The Saratoga Sun -

Where did the water cooler go?


At one time (not that long ago) there were three major television stations (okay, four if you count PBS) and everyone watched something on one of those stations. The next day, workers would “gather around the water cooler” at work and talk about what they had seen the night before. There was a commonality in what we did.

I have never worked at a place where people actually gathered around the water cooler, but I have heard this phrase since I was young (yes, that long ago). I have worked in places where people gathered at the coffee pot or just in the office in general and shared their thoughts on a shared show or event.

When a big movie came out that was the talk (and May the Force be with You too).

Rhett Butler didn’t give a damn … and people talked about it for weeks (if not years). Though that was before my time (I’m not quite that old) you get the example.

Who shot J.R.? That whole season was a dream? The whole country wanted to know and then felt ripped off together. I never watched Dallas—but I was not immune to the furor it raised.

We watched the moon launch and listened to Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite. Rather and Cronkite were the trusted faces of the news and no one questioned much of what they said.

People read the New York Times or the local big city newspaper and believed.

Radio was big and you could only receive local stations before satellite radio came into being.

The country was on the same page, more or less.

Cable was the first step in changing our viewing habits. All of a sudden you could get a little wire coming into your home that brought a wide range of programming and brand new choices.

For a while “cable people” had something to hold over the rabble’s head (Holy crap! Did you see that movie on Cinemax?).

Viewing diversity had begun.

Then came satellite television.

A whole new slew of programming was available and now we had smaller groups watching niche shows (did you see “The Walking Dead” last night?) or the myriad shows now in reruns.

Our commonality diminished.

Then came the internet (though satellite and the internet were fairly close together in their emergence) and all of a sudden you could get your opinion verified in news brought to you by bloggers (people with opinions and a computer). You could (and still can) also get wildly opposing views … but who reads those? I want my opinion reinforced dammit!

The big city papers began to fail because people could get all their news online.

Why pay when I can get the same stuff for free?

Smaller papers like the Saratoga Sun have done well in this climate. You just can’t read about little Johnny, town council meetings or what’s going on at your church or community in general from too many trustworthy sources.

Radio’s effectiveness diminished because now you could get your music commercial-free along with comedy and all kinds of news and talk shows. I did not believe at the time anyone would pay for radio—but stop by the office and that’s what we will be listening to.

We started to pull apart both in shared experience and opinion.

Then news started to pull apart. With more channels and more space to fill on more channels we started to get niche news.

The right and left both started their own news shows and took their followers with them. Now any belief you have can be reinforced or contradicted as you wish (see previous comment about the internet and bloggers).

Between bloggers who are not real journalists and shows that cover the news they want to cover at the expense of everything else—we got the dawn of “fake news.”

No longer is there a “trusted face” to bring you the news on TV. People call into question stories written by reporters who only want to bring you the truth from newspapers that used to be institutions.

It is tough to know for sure what the truth is anymore amid the increasing shades of gray (aren’t there 50?).

That’s not the worst part.

Television has become even more fractured by the internet.

Now we have streaming services.

Netflix, Yahoo TV, Apple, Hulu, CBS All-Access, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Roku, HBO Now and Playstation VUE don’t even cover the list of all the streaming services out there.

Heck, I hear Disney is about to start one up too.

I hate these.

For example, I was happy to hear CBS was going to do a new Star Trek. Then I was really, really (maybe I should add some more reallys) mad that they were only going to show them on their All-Access streaming service.

I wrote them an email explaining that though I had been a Star Trek fan my whole life I was definitely not going to spend more per month for a show that should be on regular television in the first place.

Of course it made no difference.

Every time I visit friends in Casper they ask, “ Have you gotten Netflix yet?”

My answer is usually, “I pay enough for TV already.”

“You have to get it. You’ll love Daredevil and Jessica Jones and … (the list usually continues for a while).”

“Look man, I have a hard enough time watching the shows I already know I like.”

Netflix has turned these people into walking advertisements. That’s good for Netflix, bad for cheap curmudgeons like me.

I wish these Netflix people would just chill.

Anyway, you can now get your opinion backed up wherever you like and have your particular entertainment tastes sated in a wide variety of fashions.

But we have less in common as a people than ever before.

We have abandoned the water cooler in favor of the Kool-Aid.

And you can get any flavor you want.


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