I thought that I would start with my unconventional thoughts about television.
I was a kid in the 1970s. There wasn't a lot of concern back then about what kids watched on TV. It was pretty much assumed that if it was OK for the parent, it was OK for the kids. Parents would limit TV programs more on the basis of what made them uncomfortable, rather than what they considered bad for their kids. Besides, there was still some censorship and widespread public ideas of propriety. However, those things were starting to slide downward quickly. By the end of the 70s, many households had cable TV with all sorts of Adult-only viewing available to their kids. We never had cable TV at my house, but my friends did. My parents still don't have cable TV. We were late adopters of video recorders, also. But we did watch TV. My Dad was and still is a bit of a news junkie. He likes to either watch the TV news or listen to the radio news pretty much all day long, or at least several times a day. My Mom is more of a TV/video watcher when it comes to good stories (Movies, Mysteries, Dramas, Comedy, etc.) My brothers had their favorites and introduced me to Science Fiction. I grew up watching lots of TV. When I got home from school, I wanted to watch afternoon cartoons, then eventually I started liking the shows that ran in syndication after the cartoons. Then of course the sitcoms that came on after that. There was the evening news that my Dad watched when he got home from work. Then the prime-time shows after dinner. Before you knew it I was begging to watch the shows that were coming on as I was going to bed.
My life wasn't completely filled with TV at first. I still had to do my homework. But, I had to do it while someone else was watching TV in the next room, tempting me to lose focus. I still went to play outside and play with friends. But, the older I got, the more interesting more of these shows became. Eventually, I became what I consider to be addicted to television. I am not using the term "addicted" lightly. I think that I showed what are clinically defined symptoms of addiction. Here is a list I found for alcoholism and drug use, into which I have inserted "TV" to to show what I mean:
- use of drugs or alcohol (or TV) as a way to forget problems or to relax
- withdrawal or keeping secrets from family and friends (watching TV secretively)
- loss of interest in activities that used to be important
- problems with schoolwork, such as slipping grades or absences
- changes in friendships, such as hanging out only with friends who use drugs (or TV)
- spending a lot of time figuring out how to get drugs (or how to watch what you want)
- stealing or selling belongings to be able to afford drugs (lying to watch TV)
- failed attempts to stop taking drugs or drinking (inability to control TV viewing when it's available)
- anxiety, anger, or depression
- mood swings
When I had time without a TV for prolonged periods, I discovered that I actually could live without it. I started to realize that I was spending too much time with friends just watching movies instead of catching up on our lives. I was becoming disgusted at the worse and worse quality of what I was seeing on TV and in movies. I finally decided to give up my own TV in my room at home. That helped a little, but there was still the family TV. I started to consciously avoid the living room when the TV was on, and started doing other useful things in my room instead. I started reading all the books I had which hadn't been read yet (I had always meant to get to them eventually). I started reading some of the great works of literature that I had always heard about but never actually read before. I started doing hobbies like quilting. I found that the more I did this, the less of a lure the TV had for me. When I finally married, I found myself marrying a man who had lived without a TV for a few years and who had discovered the freedom of not having a TV. We consciously made the decision to do without a TV in our household. We do allow ourselves the luxury of the occasional DVD played on our computer. But even there, we have become quite picky about what we will keep in our video collection. And currently at least half of our videos are kids' videos, for which we consider there to be some redeeming qualities. I also limit how much video time the kids get. No watching videos all day unless sickness is rampant in the household!
After having made this journey from TV addiction to non-TV household, I have developed some very unconventional ideas about TV. I hope you will be patient with me as I share them with you.
- While not everybody who watches TV is tempted to addiction, I am guessing from my own observation that the majority of Americans have some level of TV addiction. This idea is reinforced in my mind by the number of news stories I have read over the last few months showing concern that not everyone will be prepared for the switchover to digital signal broadcast only.
- It is assumed in our society that everyone has a TV. It is considered a necessity. Even many people in extreme poverty have TVs. We are constantly getting calls to try to switch us from either satellite TV or Cable TV to the other. The caller never asks "do you have a TV?", they ask if we have satellite or cable. They don't know what to say when I inform them that we don't have a TV. I have lived without a TV for 8 years now. It is not a necessity.
- Even wary consumers are being brain-washed by their TVs. Some people are more resistant than others, but eventually the incessant, yet entertaining commercials have their effect. They actually start believing the lies they are being fed about products. And I think that the vendors know this, because it drives our TV programming.
- I don't know if our social moral standards have declined because TV standards have slipped or vice versa, but they have definitely gone that direction together. I do know that I have had to build up my own standards from their previous low in my absence from TV. Now when I happen to see TV elsewhere I am appalled at what is considered normal.
- The TV news is atrocious. I remember thinking back in the eighties that it was turning into a banal repetitive waste of time. I remember noticing that they would start the newscast by giving a summary of the night's stories, then they would slowly air short snippets of stories while giving teasers for the stories to come. However, they were spending so much time repeating what they were going to tell you, that the actual news stories were not much more than the teaser they already gave. Then they would finish out the newscast with a review of the night's stories. Back then, I noticed that I could find out more about what was happening in the world by reading my local newspaper. Later I decided even that was similarly biased. I found non-American news magazines refreshing. Although they had their own biases, they were different ones and I actually heard a few things you didn't get in the American news media. Now I am much happier with news on the Internet. If I want to know more about something, It's easier to find more about it from a variety of viewpoints.
- I think the TV news media thinks it has the power to shape public opinion. To some extent, I think they are right. For all those people who watch the news (over and over again), they eventually think that the news as presented is the real story. Fewer and fewer people are able to tell the difference between a well documented story and an opinion piece. Fewer and fewer people are able to tell that they are not being given the complete story. It is brain-washing again. If you tell people something long enough they begin to believe you. If you convince enough people, you can change their behaviors and sometimes turn a lie into the truth. The end of the Vietnam War is a classic example of this in my mind. Militarily the war was being waged successfully, but the American news media turned the tide of American popular thought, which put political pressure on our country's leaders. They in turn finally pulled out of Vietnam in defeat, when militarily we did not need to leave in defeat. I completely believe that the news media's coverage of the Iraqi war was an attempt to re-enact this senario.
I, personally, would like to see a measurable percentage of the population to begin to live without TV again. That itself could be transformative for our society.