We didn't get television in 1960. We got the prison van and that took us to Templeton where we got the bus and that took us to school where we got the cane.

Well, not just the cane. We also got our socks pulled up and our hair measured to make sure it wasn't touching our collars. And we got lessons, of course, English and History and Latin (amo, amas, amat; fat chance now of anything like that).

We got Cadets for a week in 1960 - without sunblock. On hot February days, we marched around in abrasive khaki (buttons Brasso bright) carrying real 303s that were usually locked in a magazine next to the tuck shop.

If we were lucky we got trained at Burnham in the holidays where we didn't just carry 303s, we got to fire them as well - and Bren guns too. There are few sounds louder than the sound of a Bren gun firing when you're lying right beside it, waiting to reload the magazine.

So we got earache in 1960, but not television. When we were sick, there were serials on the radio in the morning right after Aunt Daisy: Doctor Paul and Portia Faces Life ("The story of any woman who's ever dared to love completely!").

And more at night: Dad and Dave, The Archers, Randy Stone (who covered the night beat for The Daily) and Henry Simons from the Missing Persons Bureau, who never said "Good-bye, but simply au revoir".

Because teenagers had only just been discovered in 1960 and no one knew what to do with them we only got one half hour Hit Parade each week but there was The Goon Show to give us some inkling of how sane madness could be.

The front page of the Press was just ads for the movies "now showing in glorious Technicolor"; ("The screen explodes with two-fisted action", "A heart-warming story of love in an iron lung", "Charlton Heston is Moses as you've never seen him before!!").

They played the national anthem before the movies started in 1960 and everybody had to stand up. The pubs closed at 6pm and you could have any car you liked as long as it was a bike.

Things were, in short, very different but, really, no different at all.

Some people had more money than others, and more possessions too. We wanted what we didn't have and had what we didn't want. There were rules and regulations and fashions and fads and some were silly and some not.

We got information in 1960 as we do now. We knew about Kennedy and Khrushchev and what the drainage board decided at its last meeting. We got entertainment in 1960. We had radios and record players and even a one-year-old fridge. We just didn't have television.

And we didn't get television until 1962. The first set we got was on the other side of a shop window. We stood in the crowd on the footpath and watched our future flicker in living black and white.

The next set was at a neighbour's place. Invitations were cordially extended and gratefully accepted and off we'd go for a silent night of viewing.

There was only one channel in 1962 and you could have any programme you liked as long as it was on and we all thought it was magic.

It wasn't, any more than it is now. Over and above the marvel of transmission, the real magic of television was that everybody watched the same thing. Television was a novel and unifying force, something uncommon that we all had in common. Because we all watched the same shows, everyone had a view to share and someone else to share it with.

The real magic wasn't the programmes, it was the debates and conversations the next day in school grounds and smoko rooms and shops and homes and over fences.

Those conversations hardly happen now. There isn't one channel today, there are a hundred (half of them screening apologies from Andy Haden).

The networks are dying. Television doesn't awe us any more.

It's a magazine shop, with titles for every taste - al-Jazeera, CNN, The Disney Channel, C4, MTV, Sport, More Sport, Some Other Sport, Movies, Comedy, History, Discovery, Pay To View and, if that's not enough, we can upload and download and watch Susan Boyle in 3D on our cellphones!

We're all watching something but it's not the same thing any more.

Television isn't a unifier, it's a point of difference. The medium isn't the message, the mediums are. Everything's a niche and every niche is a choice.

Pretty soon, we'll be able to put on a helmet and do our own virtual interview with a Barack Obama hologram that's been programmed to respond to our questions exactly as the real President would.

And no one else will give a toss.