner-take-all (i.e., human-take-all) environment. As a result, evolutionary innovation flourishes. Bhutan was something akin to a cultural rain forest.

I like the give-and-take of the city, the rapid rise and fall of ideas, but this must feed off of true innovation. I don’t think the innovation of the city can exist without the rarefied isolation of the hinterlands. TV paves the world.

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