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Going Digital

June 12, 2009

Today, at long last, broadcast television in the United States switches from analog to digital transmission. The new format uses less bandwidth and promises greater picture clarity through so-called high-definition or HD service on many channels.  For many TV viewers, the real question is whether the new service will improve the quality of offerings.

Several sources indicate that the new technology will leave many households without service, either because the new signal won’t reach them or because they have failed to purchase and install the required equipment.  For them, quality clearly won’t improve, as a service many consider their lifeline to the rest of the world will be severed, at least for awhile.

For those who do get the signal, the new format is supposed to offer new options.  More channels, the ability to tailor programming selection to personal tastes, and the ability to get the same programs in different languages or with subtitles.

The breadth and depth of offerings promises unprecedented choice.  But choice often proves paradoxical.  As Barry Schwartz points out in his 2003 book, entitled unsurprisingly The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, the more we have to choose from the harder we often find it to make decisions, much less act on our preferences.

If we’re lucky, the digital TV conversion will give us pause.  Perhaps, just maybe, we will find the choices so overwhelming that we decide to switch the box off, and go outside for awhile and go digital by getting our hands dirty in the garden or by extending a hand to help a neighbor.  Now that’s progress!

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