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May 10, 2010


Paul Lindemeyer

I suspect TV is the one great invention whose history can't be told both faithfully and inspiringly.

Much of it is boring incremental advances in technology. Much is lost trade secrets and experiments no one gave a damn about at the time. And there is a whole chapter - the mechanical scanning era, pre Farnsworth - that is totally irrelevant to what came before OR what came after, either in media terms or technical terms. For itself, it is fascinating, but it is a hiccup in the greater story - a distraction.

There is magic in the birth of TV, but it is the magic one experiences seeing something far away, as it happens. That wonderment, that mysticism, is going to be near-impossible to recreate for an audience so visually instinctive as ours today. What has been seen can never be "unseen."


"Much of it is boring incremental advances in technology." That may be true with television as it is probably true for almost any technology. But the whole point to the Farnsworth story is that there WAS ONE inflection point, at which, as you say, everything that came before became totally irrelevant, and everything that came after became possible. Others (like Boris Rosing and A.A. Campbell-Swinton) had postulated the possibility of cathode-ray scanning, but Farnsworth was the first to demonstrate the ability to focus and steer electrons. Having the right idea is one thing, but having the right idea AND ACTUALLY MAKING IT WORK is EVERYTHING. Farnsworth's contribution was a breakthrough of epic proportions, and that is the fact that keeps getting glossed over in everything from encyclopedias to Aaron Sorkin's play. But I agree, it's a mystical achievement this is hard to convey to a contemporary audience.

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I just that make it through the Bush years, without a weekly dose of the west wing reminds me of how this country should work.


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I must say, he was truly an inspirational guy. Farnsworth was such an awesome device. Loved it.

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