Fighting Television Addiction: Get Out And Do Something
How many people here don't think I'm going to be serious?
Okay, that would be all of you.
Well, here is the shocker: I'm serious about this. TV addiction is real. It's more insidious than alcohol, more attractive than smoking, and more mesmerizing than marijuana. An entire industry has been built around television entertainment. It is such a part of mainstream America that we don't even recognize it as an addiction until it's too late.
This addiction is hard to beat because televisions are everywhere. The price we pay for it is higher than any of us will consciously admit. I'm certain it is a major factor in the downfall of many marriages and it is probably the secret reason why half of this country is overweight, lazy, and has attention deficit disorder.
My name is Christopher... and I'm a TV addict. I have yet to find one support group like TVA (TV Anonymous) around. A group like that is desperately needed. Where will the TV addict turn to for help?
You may ask, "Christopher, how did you become a TV addict?"
Well, I really don't know exactly. I've been watching television since before I could remember. I'm sure it happened quite innocently. It's not like some shadowy figure with a Neilson box rolled up to me while I was a toddler and said, "Hey kid, wanna try this for free? It's black and white now but it'll get better soon... trust me."
Also, I wasn't part of any brainwashing experiment where I was strapped to a chair with my eyes kept open and force-fed sitcoms.
Well, maybe I was, come to think of it. I might have been. I couldn't walk and I was strapped to a chair.
I did have a normal childhood, though. I was active in sports: baseball, soccer, karate and judo. I had friends who watched the Saturday 4:30 monster movies with Godzilla and Gamera with me. It seemed to be the thing to do for a suburban child who lived in a neighborhood duller than watching paint dry on a summer day. Outside of television watching, we made do with what we had - which was nothing. We did normal deviant kid things like throw rocks at each other and jump from newly constructed house roofs onto large piles of soft dirt. On rainy days we stayed inside and watched Looney Tunes. When the weather was nice, we went exploring and rode our bikes everywhere around the town.
And when we had access to explosives, like firecrackers and M80s, we blew things up. The bubble-wrapped children of the nineties have no idea what they missed in the seventies and eighties.
However, with all that aside, I did watch an abnormal amount of television.
I would get home from school and watch TV immediately. I'd watch until about seven o'clock and then do my homework. When I finished I came back downstairs and watched some more until bedtime.
My parents even owned one of the first pilot VCRs back in 1978. It was revolutionary at the time. They could record programs they didn't have time to watch and then they'd use their extra leisure time to watch television. It never really occurred to my parents to actually turn off the boob tube to do other things.
You have to remember that before there were VCRs, we had to wait until a program or old movie aired again to watch it. This is why older people enjoy the Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - it was on almost every Thanksgiving and it was suitable for children of that time.
Finish your dinner, clean your plate, and you'll be rewarded with a bit of Wizard of Oz.
How could they know they were feeding an addiction?
The warning signs were there. When my parents were getting comments from parent/teacher conferences that I had problems focusing and "lacked self-control", it was a symptom of a mind that could change a channel when he was bored.
From my point of view, I had to believe it was my fault for lacking the self-discipline to break a television habit that I always had.
Later on in life, I found out I had Attention Deficit Disorder. When you have ADHD, having a television is like having a self-administering crack machine.
The Sad Part Was Television Programs Weren't That Great
I watched so much crappy TV I could summarize every plot of I Love Lucy, Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Welcome Back Kotter, Good Times, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show, as well every cartoon that came on a Saturday Morning since 1971.
When you invest that much time on one thing, you should get something out of it. What kind of skill develops through watching television? From what I understand, if you dedicate a thousand hours of your life doing one thing continuously, you should have a mastery of it.
There is nothing you'd get from watching any of those shows.
Some people would say that watching television helps develop your imagination. It doesn't. All it really does is show you what other people have imagined. While it is conceivable that a view might glean some minor life skills performed through the badly-written sitcom morality plays, it is more probable that it's a view of a badly written moral from a mentally deficient screenwriter.
Producers will sign off on practically anything. P.G. Wodehouse joked that the IQ of an average audience member is around that of an eight-year-old.
Fortunately, my grades were good enough to get me into college.
Through sheer happenstance, I didn't take a television when I left for college. The benefit from that was I read more. I found I could focus better in class and, without the distraction of a television, I could do well in school. Without a television in my home, I felt no urge to procrastinate (or at the very least, had to get creative on how I procrastinated).
When I came back home during summer break, I worked a day job and had no time for television. I would only watch Saturday morning cartoons because of course, I did.
Time was at a premium and I didn't waste it on bad television.
After college, I moved out and bought my own television. I had cable, but I rarely watched it because I worked like a dog at my new job. At that time of my life, I was on the bar and dating scene. When I watched Saturday morning cartoons it was because it was the least aggressive thing to do while hung over.
Long hours and career commitments kept me doing non-television related activities.
However, after I settled down and got married, I moved back down closer to where my parents lived. Low real estate prices and a need to find my roots drove me there. With that long exhausting commute combined with no social life, I was prone to waste time.
I began to watch TV again.
At first, it was just to unwind after a hard day. Then it was to watch my Saturday morning to Saturday afternoon ritual. After that, it was my Sunday daily ritual. Pretty soon, I was watching television every non-working, non-commuting, non-sleeping hour.
My attention and ability to focus on things that were not television related declined. I didn't have a life outside of TV. I reconciled that if I went to a bar I'd get out of the house.
It was a real problem.
My epiphany came when I was sitting down and watching something I really did not want to watch, I can't even remember what it was. There were literally fifty-seven channels with nothing on. And despite there being nothing on I kept watching.
Somewhere in the back of my head, a voice said "STOP! What are you doing?"
Television Lures People Who are Prone to Depression and Low Serotonin Levels
No one wants to hear the old wives' tale of "television will rot your brain". However, the unexamined life is not worth living.
According to a 2016 article published in Scientific American, scientists put the "television will rot your brain" theory to the test and some old beliefs were challenged.1
Originally, a team of scientists in 2013 led by the neuroscientist, Hikaru Takeuchi, at Tohoku University in Japan measured the images of 290 children ranging from five to eighteen. The children measured watched zero to four hours of television a day. The team found that the more the children watched the "bulkier" their brains (hypothalamus, septum, sensorimotor area and visual cortex) became. The initial belief (without hereditary factors) is that prolonged television watching led to lower IQ's, poorer language skills, and emotional disorders.
These results were later challenged by criminologists, Joseph Schwartz of the University of Nebraska Omaha and Kevin Beaver of Florida State University. They tested with several middle and high schoolers with a range of factors like race, gender, antisocial behavior, and criminal histories. The initial results were much the same as the Japanese study. However, in addition to that, they added a hereditary factor of 3,000 sibling pairs. The results added a new twist. Schwartz said, "children with an increased predisposition toward aggressive behavior may be more drawn to TV.”
In addition to that, kids that were like to lean toward obesity and depression were more likely to watch television rather than participate in physical activities which would increase serotonin levels. The theory being that genes that had problems with utilizing and regulating dopamine and serotonin would lead to the lower brain activity results.
Schwartz believed it would happen regardless of the amount of television the kids watched.
While the chicken and egg scenario between bad brain activity and watching television is debated the conclusion that we could probably draw is that if you're inclined to be depressed and lethargic, you're prone to the temptation of binge-watching television which would feed into its own vicious cycle. The findings also suggest that a child's developing mind, if it has those inherited risk factors, would do best without television.
Moderation is recommended and higher physical activity is encouraged.
How long can you go without watching television?
So I came to a resolution.
Beginning on the first of the month, I went on a month long prolonged television fast. It was a purging. I had a stack of books I hadn't read. I went out and bought a couple more - just in case. I decided I would not watch a nanosecond of television. If I needed entertainment, I'd talk to my wife or I'd read a book.
It wasn't easy.
There were definitely times I was bored. I could feel a physical force drawing me back to my chair to click on the television and veg out. I knew the addiction was purely psychological. That didn't stop me from getting irritable or stir crazy.
It's a hard habit to break.
However, in giving up television, I found a new road to self-discovery. I found more time for personal meditation. Unfortunately, personal meditation is not always a good thing. In my personal life investigation into the methods of Buddhism, I've begun to peel back each layer of my life and ego and I really don't like what I see.
I had a genuine opportunity for REAL self-improvement. I saw a therapist and confirmed what I'd long suspected to be, through my readings, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. My road isn't easy.
Unfortunately, when I initially did my challenge, I stumbled once when I just had a really bad day. It involved a flat tire, a group of automotive idiots, a lot of unnecessary walking, and a lot of money. I was either going to do something to calm down or kill someone.
I decided to calm down and watch some television.
And you know what? It worked.
But I digress, back to the boob tube.
Where Are We Headed?
I've begun to wonder about the big picture. You know what I'm talking about - the BIG picture.
What's happened to us as a society because of television? We are reading less. Literacy scores are going down the toilet. If you don't believe me, ask around. Casually ask people you know the last book they read. I'm shocked when I find out that most people spend a year without reading a book. You should at least read a book to improve your knowledge in whatever your chosen career is.
As far as fiction goes, the answer I get from people who don't read for enjoyment is "Why should I read a book when I can just watch a television show or movie about it?"
The obvious answer is that the book is always better. The thoughts and impressions you get from reading a book come directly from the author and allow you as the reader to get into the characters' heads.
In the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, he challenges the reader to read not only a book a month but if you can do that improve to a book a week. He also asks that you try to read out of your comfort zone. You should read deeply to broaden your knowledge base.
Another habit is to get into writing letters. When you can write and distill your knowledge and communicate your message empathically it fine tunes your mind.
But I digress.
What kind of future does the US have because of its involvement with television? There's a reason why other countries are kicking our asses in every cerebral occupation and event. It's because we've allowed ourselves to become slaves to the idiot box.
It is truly making us idiots.
Television Pros and Cons
Your Co-workers watch TV
People bond over common experience.
Don't follow people who seem to have no life
Watching TV is entertaining
Some of it is.
A lot of it isn't
Reading v TV
Watching the TV adaptation is easier
The TV adaptation is never as good as the book
Television on Demand
Anything you want. Anytime you want it
You only have one life. Don't spend it on a couch.
Good for calming down
You get susceptible to it the more you watch
You only have one life. How do you want to spend it?
Now I understand the reasoning for television is to unwind after a long and complex day. It's true, the more complex the mind, the greater need for play. However, can't the same thing be done by just reading a book? How about going to the gym? Use the muscles that nature gave to create a body worth a god or goddess.
Why not take up a hobby like bike riding or tennis? Or for people who are not so inclined to the physical spectrum, do a jigsaw puzzle or logic problems like Sodoku.
Why not learn a new language?
How about this one for married people? How about talking to your spouse? Why not spend time with your significant other? Spend time with your kids doing something other than watching television. Work on a project together.
Shouldn't parents say they played catch with their kids rather than say they watched Cheers together on a Thursday night?
It's food for thought.
I'm not a parent and I won't be. So, take this advice for what it's worth.
Don't you think it would be better to help your child with their studies or to be around to answer questions or maybe give him some sage advice instead of just watching the tube? Isn't better for a child's development to have them think you care?
Yes, you get credit for participation.
I think your time is better spent investing in ideas from book learning rather than sitting with someone as you watch a burning plasma screen or a cathode ray tube make interesting sounds and pretty colors.
1 - Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, Neurological Health, "Does TV Rot Your Brain?: Scientists have linked TV viewing to antisocial behavior, lowered verbal IQ and altered brain structure—but a new study raises questions", By R. Douglas Fields on January 1, 2016 link
© 2016 Christopher Peruzzi