Sarah Sands: Community viewing is back in style

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The Independent Online

If one divides a house into male and female parts, there is no doubt about the gender of the television. It is preening and dominating and size-obsessed and demanding of worship. Most of the gadgets we use are getting smaller and neater – computers, phones, laptops. Not televisions. Televisions are growing into monsters.

Do you remember when it was considered genteel to disguise a television in a cabinet? Or when wide screen was associated with the socially downmarket, the province of the nouveau riche and council estates. Was the world mad? Now televisions are hung on walls like works of art and cost as much. Thirty-two inches has become basic, 42 inches normal, and 50 or 60 inches is where men really want to be. Five foot televisions.

Even the most frugal men seem to lose their heads at the prospect of a new television. And it is not just the shape and size which makes their hearts beat faster. It is something far more esoteric. It's plasma and LCD and LED, it's HD and 3D and screen resolution, with cinema sound.

When they first introduced high definition, the big question was what it did for the complexions of our news readers. It was raised as a reason for dumping Moira Stewart – now going great guns with Chris Evans on Radio 2 – and generated a debate about women considered too old for TV. In fact the real implication of high-definition TV lay elsewhere. It was the matches, stupid.

I cannot really tell the difference. Indeed, the Sky man who came round to put ours in grinned and looked as if there was one born every minute, and said it was up to me, when I asked whether it really changed things. But men swear that the grass is greener for those with high-definition TVs; and, suddenly, everything has come together in an act of sublime symmetry. Heavenly TVs and the World Cup!

Television is criticised by social psychologists as a solitary, passive activity. Yet these new cinematic screens and patriotic fervour are creating communities of television watchers. It could not be more sociable. Just as wealthier 1950s households invited round the neighbours to watch the coronation on the street's only television set, so it's fashionable again to have people in for the big occasion. My first World Cup party was at the home of the PR man Matthew Freud, where a group of men vied for greatest knowledge of the game, the women grew slightly bored and we all admired the size of the set.

Our big show-off TV arrived last week and I'm looking for all the yellow in the picture, having seen a Japanese man explain in an advert that that is its special quality. Naturally, it's been researched by my husband. I didn't know he'd got it, and rang as I walked home. "I'm just going by the Sony shop. Shall I pop in and buy a telly?" There was a terrible sigh. As if it were possible to buy a television as you might buy a box of washing powder ...

Last week at a glamorous wedding in a Surrey village, the happiest man apart from the groom was an IT specialist who had negotiated a departure from his bank that would give him three months' gardening leave, starting now. "I've got a new HD deal and a new set," he said. "I'll not be moving much from the sofa."

I'd say that was excessive, except my family is already calculating whether we can really make my son's wedding next month if England are still involved in South Africa. Whoever is watching the football that day, the cheers and groans will mingle with those of every other fan in the street, however little some of them understand 4-4-2. The noise of blaring televisions is to be the sound of summer.