When it was over, after Charlie and Di Windsor had tied the most publicized knot since the Gordian, what surprised me the most were the crowds.

I'd been told that the wedding was going to be a telly event. It was billed as a visitor burst, a tourst unattraction, a video special.

The hotel owners had been howling like stuck hotel owners for weeks. An entrepreneur who bought 1,500 parade-side seats along Fleet Street had only sold 500 of them. And a dismayed tour organizer had rued, "Why travel all the way to England to be shoved and pushed . . . when you can watch the whole thing at home one television."

They all made it sound as if the Windsors would trot up to St. Paul's on streets lined only by camera crews, with perhaps a thousand or so hired "extras." The real people were all going to be witnessing the instant replays and the close-ups.

But in the end, there were an estimated 900,000 along the two-mile route. Maybe that's not a record turnout, but it's a lot of people by any standard. They were there in the end because, as 15-year-old Andrew Lloyd put it, "I wanted to see Prince Charles and Lady Diana, I've only seen them in photos."

There is not doubt that Andrew Lloyd or the other would have had a better "view" of the prince and princess on the tube. But he would not, in his mind, have actually "seen" them.

Weel, let's give a cheer for Andrew. Maybe it takes a royal wedding to break the habit, but at least his instincts are right.

The thing that has always spooked me about TV is the idean that seeing is the same as being there. In the old days before John Cameron Swayze took to hawking watchings, he sold us on the TV watchwords: You Are There.

But we were not there. TV was and is a good show for those of us who can't ante up the air fare, but it's crazy when we end up choosing it over the real thing.

Since TV, we're less likely to be there. We're less likely to join a crowd. We are more likely to hear a laugh track than share a laugh.

During the flap over television sex and violence, the Coalition for Better TV appealed to those of us who worry about what we are watching. But it didn't even touch the anxiety of those of us who worry that we are watching.

We hardly have to move a muscle now to attend an opera, a parade, a safari, a royal wedding. But the activity we're increasingly hooked on isn't music, marching, nature or ceremony. It's allthe same: watching.

It's this incessant watching that atrophies the muscles of community and imagination.

We find fans who don't go to a sports event unless it's blacked out. We find tourists disappointed in the safari because they don't get a great close-up of the lions. We find a generation of kids who complain at parades that they'd rather see it on the tube.

Even at the events themselves, people frequently end up in front of a set.

At the Kentucky Derby, I'm told, many spectators follow the race on television. At a national political convention, I've seen delegates peering into sets onthe floor. At the wedding, they sold box seats along the parade route with access to a full-color screen.

Cable TV promises to make this even worse. If they're right, cable can target the the special interests of special audiences. If they are right, we could end up spending still more hours sitting.

Soon, they'll have to hire people to come to events in order to televise them as events.

I am not a total TV-hater. But TV can take over people's lives, glazing the eyes and drying up our social existence.

There is plainly a difference between an experience and an observation, between having a life and watching a life on TV. It has something to do with the grease paint and the crowd and the community.

They royal wedding brought out the community of British people who blessedly still wanted to celebrate something together, be a part of it, rather than be passive viewers. And Andrew Lloyd was there.