Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Common Currency

As time went on and just about everyone had a TV, it became a common conversation starter to ask "Did you see that show last night?" Prior to that, conversation starters may have been "Did you read that story in the paper this morning?" or "Did you hear that show on the radio?" As a person who has chosen to live much of his adult life without watching TV, I have sometimes been out of the conversation loop when the topic was TV shows. There were popular series that came and went over a period of years without my ever seeing one episode. There was always something else I would rather be doing.

Common currency means that we have things in common to talk about. Big subjects, such as war, can cause heated debates in the workplace or at a social event, so frequently people troll the common currency for trivia, such as what movie stars are getting married, what famous person got in a scandal, or what sports team won last night. When you don't watch a lot of TV, you have to use something else for your common currency. You have to connect with people through other topics.

TV as common currency does not always serve us well. Remember much about the savings and loan scandal and how that came to be? Remember when tax credits to home owners for installing solar panels got repealed? Remember the invasion of Grenada? Which of those was the important issue?

While the free trade agreements were being put in place, we allowed our attention to be shifted to the O.J. trial. I am not making light of a murder, but did that murder affect your life or mine any more than any of the other thousands of murders in this country every year? Chatter about celebrities feels comfortable because there is absolutely nothing at stake. Britney will be forgotten as soon as the next ephemeral pop star upstages her. Brad & Angelina will cease being a topic when the next celebrity couple poses for pictures.

We need comedy to take our minds off our troubles. After a hard day of work, it feels good to just laugh. I enjoy a good comedy just like you do. Some comedies can entertain us and make us think at the same time. And then there are breakthrough moments when shows can elevate our level of consciousness and work their way into every day conversation. For a while this winter, Oprah's broadcast of her series with Eckhart Tolle became a topic, and that, in my view, was a good thing. Back in the 80s when Bill Moyers did a series of interviews with Joseph Campbell about "The Power of Myth" it seemed that people were bringing it up in conversations for quite some time. There was a period of time in my life when I used to enjoy watching Charles Kuralt's "Sunday Morning" for its inspiring and creative stories and interviews.

The new technology now allows me to rent DVDs of series such as "Rome" or "Boston Legal" so that I can enjoy watching them without commercials. It is not that I never enjoyed anything, it was more about not wanting to schedule my life around when a show was broadcast, and not wanting to have to sit through 20 minutes of commercials in order to see 40 minutes of show. Now we finally have technology that allows us to enjoy the shows we want, when we want, in a more time efficient manner. One of the questions before us then, is with all these choices, what do we choose?

Are you aware of what common currency you are using?

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