THE ELECTRONIC MIRROR
By Helidon Gjergji

At the beginning of the mass TV era, there were just a handful of television stations broadcasting a few number of programs over a restricted period of time. But the limited channel choices and schedule didn't seem to impede the television from becoming the new center of gravity for the private social sphere. In fact, for the vast public it was common to watch things they never would freely choose to watch. In absence of his favorite games, a man irreversibly affected by the TV syndrome, and who loves football and baseball, would watch the recent developments of a coup d'etat in Ivory Cost, which he didn't even know existed and he didn't care about anyway. Of course, in such conditions the absence of a pluralistic choice led to the creation of a virtual autocrat, a well known conclusion. Yet, that is not as interesting as the fact that the TV assumed a quasi-human identity which both integrated it and set it apart from the members of the family. The unwilling substitution of the football game with the Ivory Cost News makes plain this status of the television as the familiarizing unknown in the family. So, paradoxically the TV dictated a species of pluralism. 

But soon something crucial started to gradually change TV. Its relationship with the viewer become more lively, challenging the initial status-quo. What was before unilateral became a mutual rapport between the viewer and his/her  TV-set. People started being watched by the television. The box was constantly spying on people. What are their favorite programs? How are the preferences divided in terms of class, gender, age, race, ethnicity? What's the best time of the day and week to broadcast certain programs? Demography and statistics became the strong allies of this process of democratization. Channels and stations boomed, and broadcasting was largely extended to 24 hours a day. It was what we today call the democratization of the television. This phenomenon of watching and being watched unavoidably made the television a less distinct subject of the family, that is, less unknown. 

Cable, video, satellite, interactive TV. These acrophobic technological achievements facilitated the triumph of a very sophisticated virtual system. TV democracy is here; it is not a dream or project anymore. Now people can watch what truly interests them and comforts them in every sense. The remote control becomes an additive fictional muscle of one's body, obediently sending impulses from one's mind to the TV monitor. No more need to watch the News about Ivory Cost, while one can watch his/her favorite football game; no need for an Albanian to follow the Kosova War through Serbian, American or French channels, while he/she could follow it through Albanian channels broadcasted via satellite. The Albanian ones will tell him/her exactly what he/she wants when he/she wants to hear it and in his/her favorite language. On the other side, a Serbian viewer watches his/her own channels, with the version and language that he/she prefers. No need to mention that the information of the Serb viewer is the opposite of the Albanian's. By another paradox, this perfect television democracy becomes the tomb of reality. The TV ceases to be a distinct identity, and becomes a chameleon-like image, permitting everybody to easily find their self reflection. What before served to transmit a virtual version of reality now serves to reflect a virtual version of one's own superego. The electronic mirror is born.

2001
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