In a little known manuscript from 1998 Paddy Scannell asks some dumbfoundingly basic questions about the electronic media: ‘What happens when you turn on your television set? What is the meaning of television?’ The present article presents Scannell’s Heideggerian analysis of the act of turning on the TV set, and relates it to his other writings and lectures. The article doesn’t present Scannell’s work in its full breadth, but focuses on the technological dimension of mass communication. I also link up Scannell’s theory of television with the somewhat similar theories of Marshall McLuhan and the philosopher Albert Borgmann. These two writers stress the technological dimension of mass media in quite different ways from Scannell, but they share his concern with explaining how technologies can become so intensely meaningful for people.