Flashing lights and the buzz of speakers ( thoughts on the effect of televison.)

I got a much better response on my last post than I expected, so I will try to do a good job on this follow up. Which I was planning anyway.

I like to ignore statistics and go for what I see as the heart of a matter. I don’t believe numbers speak to very many people, to a lucky few perhaps.

I quoted a TV show in my last post, which was ironically about staying away from screens. But for once I felt the show did a good job of making its point and I was actually apt to consider its truth after watching. There are very few such shows that I’m aware of.

For an opening quote here’s this little tidbit by Raymond Shaw (The Manchurian Candidate.) “Have you noticed that the human race is divided into two distinct, irreconcilable groups? those who walk into rooms and automatically turn television sets on, and those who walk into rooms and automatically turn them off.” I can’t say I fall into either of these groups. We no longer have a TV in my house, but when we did I fell more into the second category. I really don’t like television.

It’s one thing to think it’s bad for you, it’s another to actually dislike something. But I do. I dislike it firstly because I feel dumber after I watch it for longer than a half hour. (I blame commercial breaks.) Secondly, because it gives me a headache. Thirdly, I have a deeper reason: I don’t like what it does to conversation. I have relatives who will never turn off the TV set if they can possible help it. In fact, that is the majority of my extended family. I have cousins younger than ten who’ve seldom sat in a room with the absence of flashing lights and the buzz of speakers. Younger than ten. I wasn’t allowed to watch things everyday till I was at least eleven, or if I went through a phase my mom stopped it in time. What bothers me is how normal the magic box seems to kids, how inseparable from life. I have true concern for this; I’m not just criticizing for the sake of criticism.

I believe the format of screen time is a problem, but I am coming to think more and more that it’s also the format of what is shown. When you watch episode after episode of disconnected material, with more disconnected material in the form of commercials, and worse, if you channel surf as many of us do, what is your mind supposed to make of it all? Our minds are designed for learning. They organize information, process it in various ways, store it, or discard it if it’s unimportant. The more the info makes sense, the better out minds learn something of substance. Reinforcement is crucial. So is building off what you’ve already learned. This being the case, a TV show that is random and disintegrated is very hard for your mind to make any sense of. It doesn’t know what you’re trying to learn, or how, or why. So it goes to sleep in a sense. (I have no proof of this except my own observations and what I’ve heard about  brain memory and receptivity. I thought I should put a disclaimer.) Here’s the kicker, when you choose to fill your fun hours in this manner, all real learning becomes difficult and “work.” If it was just TV, we might recover, but now phones and ipads make this a constant part of our day.

We as adults and older teens have a choice, but kids don’t always. I don’t know if we realize that they’ve been taught to see screen time as necessary, normal, and a good way to please their parents by keeping quiet. For every adult complaining, there’s 2 or 3 kids who can’t understand why screen watching is a bad thing and not socially acceptable. In fact, I myself am guilty of sending mixed messages to kids about this. I have regrets for it.

Choice is the key. TV is not evil except in the hands of evil, whether an evil person or just an evil system that cripples kids. So, if we take TV back into our own hands, and sets some boundaries, we can redeem it.

Luckily, I have some experience in this area, so if you’re open, I can help.

Step 1: Remove yourself from temptation. “I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.”–Groucho Marx.

I made the stupid mistake in my early days of resisting the screen: I would sit in the same room as it. I still do this, but I’ve learned that giving myself something else to do is a huge determent to giving in. Whether it’s doing a puzzle, knitting, or going in my room and reading, writing, or turning on the radio so I can’t hear what’s being watched; any other thing to focus on that gets focus off what I’m missing.

Step 2: Get educated.

It really is amazing what the absence of distraction does for the interest. I guess we just get so desperate without  a screen that we’ll go for anything. Try reading books. I find the more I read, the less important TV seems to me. Now to be fair, often books remind of a movie, but a movie is better assembled and can be wholesome, if only one is watched at a time. With long movies, intermission seems like a good idea to me now, just to get refocused. As I read, I change, as I change I care less about the culture’s opinions, so why would I watch things that were made only to spread those opinions?

Step 3: Get involved.

Why not spend more time talking to people. Some people only need a slight nudge to put down their phones and engage. Children may be harder or easier, it depends. But we all love it if someone really wants to talk to us, and if we had no texting, oh my gosh! Maybe we would want to talk to people! Join a group, take a walk, ask your neighbors over for dinner, go to church and volunteer for something, take a class. Check out your downtown areas. Go to a library.

“I thought we were gonna get television…but the truth is, television is going to get us.”–Dick Goodwin,

Please, don’t let it get you. We all need to fight it, because it is far more serious than we imagine.

Until next post– Natasha



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