Digital discombobulation

Scrolling through the Freeview television guide, I tried to select a channel. The wrong button must have been pressed or the wrong box selected. Something told me I had set a reminder, it was not clear of what I was to be reminded.

An hour later, watching Midsomer Murders on ITV3+1, DCI Barnaby suddenly disappeared to be replaced by a programme set on an oil rig. Trying to recover the Midsomer Constabulary, I pressed Channel 10 for ITV 3 and was confused to find Barnaby investigating the death of someone who had not previously appeared. A few scenes passed before I realised that I was watching the wrong episode because I was watching the wrong channel

The vagaries of digital television are challenging at times.

One evening, the ITN news had ended and we had waited for the West Country news. It had seemed odd, the stories hadn’t related to anywhere we knew. Then came the weather forecast, would there be rain in Somerset in the morning? We were never to find out, instead the following day’s meteorological predictions for Birmingham were shared by a woman whose accent was definitely not Bristolian. Afterwards, a caption appeared on the screen, “ITV Central.”

“Oh dear,” said my sister said, “the storm must have been stronger than we thought, we seem to have been blown North.”

The idea of the picturesque town of Ilminster being blown three counties northward  by a strong gale had conjured visions of it landing on the Midland equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the West. All it would have needed would have been for a young Dorothy to step out of the town into a Birmingham Land of Oz.

Rather than the sudden displacement of an entire community, the explanation that had seemed more likely was that the digital television set had switched from its default signal to one from a neighbouring region.

My mother’s Freeview box frequently decides she is in the south-west and plies her with stories of Devon and Cornwall instead of their own locality. It demands a search through the various control options to change the default channels; Bristol has to be recovered so that all is right with the world.

Digital broadcasting can bring an abundance of choice, but also a dislocation. Gone are the times when one’s choice was entirely determined by geography. Terrestrial digital television has some geographical reference, but satellite digital broadcasts allows the potential to listen to anything from anywhere. And if the television does not provide adequate choice, then online broadcasting adds innumerably more opportunities.

The extension of choice brings with it the loss of a community dimension. Like the local newspaper, the local television news brought one the news of one’s own place, it created a sense of shared stories, a sense of identification with a place, a sense of being part of somewhere. Digital dislocation breaks the ties of former times, it is as if one had been suddenly gathered up in the wind and set down in a distant city.

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