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New Year's Resolutions/anti-TV rant

I've never made my New Year's Resolutions public before, but maybe it'll help motivate me, so here goes:

* Finish four books (not including the Tiger updates we're doing). I'll say more about those books later...

* Run the Bolder Boulder 10K in under 56 minutes. So far, my best time is 58. I'm really more of a four-mile type : ), and that extra 2 miles kicks my butt.

* Get organized!! Dan Steinberg, editor of java.net finally sold me on spending time at the 43 folders site.

* Be insanely consistent with weight training.

* Learn to do an ollie, once and for all. (I can do only the affectionately-named "old school" footwork tricks, from the days when kick flips were done by hooking one toe under one side edge while simultaneously pressing on the opposite side edge.)

* Learn to really read music (I'm just faking it now), and learn to play Vince Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy song. I don't have a real piano, but I have an m-audio keyboard controller and GarageBand (with the extra jam pack that adds a much better grand piano instrument), so I have no excuse.

* Certify on Parelli Level Two. (They say it takes six to eighteen months to complete, so this might be ambitious. Then again, I have an easy (brave) horse. On the other hand, I'm really a newbie and my horse is young and relatively untrained.)

* Change the world. There are so many causes and organizations I care about... but this year I want to be a lot more vocal and active about one in particular: helping more people wean themselves (and especially their kids) off television.

Uh-oh... I'm pulling a bait-and-switch here, because the rest of this post turns into a TV rant. So, don't read further unless you're OK with that : )

Retrocouple1
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When I want to creep myself out, I walk around the neighborhood at 9 PM and count the number of houses in which I can see that blue glow. Television in the U.S. (and many other countries, but especially bad here) is so pervasive that it's like that story of the boiling frog, where if you put the frog in water and then slowly turn up the heat, he won't realize it's happening until it's too late. But if you dropped him in boiling water, he'd instantly know it was BAD and jump out.

Imagine an alien from a planet with intelligent, thoughtful life. He has no idea what television is (ignoring the fact that our signals are "out there") when he drops into the average U.S. neighborhood (city, rural, doesn't matter) and discovers that at night (and often day), the vast majority of people are sitting in front of a flickering screen with that kind of glazed look watching...what? (No matter how many people claim they're watching "educational" programs, the Neilson ratings don't support that. My special favorite are the stats that show the hypocrisy of things like "red states" where folks left the voting booth claiming a vote for moral values, then proceeded to go home and make "Desperate Housewives" a hit). It all sounds very sci-fi to me, because I'm thinking it would look EXACTLY like the whole country is sitting down for a nightly brainwashing.

I'm definitely not trying to insult anyone here; I owned a television until about five years ago, and it was on a lot. And not everyone who watches TV has a problem with it (although virtually nobody, according to the brain research, is entirely immune). And I'm not putting mindfully-watched movies (including TV shows on DVD) in this category. I LOVE my Netflix subscription, and watch some television programs on my iMac (Curb your Enthusiasm, BBC's "The Office" are two favorites). TiVo also seems to be a great solution for a lot of folks.

But two things happened that made me get rid of normal television (although I do have a monitor for DVD's and to use my Playstation 2):

* I noticed that when I was in an environment with no television, my stress level went way down. Whenever I stayed at a mountain cabin or even a B-and-B that just didn't put a TV in your room, I noticed how much better I felt mentally and physically.

* I kept learning more and more about the brain, and couldn't avoid learning about the effects of television. One of my favorite brain scientists, Richard Restak, has become famous as "the brain guy" for television, writing the companion books for various PBS specials, etc. He is like the Carl Sagan of the brain, and I love his books. But even the guy who makes a lot of money from television has suddenly began to speak out about its dangers, especially in this post-9-11 book: The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind. (where he mentions studies including one suggesting that 9-11 survivors who watched a lot of television had a higher incidence of PTSD than those who watched less television).

(He also talks a little about TV in his newest book on how the brain is involved in fear and anxiety, "Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber.")

TV isn't good for your brain in a wide range of ways. Just one of the problems is that it can lead to a reduction in left-brain logical thinking unless you're extremely careful (and capable) about making sure the news broadcasts are screened out. Because commercial news broadcasts are driven largely by the "if it bleeds it leads" approach, and those messages trigger the flight-or-fight response because your brain often can't distinguish between experienced vs. visualized terror. MRI scans show that the same parts of your brain light up when you watch high resolution images as when you're seeing it for real.

The issue of whether watching violence on TV is a problem is still hotly debated, but some--like the American Academy of Pediatrics--aren't taking any chances, and have issued a recommendation that children under the age of two should not be exposed to television at all.

My personal complaints about TV aren't about violence or sex in programs (I personally disagree with the notion that this is the big problem), but about news, commercials, and most importantly--the addiction people have to watching television, and the way in which it's become a central focus of so many lives. (And there's that infamous, argued-over study about people's misconceptions about Iraq depending on what they used for their primary news source. )

When I see someone watching TV at night, I like to speculate what they might be doing if the TV disappeared. Pretty much anything is usually healthier and more fun from the optimal experience perspective:

* reading
* sex (not necessarily in that order ; )
* listening to music
* making music
* taking a walk
* exercising
* playing a game
* having a conversation
* becoming involved
* attending a lecture
* listening to a radio show (much better to get bad news from radio, because it doesn't have the same power to trigger the fight-or-flight thing that visuals do)
* cooking
* or even just day dreaming.

There's evidence that watching television lowers metabolism. That means you could end up burning fewer calories sitting on the couch watching television than simply sitting on the couch, doing nothing, with the television off. At least that's an implication.

There are lots of studies correlating tv watching with obesity for both kids and adults.

Here are just a few tv-awareness sites. I am not endorsing them! And I think it's terribly naive of me to say "turn of your tv and you'll be healthier and the world will be better." Television can't be the scapegoat for everything, but I can't really think of an instance where someone was worse off for getting rid of the TV (assuming you have a radio and/or the internet to stay informed). And again, it all goes back to the "what would you be doing if you were NOT watching tv?" question.

* White Dot organization

* TV-B-Gone (As Seen On Slashdot ; )
(Wired article about it)

* tv turnoff network

* turn off your tv

* Improving physical activity

* bumper sticker

* big list of links

* go kids

* controversial article

* decreasing TV reduces consumer debt

* Postman's book on watching news.

* American Psychological Association note on TV.

I'm also not advocating that everyone get rid of their TV completely--I did it because I didn't have the willpower (neither did my kids) to turn it on only by conscious choice (as opposed to putting it on because it's there), and to completely screen out enough of the news promos and commercials.

But for stress reduction, fitness, and feeling awake, it's the best thing I've ever done.

(Of course, I do miss the superbowl commercials, so for that I either have to go to someone else's house or catch them somewhere on the internet. And I have to rely on others to point out shows worth renting or watching online like Curb Your Enthusiasm or the the Daily Show).

Here's wishing everyone an awake new year!

Posted by Kathy on December 31, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Great post Kathy. Eric and I ditched our TV about 2 years ago and haven't looked back. Like you, we watch DVDs (yay Netflix), but that's it. We get our news from the internet, newspapers, and magazines.

I also find that TV is very stressful. I wonder how many other people feel that way?

Beth

Posted by: Elisabeth Freeman | Jan 1, 2005 11:12:51 PM

Hi, totally agree! My girlfriend an I bought out first television about a year ago, we left it in the box for more than 2 months (put a blanket over it and used it as a table). Since it' s out of the box, we used it like five times, to watch a movie on video... there are beteer things to do at night!

Posted by: Jef Cumps | Jan 2, 2005 3:30:34 AM

In our house we call TV "opium," cuz we believe that if TV's were around Marx would have said "television is the opiate of the masses." We let our kids have opium on weekends until 9:00 in the morning. Other than that, we use it only when we need to drug the children for an hour here and there. Really, TV is the wonder drug of the last century.

Posted by: Steve Metsker | Jan 2, 2005 4:57:54 AM

Just today I glanced at a blurb in the paper about the new shows coming to tv this month. Then I decided to read most of the article to see if it was as silly as the pictures made it look. Yup. We as a nation blow a ridiculous amount of time - of potential living moments - watching drivel and zoning out. Gosh, I was in a restroom at a nice restaurant a couple of weeks ago and there was actually a flat-screen tv above each urinal! wow.

Posted by: Joe Litton | Jan 2, 2005 10:14:25 AM

We can't get rid of our TV, as we love to watch movies and news; but we have cut back our watching time from an average of 5 hours/day to 2 hours/day, that saves us about 45 whole days in a year. Wow!

Posted by: sameer borate | Jan 4, 2005 10:52:40 PM

Glad to see people other than me have ditched the boob tube. People always ask me if I've seen this show or that commercial and all I can say is "umm no, I don't watch TV". Real good for conversations. I never took so much research into why not to watch the telly. It just makes my brain feel as if I live on a diet of Twinkies and Soft Drinks. Ugh! Too much False, False, False information. Blatant fear based advertising and concentration on the shallow or bad aspects of life. It's a media I simply cannot accept. Good on Yer' and keep reading!

Posted by: eo | Jan 18, 2005 9:28:52 PM

Cabin

Posted by: John Pawlett | Aug 2, 2005 3:23:22 AM

This was a great article! Thanks for your insights into why you chose to go without a TV. I liked it so much I added it to my new website that promotes living without a TV. I'm really excited to hear from other people that threw off the shackles of the evil little box. Take a look: http://jfauque.googlepages.com

Posted by: TVFreeAdvocate | Oct 29, 2006 7:16:17 PM

Found this post via Google! Interesting post.

If i Don't have TV, I'm forced to talk to my wife!!!

Posted by: 10 lose pound | Jul 29, 2007 4:39:40 PM

If it weren't for my daughters Disney flicks, we wouldn't have a TV. How much crap can one actually digest until media just becomes a reciprocating in/out hum in your brain? I bit the bullet and bought a cheapo DVD player last xmas. It's the only way I could watch my Adobe tutorials. Cheers.

Posted by: Kev | Jul 29, 2007 9:08:24 PM

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