When I tell my children about my own childhood, they often express disbelief about how wretched it was. No Xbox? No YouTube? No Snapchat? What on earth did I do with myself? But the thing they cannot get their heads around is that I had only three television channels to choose from. They live in a world in which practically every TV series ever made is available at the click of a mouse —and because they’ve always lived in that world they have no trouble navigating the dizzying array. They binge on certain shows — Merlin, Modern Family, The IT Crowd — and dip in and out of others, but it never feels as if they care that much. It’s more as if they’re selecting background music while they do something else — and they often are doing something else, such as communicating with their friends on their phones.
By contrast, I attach a huge amount of significance to what I watch and I think that’s because of the meagre television diet I had to subsist on as a child. On Fridays after school in 1973, your choice was limited to Record Breakers on BBC One or Lost in Space on ITV and because those were the only two options — BBC Two was given over to the Open University — you could classify people according to which one they preferred. I was a Lost in Space person, obviously, and friendship groups were, in part, based on what your favourite programmes were. I don’t think I had a single friend who watched Blue Peter. If someone admitted to liking Blue Peter it was a sign that they were a goody two-shoes, a country mouse.