TV togetherness lost downstream

The Cast Stone

CHANGED LANDSCAPE Once a multi-household experience, watching TV has become a largely solitary sport, like so much else in modern society.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

On the sunny evening of June 20, 1978, a man from Finsterwolde in the Netherlands embedded himself in my mind and remains there to this day. Arie Haan the great Dutch midfielder strode up the middle of the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. He touched the ball forward calmly as Italian defenders backed off, and then a sudden, stinging swing of his right foot sent the football screaming into the top corner of the Italian net.
It was a goal of intense beauty, and it sent the great Dutch team into their second World Cup final in four years. Sometimes, when I see the goal replayed on montages of special sporting moments, I’m transported back to that summer evening in 1978, when life was much simpler than it is today.
Of course I recall the beauty of the goal and the excitement of seeing such a special moment, but the primary memory I have of that moment is the feeling of company and togetherness I experienced, although I was sitting by myself watching the 18-inch Nordmende.
As the men in the white shirts and orange shorts celebrated on that famous patch of grass in Buenos Aires, I knew our neighbours, our family in Ireland, our cousins in England, New Zealand and Canada had the same thing on their screens. Of course, the time difference may have deemed otherwise with the Canadians in particular, but at that moment, I knew Gallagher homes across London and in different corners of Ireland were definitely watching the same drama as myself.
There were no Snapchat reels moving between us, no gifs, memes or selfies. There wasn’t even a phone line in our house at that time, but I knew Arie Haan’s goal was a topic of conversation at home and abroad.
Why? Because television was like that in those days. There was only one TV channel in Ireland in June 1978. The arrival of RTÉ2 was still some months away, and in Britain there were but three options for the discerning viewer, because Channel 4 didn’t come on stream until 1982.
In those days, if one sat down and watched TV there was a fairly good chance most of the nation and the nearby island were watching the same thing too. Conversations could be had about the one or two soaps that were on, and celebrity status was bestowed on newsreaders and weathermen (there weren’t any women telling us about rain and storms at that stage).
The television became an important piece of furniture in most homes – we even covered it with a pristine white cloth every night, just to keep it safe until the following evening when it would crackle into life again for a few hours.
Of course, it also couldn’t be switched on by just anyone in some houses. My father tells a story of visiting his aunt one day when a Railway Cup game was taking place. He assumed the telly would be on and the action from Croke Park dancing across the screen. He was wrong. The ‘man of the house’ wasn’t at home, so the skill of switching on the magic-box wasn’t available.
How things have changed! Hundreds, maybe thousands of channels, are available to most of us. Streaming services and apps and all sorts of broadcasting systems are at our fingertips, which is wonderful… but it’s also somewhat sad.
The sense of television-togetherness is gone. When I sit down to watch something on the magic-box I know it’s a solitary exercise. There’s no sense that my parents, siblings or friends are watching the same things, laughing at the jokes, covering their eyes at scary bits or roaring on an athlete, boxer or football player. That sense of separated togetherness has been lost in television land, as in so many other sectors of society.
I don’t go to Mass any more like the majority of the nation, I don’t live in my native rural community (which so badly needs bodies to enhance its future), I don’t visit people, I don’t socialise outside a very tight family circle and I don’t turn up at community events.
The sense of togetherness that I loved so much is gone. The sense of oneness I experienced on that June evening in 1978 hasn’t revisited in a long time. I miss it very much.