Sight, No Sound, And Very Little Motion

Because of its ability to convey sight, sound and motion to the masses, television is often credited as being the most powerful communication medium ever conceived, at least so far. But there is a moment each year when soundless and near-motionless programming is TV at its best. It occurs at 8:45 AM every September 11 since 2001.

There are other moments when television serves as an organizing medium where Americans gather collectively around a screen to share in an important unifying experience, but none of them are soundless.

"The Eagle has landed."

"Happy New Year."

"Touch down."

And none of them are as solemn as TV's moment of 9/11 silence.

And yes, I know it can be experienced on a multitude of other screen-based platforms, but the inherent experience still is a TV one that will be enduring long after we no longer even call the medium television.



That saddens me, not just because I'm a nostalgic Baby Boomer who grew up sucking on the tube, but because I think we are losing something with the erosion of television as a unifying medium. And it's not just the channel fragmentation that has given rise to alternate versions of collective consciousness -- not to mention realities.

It's because the original broadcasting model was our go-to place to gather around moments of national -- even global and extra-planetary -- importance.

And we are losing that. I've documented my own personal experiment to try and untether from the subscription television cord, and how it has largely failed, because of an inability to actually get a local broadcast TV signal.

Why is that even important in this era of omnichannel connectivity? Aside from the unifying principle, which is something we need now more than ever before, I believe that access is important glue for other vital parts of society.

I am sure many of you probably can't even recall hearing a television test of the Emergency Broadcast System, although you likely have experienced some kind of alert on you mobile phone.

It's not the same, and I worry that it makes us more vulnerable and disconnected than in the days when we could all tune in simultaneously for moments of importance to, you know, all be on the same page. Whether it is national emergencies, moments of remembrance, or other things.

The irony of experiencing 9/11 moments of silence on television is that TV actually played an important communications role -- both good and bad -- on September 11, 2001.

The bad was that it helped enable the greatest terrorism experience ever in the history of terrorism that I can't imagine will ever be repeated in quite that telegenic a way.

The good was that it enabled Americans to be informed in real-time about the gravity of the situation and to some extent, how to respond to it in real-time.

When the primary broadcasting transmitters located on top of the Twin Towers went down, local New York stations quickly transitioned to back-up antennas located on the Empire State Building, and were able to keep us informed throughout the day when many New Yorkers lost access to their mobile and/or internet connections.

I remember getting an email from a friend who lived in the shadows of the World Trade Center when asking me to call his mother in California to let her know he was alright, because he lost his ability to make phone calls.

Watching the carnage unfold on TV and not being able to reach her son, his mother was relieved to hear from me that he was okay.

I don't know how we'll respond the next time we experience that kind of national emergency in a moment of terror with a seriously decayed broadcast TV infrastructure. I just know it won't be the same.

So on this 9/11, I'd also like to suggest a shared moment of silence for broadcast TV as our national connective tissue.

1 comment about "Sight, No Sound, And Very Little Motion".
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  1. Steve Rosenbaum from SustainableMedia.Center, September 11, 2023 at 11:52 a.m.

    Joe - thank you, well said. Silence seems a distant memory. I think often about how 9/11 would have been experienced today. With cell phones, live streams Twitter, and TikTok. It wouldn't have unfolded as it did... with each of us looking for information. Facts would have transmitted quicker, but i wonder if misinformation would have transmitted faster?  This clip - -  18 minutes of people on the street - shows just how people talked, listened, and searched for answers. Today every one of these people wouldn't be gathered around radios or tv's, they'd be on their phones. More connected, and more isolated - at the same time. 

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