We’ve all got a friend who doesn’t own a television. (Or maybe you’re that friend.)
These folks are usually a little annoying about it and like to announce their TV-lessness at every opportunity, as in “I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t have a TV,” which you already know because they reminded you yesterday.
And I’m like, Whatever, I’m gonna go watch Tila Tequila.
Are these self-righteous peeps onto something?
After all, there are always news reports that we spend too much time in front of the boob tube getting fat. Not to mention in front of our computers downloading TV programming.
And there are always plenty of theorists who insist watching what television moguls shove in front of us is a brain-melting waste of time.
I’m guessing that’s a crock. Try reading Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson, for some nifty comebacks to television malcontents.
What the experts say
“The average American spends nine years of his or her life watching TV. Those who watch five hours daily might spend 15 or 16 years. They’re only awake for 50 years, which means it’s one-quarter of their lives. I think people should be aware of that. If you’re wondering whether you’re watching too much, you can ask, is it interfering with important personal, familial, social or career obligations or wishes? Back in the 50s, families with broken TVs were studied for a week. There was a lot more arguing, but they almost always reconstituted themselves after a week, doing board games or walking. I recommend families generate a list of things to do instead of doing what half of families do – reflexively go to TV.”
ROBERT KUBEY, director, Center for Media Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
“I looked at what happens after you study in terms of retention of information. One group was shown Saturday Night Live, because it universally made people laugh. When you laugh, there’s a release of a variety of hormones associated with both stress and positive arousal. We showed that when you cause that activity, you can enhance how well a memory is retained. The other group was shown a documentary, which was more mundane and didn’t work for memory retention because it was not exciting. The people who watched SNL saw a 20 per cent improvement in retention of study information. You can use television as a little interlude that will actually help you remember without trying.”
KRISTY NEILSON, associate professor of psychology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
“There are five key questions in media literacy: Who is the author and what is the purpose of this message? What techniques are used to attract your attention? What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented? How might different people interpret the message differently? What is omitted from this message? Today we get over 90 per cent of our information through non-print media, and yet we’re functionally illiterate in them. If we know how it works, we are much better prepared to understand what is being communicated to us.”
MICHAEL RICH, director, Center on Media and Child Health, Boston
“There are direct and indirect effects of TV. The latter are mostly what you’re doing and not doing while watching television – reading, exercising, socializing and housework go down; eating goes up. That’s why it’s crucial to have limits on screen time, including time spent on computer and video games. Watching TV as a family and talking about what you’re seeing happens less and less as we have more TVs in the home. Direct effects vary by country – there isn’t a country that comes close to the U.S. in terms of television violence.”
CYNTHIA SCHEIBE, associate professor, department of psychology, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York
“We looked at a sample of people in India who live in isolated rural areas, and one of the effects of getting TV is that it dramatically increases exposure to the outside world. Our data appears to show that, due to that exposure, there have been a number of improvements in the status of women, like more school enrolment. Women report more autonomy and say they can go out without telling their husbands; they make more decisions about health care and what they purchase. They report less acceptance of spousal abuse and less preference for male children. Getting cable seems to have a positive effect on those measures.”
EMILY OSTER, assistant professor of economics, University of Chicago