MartinWalking through any town or village in Britain on a summer evening when the windows are open one can see the bluish sheen of the television screen in almost any house. It is therefore easily possible, if o n e knows which programmes are at that moment being broadcast o n the three available channels, to know what are the only three possible contents at that moment occupy- ing the minds of the people inside the houses in that street. In times past an- other person’s thoughts were one of the greatest of mysteries. Today, during television peak hours in one of the more highly developed countries, the contents of a very high proportion of other people’s minds have become highly predictable.
Indeed, if we regard the continuous stream of thought and emotion which constitutes a human being’s conscious mental processes as the most private sphere of his individuality, we might express the effect of this mass communications medium by saying that for a given number of hours a day—in the United Kingdom between two and two and a half hours—twentieth- century man switches his mind from private to collective consciousness. It is a staggering and, in the literal sense of the word, awful thought.
Martin Esslin, ‘Television: Mass Demand and Quality’, Impact of Science on Society, vol. 20, no. 3 (1970), pp. 207–218