Television. Perhaps as no other medium in the history of humankind, television became such an integral part of the human condition during the latter part of the 20th century that no one today can likely imagine what life would truly be like without it. Television has certainly had a major impact on American society (Chalkey, 1993). Although many children and adults are spending more time on the computer than watching television in the 21st century, people could not get enough of the medium in the 20th century. Television became enormously popular and served as a unifying cultural force, a ubiquitous purveyor of goods and services, and the "boob tube" has transformed the human condition in America ever since. According to Marilou M. Johnson (2001), "Television programming has the power to inform, to guide, to persuade and to cause audience members to react with a variety of emotions. This power is both extolled and condemned by viewers, critics, and researchers" (p. 680). Chalkey points out that not every technological innovation assumes the level of influence that television enjoys today, but that television has fundamentally changed the behavior of society and has now reached the point where a significant portion of the economy is somehow involved with it.
Atomic Bomb. According to Leonard S. Cottrell Jr. And Sylvia Eberhart, the atomic bomb was such a powerful weapon that its use at the end of World War II profoundly affected the entire human race, but this attitude only changed as the threats associated with the atomic age became more apparent. When asked in an August 1945 Gallup poll, "Do you approve or disapprove of the use of the atomic bomb?" fully 85% of Americans surveyed indicated approved; in another Gallup poll a month later, 69% said they considered it "a good thing" that the A-bomb had been developed (Pressler, 2003). A study conducted in the summer of 1946 by the Social Research Council found that when asked, "How worried are you about the atomic bomb?" 65% of the some three thousand adult Americans surveyed maintained they were either not much worried or not worried at all. However, by the early 1950s, public approval began to dwindle and increasing worries about nuclear warfare became more frequent; however, on balance, a positive attitude prevailed (Pressler, 2003). By the 1960s, though, escalation of the Cold War with the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, had caused a majority of Americans to reconsider the usefulness of a weapon that held such horrible promise for the world. The atomic age also carried with it the age of "duck and cover" for American schoolchildren, and the United States was compelled to adopt a "Mutually Assured Destruction" capability to maintain hegemony with the Soviet superpower. Today, the threat of so-called "dirty bombs" and enormously powerful nuclear weapons that can be fit in a suitcase by terrorists is on everyone's mind, and no one would likely argue with the assertion that the atomic age represents both an incredible opportunity and a world-ending threat at the same time.
Notwithstanding the impact of the introduction of the other technological innovations discussed here, it quickly becomes evident that television has had the most profound impact on the American consciousness to date. Television has transcended the status of a mere medium, and has assumed a prominence in American -- and global -- society that has made it the most pervasive force in the world today. Orville and Wilbur Wright and Robert Oppenheimer made their respective contributions in the form of the airplane and atomic bomb, certainly, but people learn about these events today, and almost all others, by watching them on their televisions.
Chalkley, T. (July-August 1993). Technological Forecasting. The Futurist, 27(4), 13.
Chism, K.G. & Potter, L.A. (2003). Affidavit in the Case of Orville and Wilbur Wright vs.
Glenn H. Curtiss: The Legal Fight after First Flight. Social Education, 67(6), 352.
Cottrell, L.S., Jr. & Eberhart, S. (1948). American Opinion on World Affairs in the Atomic Age.
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Johnson, M.M. (2001). The Impact of Television and Directions for Controlling What Children
View. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 45(4), 680.