This week, for days the programming on Dutch television has been dominated by a celebration of seventy years of television. We tumble from one retrospective program to the next. And, surely, we can hardly imagine life without television.
In my early teens there was an old house next to the watermill where our family lived. For many years an elderly Amsterdam couple used it as their weekend home. Apparently the candy store they had in the center of our capital city was doing well, because these people not only had a vacation home but were among the first small group that could afford a television set. Every week on Wednesday afternoon they put about ten chairs in a cinema arrangement in the small living room. The curtains were almost completely drawn and the children from the neighborhood were welcome to come and watch a black and white program. It was a much appreciated treat.
Television viewing remained quite expensive for many years. The second-hand black and white set that my wife and I could afford, after having been married for a few years, cost about the same amount as we recently paid for a brand new state of the art smart-TV. This was around the year 1970. The viewing options we enjoyed cannot be compared to today’s program offerings. We could choose from two channels that were only on the air for part of the day.
In the first decades of the 1970s many people doubted whether we should be happy with this invention. In his book The World’s Only Hope, Pastor F. J. Voorthuis (1904-1986) (who was perhaps the most influential leader in the history of the Dutch Adventist Church), told his readers that the invention of television was a clear sign of the times. Daniel 12:4, where we read that in the time of the end knowledge would increase, was now unmistakably being fulfilled.
Among Christians on the right side of the Dutch Reformed world, the advent of television was highly controversial. In the strictest groups, church members were told that they were not allowed to purchase a television, and from time to time church elders would come to inspect whether that rule was being observed. In the so-called Bible-belt, oak cabinets in which a television set could be stored behind doors, became very popular.
In the Adventist Church, believers were urged to be very selective in their viewing. And watching television on the Sabbath (including Friday after sundown) was “not done.” To what extent today this “rule” is still observed is hard to say, but I do not have the impression that it is still a major issue. Being selective in viewing has, however, remained an important principle.
Has television enriched our lives over the past seven decades? There has no doubt been an interaction between the changes in society and developments in what can be seen on TV. The range of offerings has grown exponentially, but there is a lot that I can really only refer to with the word “garbage.” One could say, I guess, that on the whole the use of language has not improved and that morality has changed considerably-and in most cases not for the better. But it is difficult to determine to what extent television has a negative influence on how we think and how we behave, or whether television is of rather a mirror of how our society has evolved.
Meanwhile, for the time being television will not disappear, but other media are very clearly supplanting television especially among young people. Television and the newer media have brought us much that is worthwhile, but a selective use remains essential–not just on Friday nights, but on every day of the week!