Ellie ignored random access and advanced sequentially through the television stations. Lifestyles of the Mass Murderers and You Bet Your Ass were on adjacent channels. It was clear at a glance that the promise of the medium remained unfulfilled. There was a spirited basketball game between the Johnson City Wildcats and the Union-Endicott Tigers; the young men and women players were giving their all. On the next channel was an exhortation in Parsi on proper versus improper observances of Ramadan. Beyond was one of the locked channels, this one apparently devoted to universally abhorrent sexual practices. She next came upon one of the premier computer channels, dedicated to fantasy role-playing games and now fallen on hard times.
Accessed to your home computer, it offered a single entry into a new adventure, today’s apparently called Galactic Gilgamesh, in holes that you would find it sufficiently attractive to order the corresponding floppy
disk on one of the vending channels. Proper electronic precautions were taken so you could not record the program during your single play. Most of these video games, she thought, were desperately flawed attempts to prepare adolescents for an unknown future.
Her eye was caught by an earnest anchorman from one of the old networks discussing with unmistakable concern what was described as an unprovoked attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on two destroyers of the U. S. Seventh Fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the request by the President of the United States that he be authorized to “take all necessary measures” in response. The program was one of her few favorites, Yesterday’s News, reruns of network news shows of earlier years. The second half of the program consisted of a point-by-point dissection of the misinformation in the first half, and the obdurate credulity of the news organizations before any claims by any administration, no matter how unsupported and self-serving. It was one of several television series produced by an organization called REALI-TV – including Promises, Promises, devoted to follow-up analyses of unfulfilled campaign pledges at local, state, and national levels, and Bamboozles and Baloney, a weekly debunking of what were said to be widespread prejudices, propaganda, and myths. The date at the bottom of the screen was August 5, 1964, and a wave of recollection – nostalgia was not the appropriate word – about her days in high school washed over her. She pressed on.
Cycling through the channels, she rushed past an Oriental cooking series devoted this week to the hibachi, an extended advertisement for the first generation of general-purpose household robots by Hadden Cybernetics, the Soviet Embassy’s Russian-language news and comment program, several children’s and news frequencies, the mathematics station displaying the dazzling computer graphics of the new Cornell analytic geometry course, the local apartments and real estate channel, and a tight cluster of execrable daytime serials until she came upon the religious networks, where, with sustained and general excitement, the Message was being discussed.
Attendance in churches had soared all over America. The Message, Ellie believed, was a kind of mirror in which each person sees his or her own beliefs challenged or confirmed. It was considered a blanket vindication of mutually exclusive apocalyptic and eschatological doctrines.