There are few things that have impacted world culture quite as much as television. Alongside the telephone, lightbulb, smartphone, and the internet, it is one of the most influential of all modern inventions.
In fact, its impact on our daily lives has reshaped culture as a whole.
However, most of us don’t remember a time when we didn’t have cable television. Cable TV has been a part of our lives for so long that we may actually be witnessing it in its final stages. The advent of streaming has called into question the relevance of the cable model, and people are canceling their subscriptions in record numbers.
Therefore, it can be hard for people living today to fully grasp just how much cable television has changed our lives. To help clarify this, here’s a brief history of cable TV and its growth, as well as a summary of the many different ways it has changed our daily lives.
Cable TV first came onto the scene in 1948, but it looked a lot different than what it looks like today. Instead of being a premium service, it was much more of a necessity.
Specifically, it was used to transmit signals being broadcast over the air in cities to those living in rural areas. Towers were erected that could pick up these signals, and then cables were used to provide television to people’s homes.
However, soon after cable TV became a thing, its role changed. Throughout the 1950s, rising incomes and the increased availability of TVs caused a boom in television, and stations were popping up all over the country. But since these stations were local, you could only access what nearby stations were offering. However, with cable, you could access stations from all across the country.
People jumped on this trend and cable subscriptions grew throughout the 1950s. They slowed in the 1960s thanks to some unfavorable regulations, but spiked again in the 1970s and never looked back.
Plus, by the 1970s, there were more options.
For example, Home Box Office, known today as HBO, launched in 1972 and helped more firmly establish cable TV as a premier paid service. TBS followed soon thereafter, and then cable TV officially became a part of our daily realities.
To really appreciate why cable TV has been such an influential force in our lives, it’s important to grasp just how big of a cultural phenomenon this is. To do that, here are some stats you should keep in mind:
When we stop to think about it for a minute, the reality is that cable TV has had a fairly significant impact on our daily lives and in many different areas.
To help digest just how much of an effect it’s had, we’ve broken things down into three areas: pop culture, information, and lifestyle.
Now, let’s dig into how cable TV impacts us on a day-to-day basis.
Cable TV has had a tremendous impact on the development of our popular culture, and these effects play out in our daily lives. Here are some of the more compelling:
Perhaps one of the biggest influences TV has is on our cultural values and social norms. There are a couple of reasons for this.
For one, television tends to reinforce what TV producers think of as “normal.” In an effort to appeal to a mass audience, they attempt to recreate a world to which many people can relate. But this world is just the perspective of a small group of people, and so, in turn, television impresses upon its viewers a very specific point of view.
In this way, television becomes a sort of cultural battleground, a place where society both gives and takes its values and norms. It’s not the only place where these are discussed and modeled. But as one of the most consumed forms of media in the world, television has a unique role in the conversations about how society understands itself.
Whether it be on the news or part of a fictitious television show, violence is everywhere on television today. There has always been an appetite for violence in film and television, but improved special effects and relaxed regulations have made it possible to show more on TV, and there are more channels than ever to see it on.
How much this impacts us remains rather unclear. The classic argument is that all this violence makes us more violent, but there is evidence to support that it does not.
At any rate, when we watch TV, we are likely being exposed to something violent, and it’s hard to imagine that not having any impact on our psyche and attitude.
One of the most powerful impacts television has had on our daily lives is that it has, in a way, brought the world right into our living rooms. With so much programming, it’s possible to get glimpses into things, whether fiction or nonfiction, that you would never otherwise get to see.
The news is a key driver of this, but other shows, such as food, travel, nature, and political documentaries, as well as fiction set around the world, take us to new places.
This has made the world much, much smaller, and turned people into global thinkers. With all this information and footage available from around the world, it’s impossible to think of yourself as existing in a bubble.
Of course, the ones airing the content have considerable control over what you see and the impression you get, but the diversity of content out there makes it possible to get unique looks at pretty much anything.
Sort of a paradoxical impact, cable TV, with its success and as an integral part of our lives, has come to demand more of itself. Now there are more content sources than ever before, and people are making choices based on preference and quality.
Back in the mid-2000s, people were wondering if we had entered a new Golden Age of television, and it’s worth wondering if we’ve ever left.
In our daily lives, we now have access to basically all the premium television content you could want. Competition is high, and, in the end, the viewer wins.
As television increasingly made its way into our lives throughout the 20th century, advertising also took on a bigger role. Early television was entirely free to the viewer, so long as they had a television set. All the content was paid for from advertisements.
This model has continued until this day, though we also pay for access to cable, which then still shows advertisements.
Many streaming services, such as YouTube and Hulu, have brought advertising into their platforms, offering ad-free versions for more money.
All in all, one study suggests you’ll spend about four years of your life watching advertisements, and our love for television is a big reason why we put up with such a thing.
In addition to its pop-culture influence, television also has impacted us by being a means of delivering information, and what information it delivers helps tell us about our world.
News is always a big part of cable TV subscriptions. They also typically have a special news package that includes the many different cable news networks currently on the air.
The existence of all these channels has had a two-pronged effect. On the one hand, it has helped make us more informed. By providing around-the-clock coverage of what’s going on in the world, we have access to more information than ever before.
But, on the other hand, as cable news networks have had to focus on specific audiences to remain profitable, many have become slanted and biased, which has contributed to a drop in trust. Where you get your news from says a lot about your political leanings, and cable news has helped contribute to the echo chamber effect that can eventually lead to radicalism.
Not everyone watches cable news. But these media companies are massive and have a strong influence on how we come to see our country and the world.
The other thing cable TV is known for: Sports!
If you want to watch all the games, then you can find a cable package that will let you watch soccer in the morning, tennis in the afternoon, baseball and football in the evening, or some other combination of the many other professional sports out there to watch.
Sports are a huge part of our culture. They dominate conversations and take over cities. Television both reflects and promotes that, helping sports’ influence and role in society grow and expand over time, and also bringing it more and more into our daily lives.
Because it’s so prevalent in our lives, television has also had a profound impact on how we live. Many of these things have been caused by other things happening at the same time. But it’s impossible to discount the role of TV.
Here are some of the lifestyle changes that have in part been brought out by television:
Every year, we spend more time in front of screens than the year before. It’s just the way our life is going. And while we have many different screens we can look at, television plays a key role in getting our eyes trained on a device or screen.
Little is known about the impacts of all this screen time on our minds and bodies. Anecdotally, people complain of eye strain, headaches, dizziness, etc. if they look at a screen for too long. But this is not experienced universally.
Nevertheless, this dramatic change in how we live our lives was in part brought on by television. As people bought more TVs and more content became available, people watched more. As new devices became available, we watched TV on those, too. Now, most cable subscriptions let you stream your service right to your phone no matter where you are.
Our lives are becoming increasingly digital. This means more opportunities for screen time. And given our love for TV, it’s no surprise we’re spending so much time watching something.
One of the consequences of all this time spent in front of screens is that we’re doing less of other things, such as reading. With so many other types of media to consume, many of which are much “easier” to consume and more passive than reading, people are doing less and less of it.
Of course, people still read. But in far fewer numbers. Some studies have been done to see how less time reading impacts intelligence, and the results have been troubling. This isn’t to say TV is making us less smart. There are many other factors to consider. But as our entertainment options grow, it’s easier and easier to bypass learning, and the consequences of this on society could be quite dire.
Or, it could not matter at all. Television gives us never-ending material from which to learn, and watching it in moderation can provide a great boost to your overall intelligence and learnedness.
When we start thinking like this, it’s worth wondering: has cable TV impacted us more, or is it the other way around?
The other big impact that all this screen time is having on our lifestyle is that it’s making it more sedentary. If we work all day in front of a computer, and then come home and sit in front of a television, that’s not only a lot of screen time: it’s also a lot of sitting time.
Many of the top health concerns in the United States are related to poor diet and lack of exercise, mainly heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
In the end, we have many choices as to how we want to spend our time. But the ease and availability of television often make it easy to choose sitting, which, over time, can have an adverse effect on our overall health.
One really simple way in which television has impacted our lives is that it has become a big part of what we talk about. When you’re hanging out in a group of people, whether old friends or new acquaintances, the topic of “the shows you’re watching” will inevitably come up.
Everyone will discuss their favorites, and those who also watch it will join them in a moment of bonding.
Sometimes, people go a step further and get together to watch shows. Most recently, Game of Thrones was a popular watch party show. No one wanted to miss out on the latest development and be left out of conversations that week.
In this sense, television has helped us connect and can help bring us closer to friends and family.
Some of the more popular cable TV shows are food shows. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: people love to eat.
In terms of impacting our daily lives, what this has done is expand our horizons when it comes to food, which in turn has given a boost to the restaurant industry. It might make you want to try a Filipino restaurant that opened in town that you only became interested in after watching a special on Filipino food on the Food Network.
Food is such a powerful connection point among people; it’s easy to see why these shows succeed. But as they succeed, they also reshape how we understand food and interact with it, which just keeps us evolving to new heights.
At the moment, cable TV continues to have an impact on our daily lives. But many wonder if we are not reaching the end of the cable era. With so many streaming options available, and so many people ditching their cable subscriptions, it’s easy to see why this might indeed be the final days of cable.
However, even if cable were to die, its influence would remain. People will still watch television, no matter what it’s on, a truth made true by the popularity of cable over the past half-century.
It’s impossible to know where cable TV will go in the future. But there’s no denying the importance of its past.