The Luddite in Me Screams

I watch a lot of Oddity Archive. New episodes, old episodes, doesn’t much matter. Sometimes, what Benny-Boy touches on is something I already had an interest in, and the episode on the analog TV shutdown is definitely that. It’s not one of my favorite episodes, but I was around for the shutdown when I was little and it’s stuck with me ever since, so occasionally, I watch it again.

At the time, I just found TV via antenna a fascinating, glitchy, and novel way to get your TV (we always had cable), and I guess as time goes on and my values shape up as a person, I get to thinking of the more moral and certainly logistical side of entire countries dumping their technology into the ocean for The Future.

So as a brief overview if you’re not American (though most of the world’s done this by now)–traditionally, over-the-air TV (antenna TV?) was broadcast totally in analog. There’s no computer involved in an old CRT, least not in displaying the picture. It’s really a marvel of electromechanical engineering. In the late 90s, one of our many unnecessary government bureaus mandated the eventual switch to totally digital broadcasting. Digital promised to provide all these technical benefits, as does every invention from The Future–we’ll have more channels, they’ll look better, first responders will get to use those old TV frequencies instead, it’ll be great. The switchover finally happened in 2009.

In reality, the switchover was delayed several times over a period of four years because no one was ready, people lost channels due to digital signals not propagating as far, broadcasters now have to hit the transmitter with far more power to reach the same area, broadcasters had to ask to be reallocated across the UHF knob because of digital interference, digital only looked good provided you had a clear picture (otherwise you have no picture, it’s all-or-nothing), and the now-unused UHF and VHF bands were instead auctioned off in five blocks, four of which went to phone companies for 3G and LTE use. Potentially, two entire bands which could’ve now gone to hobbyists, community organizations, and low-power broadcasters have instead been used to generate more money for a few telecoms. A massive e-waste issue has also been created as without special equipment, the vast majority of CRTs are now functionally useless. Mobile TVs used for campers and boaters are also now utterly useless as they can’t even take a converter box, and even if they can receive ATSC signals, the total lack of stable reception makes them useless anyway.

In short, it cost a lot of money for no real gain. Here’s a few comments underneath that Oddity Archive video for extra context on how worthless this switchover really was:

I was disappointed that when the transition in Canada happened, hundreds of CBC and TVO transmitters just shut off entirely, due to budget cuts. I liked watching those stations when I would go camping in Canada.

I know my grandma (God rest her soul) had a hard time with her converter box and having it work on her 1980s set (2009-2012). I had to come over quite often and help her reset her channels. My parents had a lot of frustration with their converter box too (on a newer TV), because they had to place the box behind the TV and use a signal cord to point the remote at to use the TV. Now they have a new TV and no more converter box, but they still have problems with the HD channels dropping out. LOL

Actually, as of April 24th this year, the FCC officially suspended the September 1, 2015 digital conversion deadline for analog low-power TV (LPTV) stations and translators, allowing them to continue transmitting analog signals for as long as they want. This was mainly done due to outcry from analog LPTV stations on channel 6 which found new life serving as FM radio stations, because channel 6’s audio signal is on 87.75 MHz and can be received at 87.7 on most FM radios. This quirk does not work with digital TV signals, so LPTV stations on channel 6 would’ve lost all their radio listeners if they had been forced to convert to digital.

Try using an antenna sometime, and you see how well DTV works. It’s almost useless unless you’re in very close range of the tower as signal coverage is less than half the range on an analog signal. The FCC knew exactly what they were doing, and you can thank lobbyists for your TV set no longer working for free…if you bother with TV at all anymore. I don’t as it’s redundant at this point and has been for quite some time now.

And my favorite!

The worst thing is that the then open space is useless for higher bitrates because the TV cable lines in most parts of Germany are not even suitable for the requirements of digital TV and is of terrible Quality, which results in glitches and signal loss many many times, leaving you with black screen, broken GOPs and squeaking audio. […] While nowdays you have to register yourself everywhere to even be able to use the TV, get extra hardware / decoder, a smartcard and then you have to hope that the digital signals are being transmitted strong enough (which they mostly aren’t) to actually receive something.

Analog TV is just a casualty of all this to me, despite my continued interest in seeing those bands opened up to people like me to experiment with and for communities and neighborhoods to come together over. The bigger issue is our continued insistence on throwing perfectly functional shit away. Computers see this constantly; given care and maintenance, a computer from 20 years ago can still find plenty of use present-day. If we’re talking newer, the difference between new and used becomes almost irrelevant. Computers from ten years ago can still handle the average person’s workflow without issue. Yet, you always seem due for an upgrade, according to the marketing people. Hell, some people are trying to sell us on a totally smartphone-only future where all desktops are obsolete, and that’s some dystopian bullshit right there.

We like to make things “better” not because they actually get better, but because we can. We try to throw technology at our problems, not realizing those problems have been caused by our mindsets and the arbitrary way we’ve decided to do things and not the technology. There’s no better example of this than with SSL/TLS, which I’ve talked about on the Scratchpad before. The internet is a fundamentally trackable series of tubes that should not have ever, even remotely, been trusted for anything that needs to be secure. Yet, because we’re just so allured with the concept of buying shit online or banking online, we’re entering an age where you need a new computer every few years or so, despite your old one still working, because it’s been deemed “insecure” and “dangerous”.

Somehow, I don’t feel any safer with HTTPS, with all the security breaches in the world happening 2-3 times a year. Anyone remember Equifax? People are now actively encouraged to put their full dox online for anyone to see and to send their bank information and identity through the magical pixie box, and our solution for the inevitable issue of leaks, breaches, “stalking and harassment”, and identity theft is to use a Let’s Encrypt certificate. I’ve legitimately heard people trying to send Gopher data over TLS. It’s useless, and it just generates more goddamn e-waste, mandating an upgrade because of another arbitrary stumbling block we tell ourselves is making our infrastructure stronger.

How many millions of computers do you think are now decommissioned because we just decided they weren’t good enough? How many transmitters and linear video editing systems are now sitting in the basement of TV studios across the US alone because we just had to watch a sharper picture for no real benefit? It makes me so damn happy every time I see one of these machines gain a second life as a server or as a project box or as someone’s actual work machine. Hell, I’m doing my part with the eMachines box. It’s not glamorous, LGR’s not doing a video on this computer, but goddamn if it doesn’t make me fuzzy using it.

This? This is why Somnolescent exists. Somnolescent isn’t built on warm fuzzy nostalgia for animated GIFs and star backgrounds and “gosh, wasn’t Geocities just the best?” No. It’s about proving that the past very much has a place in the future. In some cases, the past is far more useful than the future. We’re not into Gopher because it’s a neat, retro thing to have around. We’re into it because we believe it has a use and function in the modern day. Same with IRC, same with curated art portals, same with old computers, and yeah, same with radio and analog TV. The modern internet hasn’t obsoleted them; they all have traits that make them worth the possible very slight inconvenience of not having inline images.

Fuck, even Discord, a service I once passionately defended, has proven itself genuinely incapable of being trusted after years of quietly upselling us on microtransactions for features MSN Messenger had in 2008 and propagandizing to us in the past month. The proof’s in the pudding, really; you can’t trace a conversation in person without a microphone, and you can’t trace a shortwave broadcast without human error. You kids think you’re gonna solve tracking with Mastodon and the blockchain, once again throwing technology at a mindset problem. Problem exists between keyboard and chair, admit it.

Technology augments humans; it’s not meant to replace humans. Human nature is the best thing to ever happen to this planet, everyone else is just too blackpilled to see it. Fact is, some 25 years ago, we hit the peak of technological innovation, and it’s all been diminishing returns and occasionally detrimental ever since. We have people trying to live entirely on the internet, willingly and actively, and they’re all buttfuck insane as a result. Schools actively trying to make the upcoming school year digital-only for fear of the coof. None of this is sustainable. Technology cannot replace our humanity, no matter what they push us towards.

Minimize, reduce, and reconnect. See the beauty in what everyone else considers outdated. Be self-sufficient. Laugh at those who hitched their wagons to Twitter. It’s an all-around better existence.

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