Pictures produced by CRTs or cathode ray tubes are now so ubiquitous that we hardly see them,* but like all South Africans at that time, we did not have television. The Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, Albert Herzog, had quite correctly perceived that television would corrupt the South African populace more than it would educate them, and further, that it would undermine the apartheid project. He described television as ‘a little bioscope in a box,’ and it is thus to him that we owe the phrase ‘the box.’
The first cathode ray tube I encountered was a small one, the property of Robin Braun, an electronics wizard in the same year as I at Michaelis House, the junior boarding-establishment at SACS. Robin truly understood the business of resistors, capacitors and, above all, of transistors, those mysterious (to me) switches that lie at the base of all our electronic endeavours. At the age of thirteen he could design and build amplifiers, radios and other interesting and useful devices, and to this end he used an oscilloscope which he had built himself. On the circular screen of its cathode ray tube would appear sine-waves, square waves and other interesting shapes in glowing green lines, and although for him these patterns were in some way diagnostic, for me, they were the shapes of the future: jagged city skylines, smooth flight curves, all promised by the infinitely inventive human mind. Had I been able to view the more complex patterns that my contemporaries in Europe and elsewhere were looking at on their cathode ray tubes, I may have been even more impressed. But I would not have been corrupted against the state, for, like my family, I was already thus corrupted.
* They have largely been replaced by flat screens by now.