When I was little, my Mum sometimes took me to the butcher's. Amidst the blood and sawdust, they'd have a yarn about the weather, politics, or food prices. It was a tiny parliament, with its own question time and partisan bunfights.
But when I take my son to the local butcher's, we don't talk so much. Why? I blame the huge plasma television on the wall. Even if customers weren't distracted by the box's hypnotic glow, they'd have trouble discussing foreign policy over the sound of music videos.
The ubiquity of the television today is astonishing - in bars, restaurants, cafes and salons, in kitchens and toilets. There's a huge one in Federation Square, our very own public square. And more importantly, television takes up a large chunk of our leisure time: on average, about three hours a day, according to pollsters Roy Morgan. What does this do to us?
Criticism of television often attacks the content: too violent, too sexualised, or simply unedifying. And often this is true. But this all-too-quickly degenerates into a slanging match, where holier-than-thou moralists decry imagined ills. Perhaps glorification of violence is a dubious way to raise children, but there's no evidence that CSI breeds killers. This argument was bad in Plato's day, and it's bad now.
And it misses the deeper point. The medium of television itself has serious shortcomings, even if the message is ethically pure.