What is TV's place in history? What changes has TV wrought in the way humans live and in what they value and believe? Where do ideas come from and how do they spread? What are the driving forces in human behavior? Television provides touchstones that set us off upon the highways and byways of exploring any and all such questions. But television provides answers to none of them.
One phrase sticks in my mind that comes from a book by W. Russell Neuman, who writes: "There is no prospect of resurrecting the technologies, life-styles, and values of small town and rural society . . . time's arrow does not suddenly reverse course."1 This challenges us to understand that we cannot repeat the past. On both the Left and the Right there are serious errors in believing that specific institutions and practices of the past can be preserved or resurrected whole. Flaws in these contemporary romanticisms, however, must not shroud the truth that core values still need to be clarified, articulated, cherished, and lived by.
The course of history is toward human liberty and self-actualization. And this course is not in conflict with civility, decency, and constructive social behavior. The key to social and cultural wisdom is in understanding what must change and what must stay the same. To the extent that the term the "age of television" may have been useful to us in the recent past, we must recognize that its value is exhausted. At base, the term was never accurate insofar as it implied that TV was a force that was determining the development of society and culture.