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Kill the television, keep the shows

Television

Television is bad for your brain. But television shows can be good for your brain. Until now, that's been the struggle—if you kill your TV (the cause that's dearest to me), you kill your chance of watching the shows until/unless they come out on DVD. Bittorrent helped... but instead of being at the mercy of a DVD release, you're usually at the mercy of others who've, um, illegally decided to share the shows.

That's why I view the news of Apple's iTunes Video Store as an answer to this problem. Or at least it will be once I can start getting a daily fix of the Daily Show. With only a tiny handful of shows up, it's not there yet, but there's reason for hope.

But this post is about television and the brain, not Apple. As I've said in earlier posts, my co-authors and I (Eric, Beth, Bert) have all been "off TV" for about five years. That means nothing but a monitor -- no cable, no local stations, no television. And a recovering television user is worse than a former smoker or recent 43Folders convert--we can't possibly describe what it feels like to someone who hasn't experienced a life without TV (no, little vacations don't count--this is about giving up TV in your everyday life).

[Update: I'm making a distinction between "having television" and "watching television shows". The main difference is that most people who have television available spend far more time with the set on than people who watch content solely as a result of, say, Netflix rentals or even time-shifted (Tivo, etc.) devices. Your brain doesn't care where the media content came from--iTunes or Netflix or Bittorrent or plain old cable, assuming it's all been stripped of commercials and promos. But the fact is, people who have continuous access to television have the set turned on far more than when the only thing you get when you aren't watching a movie is static. So when I say "television", I mean the act of having television in your daily life, which is profoundly different from consciously and mindfully choosing (and possibly paying for) a specific program that you might well watch on a television monitor.]

The first thing you notice when stop having television in your life is the reduced stress level. The second thing you notice is...you're reading more. The third thing you notice is...you get out more, and you lose a little weight. The fourth thing you might notice (and not in order of importance) is...more sex. ; ) Remember, television acts on your brain in a way very similar to central nervous system depressants. In so many ways, television and sex are incompatible. When you hear someone say, "I'm too tired for sex, I think I'll just watch television." that can usually be translated into, "I'm too tired for sex BECAUSE I'm watching television."

But what's the big distinction between Television (capital "T") and watching television shows? Three big problems:

1) Addiction
2) News
3) Brain drain

Most people can eliminate virtually all of these simply by switching from Television to watching downloadable, DVD, or ONLY time-shifted prerecorded (and stripped of all other content) shows, in the way you'd sit down to watch a film.


Addiction

"Television Addiction is No Mere Metaphor"
headline of a Scientific American magazine article

The February 2002 of Scientific American featured a cover story on television addiction (you have to pay to read the whole thing). And the more recent Scientific American Mind (volume 14, #1) featured the same story.

Excerpts from the article:

"Most of the criteria of substance dependence can apply to people who watch a lot of TV."

"...University of British Columbia studied a mountain community that had no television until cable finally arrived. Over time, both adults and children in the town became less creative in problem solving, less able to persevere at tasks, and less tolerant of unstructured time."

"To some researchers, the most convincing parallel between TV and addictive drugs is that people experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut back on viewing."

(You'll need to read the full article for all the details about how/why television is addictive, and it's effect on the nervous system.)

There's also 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. And of course there are a lot of studies linking television watching with obesity in both kids and adults.

[Note: while these things could happen even if you got rid of television but ended up watching six hours a day of rental or downloaded movies, the amount of time spent by those whose only source of content is specifically-purchased/rented/downloaded content is far less than those who can just switch on the TV at any time. So the chances of television addiction are drastically reduced when you get rid of always-on access.]


Television News

From an earlier post I made:
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 news 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. There are many people who believe the US presidential election would have gone... differently... had people not been so heavily exposed to repeated imagery of 9/11.

Studies have shown that getting news on the radio does not seem to have the same damaging effects, even if the reporting is on the very same event, with the same descriptions. What you picture in your head based on what you hear hasn't got nearly the resolution of what you picture in your head based on what you see.

Distraction


Brain Drain

The absolute worst thing you can do with television is have it on while you're doing something else. And that means anything else. Working, cooking, trying to have a conversation... Your brain has no idea you live in the year 2005. Remember, you have a legacy brain that thinks tigers lurk around every corner--your brain is tuned to pay close attention to the slightest subtle shift in light and shadow. And, well, that's all television IS.

From the Scientific American article:

"Part of TV's attraction springs from our biological "orienting response" -- an instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus."

In other words, if a television is on somewhere in your visual field, you can't not look. Even if you don't think you're consciously drawing your attention to it, it's doing it anyway. Some small part of your brain bandwidth is draining out, taking cycles (and relaxation and flow) away from whatever it is you're doing.

The effects of the orienting response include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, constricting of the blood vessels to major muscle groups, blockage of alpha waves to the brain for a few seconds, etc.

[Again, everything related to brain drain applies regardless of where you got the content, but it's far less likely that you'll just keep the television turned on repeating the same show you just downloaded over and over and over... but people with always-available television can keep it on 24-7. ]

Possible Solutions

1) Eliminate your television completely and watch shows on DVD or through downloads.

That's the safest way to avoid trouble--especially if you or another family member isn't seriously disciplined--since it forces you to be mindful (although you can still abuse that if you're really motivated by downloading a ton of movies, or queing up a continuous stream of DVDs to have "on", but at least you'd get rid of news and ads...)

2) Keep your television, but move it into a room that's SOLE use is for "movie time", where it's set up like a home theater and not used to do anything else, and not available during any other activities in other parts of the house. Treat it like a movie theater, and go there only as a destination, and even then--only when you're watching something prerecorded on Tivo or something that lets you strip out the ads and far more importantly--the news promos.

3) Get your news only through the radio and internet. (My personal choice is NPR.)

4) Keep a journal of how much time the television is actually on. Vow to greatly reduce it. For most people, this amount of time is shocking.

5) If you have kids, they will break the addiction. Many people don't want to give up TV because their kids go crazy. That fact alone should be a reason to do it NOW. But they'll deal with it. Mine did. They did end up spending more time on the internet, but that's far better.

As Steve Jobs says, "You watch television to turn your brain off and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on."

6) Make a list of all the things you could be doing and would be doing if you weren't watching television. Have your kids do the same.

Remember--this is much more about the presence of available television in your daily life, not the specific act of sitting down to watch a show. Yes, some of the physiological effects still happen no matter what you're watching, but the negative effects are greatly reduced, and potentially compensated for by the benefits your brain might get from following a complex show.

And for those who believe that wasting/spending time on the internet or video games is no better than TV, you need to read Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson, author of one of my other favorite brain books, Mind Wide Open. Besides arguing for the benefits of the internet and video games, he has a lot of analysis into why today's new television shows like "24" are good for your brain.

The only major--and it's major--problem I have with the "Everything Bad..." book is that while he sings the praises of many of the shows (as do I), he completely neglects the entire topic of the effect of Television itself--the problems caused by television that aren't related to the content of the shows, but that come from simply watching too damn much of it, and watching commercial news. Even the news promos ("Is a killer lurking within your home? News at 11. Children brutally murdered... news at 11. Columbine...could it happen here? News at 11.") can trip the brain's fear trigger and send left-brain, rational thought out the window.

OK, I'm stepping off my soapbox for now ; )

[Update: here's a slightly-related, but very interesting take on the iPod Video thing at Sam Sugar's blog. Warning -- no NSFW pics, but, well, it's a porn industry blog so use caution. Thanks Sam!]

Posted by Kathy on October 17, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

My favorite NPR show is On The Media, and I listened to it yesterday (as a podcast, on my iPod). There was a segment about television news: how the big three broadcasters have, until recently, controlled TV news with the 1/2 hour national news anchored by these trusted (old) guys who give you 2 minute segments all nicely produced for you.

The argument is that these 2 minute segments are actually really good - they are well researched (usually, with some big exceptions obviously - goodbye Dan Rather), well produced "bits" about the news that often surpass the 24 hours news shows in quality.

The problem of course is that many people are turning to the internet for their news now, OR, for the younger crowd, to Jon Stewart and Kathy's favorite show.

Two interesting points here: viewers are turning to the internet for news because, this segment claimed, the internet is participatory. In other words, evening news on TV is passive, and internet news is active. If all you're doing is surfing, it's not THAT much more active, but it's still driven by YOU. If you're creating or participating in blogs, then it's far more active. People like that more than just watching TV. Or at least, that seems to be the case, because more people are getting their news from the internet now. (Could be just that you can choose when to get your news if you're not Tivo enabled).

Second interesting point: people like getting their news from Jon Stewart because he doesn't talk down to them, and he treats the news with a great amount of skepticism. He's not just some anchor stating the facts; he's looking at the stories and asking, why is it that way? Is it really what it seems? And this (plus the good jokes) appeals to people... and it's also more participatory. It gets you asking questions about the so-called "news". And, of course, it's funny.

The segment ended by discussing the future of the broadcast news segment. One guy (sorry can't remember who it was) suggested that the 1/2 hour broadcast news be changed so that it's basically an advertisement for a Web site. And on top of that, that news shows should be created by the viewer - you should be able to pick and choose your "2 minute segments" to watch and mix and match them like you want. I love that idea, especially if the news I can choose from is 1) trusted 2) well produced and accurate and 3) has a healthy dose of skepticism. I thought that was a pretty innovative response to the loss of TV news viewers. For those of us who don't have TV, being able to just go right to a web site and pick and choose news stories is great. I already do this to some extent with a variety of news-related podcasts, of course, but if the news is *designed* to be mixed and matched by me, the viewer, then it could get even better if done right.

Guess we'll have to wait and see how people respond to the video iPod and other video devices, and how those producing video latch on to the idea (and deal with DRM issues).

Beth

Posted by: Beth Freeman | Oct 17, 2005 3:50:10 PM

Very interesting post. I totally relate with it. Not that I see a lot of TV myself but, I became aware that a good way to switch off the brain after one of those days at work was to see a little of TV (or a really bad action movie, something really bad like Mortal Combat)

Posted by: Jaime Cardoso | Oct 17, 2005 4:23:21 PM

I think it's going to be interesting to see how Tivo (et. al.) change the way advertising works. I've had a tivo-like product for several years now. I watch very little TV these days (Bronco games and MAYBE Alias if I can find 45 free minutes), but when I do it's *always* on delay and I truly never watch commercials. At some point, the percentage of people watching commercials is going to be so low that the advertising strategy will have to change dramatically. Should be interesting. Remember The Truman Show?

Posted by: Dave Wood | Oct 17, 2005 4:50:52 PM

So do you think there's news broadcasts that ARE okay?

Obviously news on commercial stations are full of attention-grabbing stories and entertaining gossip. What about publicly-funded broadcasts, where ratings are less of an issue and the reporting is much more matter-of-fact? I watch the (government-funded) ABC news here in Australia, because I find they usually concentrate on issues you should know about (e.g. politics and famines) rather than what the other stations say you want to know about (e.g. Tom and Katie and cats up trees).

Are they all bad?

Posted by: Graham | Oct 17, 2005 6:06:27 PM

Kathy,

great post, this is something I wholehartedly agree with. Since i made the decision to get rid of my TV 6 months ago, I've been watching more DVD's of shows on the Mac, but only shows that really engage me, and I feel that my productivity on things i love (like learning JAVA, thanks for the books!!!!!) has increased a hundred fold.

Keep Up the great posts, every time my RSS tells me there's another it makes my day :)

Posted by: John Shirley | Oct 17, 2005 6:23:07 PM

Nice post (yet again) Kathy.

I grew up without a TV and have lived pretty much my whole life without one. On the rare occasions when I did have one in the house it was soley for watching movies, which is something I do a fair bit of. In fact, I think good movies are quite possibly a valid substitute for REM sleep, but that's probably an idea for another day.

Anyway, I've been using DVDs to watch the better TV shows for the last couple years and it's been great. I think that "containing" video narrative in discreet time segments makes it a lot easier to keep the addictive side of the medium in under control. I usually budget one or two movies at the end of the day, when the work is done. On the other hand, when I rented the second season of 24, I actually got so caught up in the story that I watched the entire season non-stop to the end. Oops. TV really is addictive. But then, so were comic books. And books for that matter.

Your suggestions at the end of the article are pretty much what I've been doing for years and it has worked well for me. All the news from NPR and the web, limited video narrative, insane amount of actual productive time getting stuff done. And the thing is, Jobs is right that we use TV to turn our brains off, or at least I do. It's one of the only ways I've found to stop ADHD cold for a few hours. Which is why I use it before bed, and move on to reading myself to sleep after that. I think that using TV as a tool to calm the mind can actually be a good thing when you use it, well, medicinally. It's really all about the intention and awareness that goes into viewing habits, eh?

Thanks for the post.

Posted by: john t unger | Oct 17, 2005 6:29:20 PM

While I agree with almost everything you've written, and actually reduced my own TV time significantly since your last post on the effects of television, I'm a bit confused about why watching shows on DVD/iPod/BT/whatever is better than watching them on TV. Is it just the attention that you're likely to give it? My TiVo makes sure I'm never watching something that I don't care about, so how would ditching the TiVo improve the situation? Would I be less likely to turn it on in the first place, is that the implication? What about Netflix, which can just as easily as TiVo become a todo list for television...?

Posted by: Adam Simon | Oct 17, 2005 7:12:05 PM

Graham: really good point -- I'm thinking very US-centric here - about the major commercial news media (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and CNN) from which most television watchers in the US get their news. When I lived in the UK, I certainly saw the BBC as a very different animal than our non-public commercial news. So no, they aren't all bad... but the ones I mentioned here all suffer from the bleeds-it-leads sensationalism syndrome (among other issues).
One example:
http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/IraqMedia_Oct03/IraqMedia_Oct03_rpt.pdf
This study looked at the frequency of misperceptions by the US public on issues related to the Iraq war, and found that the number of respondents who held one or more misperceptions was 300% greater among people who got their news primarily from FOX vs. PBS/NPR. (80% of the people who get their news primarily from FOX believe one or more misperceptions vs. 23% who get their news from PBS/NPR. The other networks weren't that much better... 71% for CBS, 61% for ABC, and even 55% for CNN).

I should have been more clear that it's specifically US commercial news that messes with your brain. I can't speak to news commercial or otherwise in other countries.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 17, 2005 7:48:20 PM

Adam -- thanks for asking this question; I left that very muddy (and in this case, ambiguity was *not* my "strategic intention"), so I'm going to go update the main post right now. I left a gaping hole; thanks for prompting me.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 17, 2005 7:50:41 PM

We've been TV free for close to a decade now.

I've found it frustrating to be exposed to TV in public areas, so I was delighted when my partner bought a TV-b-gone:
http://www.tvbgone.com
It's a keychain sized universal remote. So he shuts off the tv I'm facing, and then I don't have to be distracted while I'm with him.

The best $15 ever spent.

I'm just a happy user of the product.

Posted by: Evelyn Mitchell | Oct 17, 2005 8:22:02 PM

I have quit TV... about 15 years ago, I just didn't realize it.

I do love some shows. ER for example. ONe thing I hate is how they throw the news in there RIGHT after the last scene of the show. They split the screen and start unloading FUD. "Its dangerous, it could be killing you right now. What is it? We'll tell you up ahead."

I HATE the news. I've always hated the news. Worthless.

There are exceptions... but for the most part the media industry should be ashamed - and so should the viewers.

Great post Kathy.

Posted by: Shaded | Oct 17, 2005 8:32:12 PM

Amazing. I don't know how to thank you for your writings. The first thing I do when I try to take a break from my work is to see what's new in your blog. And like many other time, this post amazes me too!
I was the kind of person who could pass 2-3 days in front of a tv just doing nothing. But after much suffering , I somehow found it's bad for me. The only thing to do was to cut off the cable to get rid of the situation...and trust me , it was the best thing I have ever done to myself. I got all the good impact as the reward. But I never knew there was any scientific explanation behind it. I switched to dvd's instead and it was really worth it. I also think we should kill our TV and we should do it really fast.
Thank you again for sharing.

Posted by: Sajid | Oct 17, 2005 9:11:02 PM

Shaded -- you hit a nerve for me... I have to say that I hate the (commercial) news as well. On the fifth anniversary of the Columbine High murders here in Colorado, the news media was looking for an appropriate (frightening) story. But, sadly, all was peaceful in the local high schools. Soooooo... they found something, yes indeed. My co-author on the HF Movie Making book (long delayed, but we'll get around to finishing it one of these days ; ) teaches video production at the local high school, and encourages his students to SHOW their films (however crappy) by getting them on local public access tv. (Skyler was in the program, and managed to wrangle Roger Ebert into doing an on-camera promo for her "film society" club at the high school.) The teacher has gotten several of his students into "real" film school... and the program is awesome.

Long story short--someone figured out that a few of his students had made videos that contained "violence". And you know what happened next... the local news media had "Columbine... is it happening again?" and "Student videos shockingly similar to those made by the Columbine killers. Next ahead..." all over the place. The newspapers jumped in too, not to be left out. It was horrible--without even *interviewing* the parents, everyone was accusing the parents of unwittingly harboring the next set of troubled teen slayers.

Total witch hunt -- within 48 hours people were demanding the teacher's resignation, but the school board backed him. Still the media onslaught continued, so they held a kind of press conference/meeting at the school auditorium with the teacher, the two students in question (and their parents).

It was amazing... the two kids got up and showed their films and said, "OK, so everyone wants to know what we're thinking? We'll tell you... in this shot here, we were duplicating that famous shot of Hitchcock's... and over here, we used the same technique Spielberg used to make it appear that...." and on they went, shot by shot, showing the techniques used and why they did them. As for the "violence", well, they read reports of how directors Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg both claimed that their first home movies as kids were... rather violent. (Um, duh?)

Apparently the news media expected teenage boys to be filming something more like, "My Dinner with Andre."

One by one, several of the newspapers did something I've never seen... they apologized in columns and letters from the editor. The television news never did... they were on to some other story by then. It was terrible for the teacher, but even worse for those two future filmmakers and their parents. And all because there wasn't anything *bad* enough happening to mark the fifth anniversary.

So yeah, just one more example of why I hate the commercial news too. ; )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 17, 2005 9:24:36 PM

Highly recommended reading for a background and explanation on why _any_ tv, even so called "good tv", can be bad for you:

_Amusing Ourselves to Death_ by Neil Postman
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0140094385/103-9167738-2203846

Posted by: Rob Sanheim | Oct 17, 2005 11:09:07 PM

This is my first time posting. I can totally relate to this topic. I can't turn on the TV without feeling as if I'm wasting my time. What irritates me about TV is that you can't really control what you watch. (DVR?)

In fact I think the whole reason I started downloading BT Anime/TV was because of the wider selection and the ability to choose what you want to watch.

I know of some people on the internet who are just moving into new houses. They don't order cable, just DSL!

Again thank you for your post. I love reading this blog and will try to comment more in the future.

Posted by: Michael | Oct 18, 2005 2:38:56 AM

I think it just comes down to self control. Banning "regular TV" from your life is one way to do it, but it seems a little extreme. I turn on the TV only after I have had a fully productive day. Which for the most part means I watch only the Daily Show.

Question: Why would I want to watch the Daily Show on DVD? The content is produced "daily". Sure it will still be funny, but it's always better when it relates to current events.

Also, don't you think reading 30 different blog posts a day could have some ill effects?

Posted by: Rich | Oct 18, 2005 7:39:20 AM

Kathy –

Thanks for another excellent and very relevant post. I'm so pleased to see it. This is a soapbox I stand on often, much to the chagrin of my TV-loving friends. They've all received a link to this article, now. *evil grin*

One thing I’d have to take a slight issue with: I feel that online news is also a huge distraction filled with misinformation and dramatics. I also find that people I deal with on a daily basis spend 10-20% of their day reading online news sites, and in most cases, are reading only about things that upset them, and that they can do nothing about.

Our TV culture promotes this - and I do believe that reducing/eliminating TV intake will help quell this desire to always know what is going on everywhere, but I think it’s worth pointing out. DON’T kill your TV and then read cnn.com for 4 hours a day. I truly agree that blogs can be better and far more interactive than CNN.com or FoxNews.com, but they are still endlessly linked to one another in a web that it is way too easy to get caught in. (to Rich, above - RSS feeds to email that one can read offline is a great way to prevent the constant link following, by the way)

More importantly - I think people should focus on the newspaper and printed media. For one thing, there’s no more relaxing way to catch up on the news than to read the paper with a good cup of OJ on the back patio or at the breakfast table. But, the other great thing is, even if one reads every word, at some point in time the task of reading that newspaper is completed. This is something vital, and it’s something that can never be said for watching TV and reading internet news or listening to news radio.

Also, I highly recommend focusing on local news, be it via radio, internet, or newspaper. Case in point - I talked to a coworker one day about a recent natural disaster. He spoke of how he had been “glued to the set at home and to cnn.com at work.” I asked why.
He said, “Because what happened is important.”
I said, “But you know it happened, and you can find out later what else has happened. What is important now is that you offer HELP. Is watching TV helping?”
He said no.
Then I asked, “Is there anyone in your town that needs help? What’s the hot pressing issue in the city you live in.”
He had no idea...he said he didn’t see anything about his town on CNN.com.

This is precisely my point.

Please, let’s encourage people to read up on what they can DO something about, and focus on things that are going on around them, that truly affect them. Let’s focus on places where we can effect change.

And if we’re not sucked into always-on TV and internet news, perhaps we’ll have time to enjoy our lives, the places where we live, and the things we can do to help those around us.

Thanks again, Kathy,

David

Posted by: david | Oct 18, 2005 12:43:59 PM

Kathy,

When I was about 11, my dad was absolutely feed up with the amount of time the TV was on, so when it broke, he carried it to the garage and left it there - for 3 years!!

We actually adjusted pretty quickly for the most part. My teachers never believed me when they gave us an assignment to watch a show and I said we didn't have a TV. Later, my brother got a small 13 inch black and white, but I had to bribe him to watch it and it usually wasn't worth the cost. I'd always been a reader, but getting rid of the tv is probably why I still prefer books to screens.

The really cool thing was that even when we did get a new TV, I was aware of how much time could be wasted in front of a TV set. Your post has made me realize that gradually, the amount of time that the tv is on at my house has increased and your right, news is really stressful when it hits you in sound bites.

I'm taking a leap of faith and calling the cable company. My kids will get used to it, I did.

great post ... Robyn

Posted by: Robyn S | Oct 19, 2005 10:47:19 AM

By the way, check out a great site, and do the Zen Tv Experiment (I'd do it, but I don't have a TV): http://daghlian.net/scrapbook/zentv.html

From Zen TV:

Hypnosis Unlimited

Since the emergence of long-term space flight in orbit above the earth, a new physiological phenomenon has arisen among our astronauts. They found that as a result of long-term weightlessness, some rather drastic physical changes began to occur in their bodies. They experienced a marked and dramatic reduction of muscle size. Even their hearts became markedly smaller. The astronauts also experienced a loss of co-ordination abilities -- such as the ability to focus on and follow moving objects with their eyes. All of this seems to be due to taking the human organism outside the experience of gravity. In order to preserve their earthbound physiology in conditions of weightlessness, astronauts need to do two to three hours of custom-designed exercises per day. Perhaps watching TV produces the equivalent mental condition of weightlessness for the human mind, together with the attending shrinkages and deteriorations. The normal, invisible, all-pervasive pressure of mental gravity, of our ordinary, active, inncessntly thinking mind is suspended when we turn on the television.

Posted by: Beth Freeman | Oct 19, 2005 10:58:59 AM

Great post. When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine living without a TV; one of my teachers had no TV, and we asked him "What do you _do_ at home then?" In college, I didn't have a TV, and learned to fill my life without one. Now I have a TV, but mostly to watch shows on my terms (okay, and for watching sports). I never watch episodic shows in real time (although I'm old fashioned enough to use a VCR rather than a TiVo), and plot it so that I finish other stuff I'm doing before I turn my brain off for the evening and watch something.

I think you make the key distinction - TV shows themselves are not evil - I think that several TV shows are excellent entertainment. It's the act of watching TV in an uncontrolled fashion. One of the best benefits of watching shows in a time-shifted way is that the temptation of continuing to watch is removed. Sometimes I'll see a preview for the next show or a promo for the news and I go "Oh, that looks interesting, maybe I'll watch it", and then realize that they've already been broadcast, so I can't. Whereas if I'd been watching it in real time, I might have succumbed to the temptation.

Love the posts here. Always thought-provoking and interesting.

Posted by: Eric | Oct 19, 2005 1:45:28 PM

Excellent post!

I've been "off" TV for about 4 and a half years and it is one of the best things I ever did.

I still download some shows from time to time (mostly the Daily Show), and I still discover new things that I end up liking enough to buy (the Firefly series, which I bought on DVD, which lead to me seeing the movie Serenity in theater).

Posted by: MGR | Oct 19, 2005 4:53:03 PM

I agree with the 4 positive side effects of having no Tv. The habit of scheduling evenings or weekends based on what's on the box severely drops off. It ceases to be an issue and suddenly gaps one can have the silence to think in or begin talking in with people you live with swells.

But is it the hardware (equipment), software (shows) or the habit that's the culprit? Could not minesweeper or an infinite supply of Harlequin romances not lead to the same dulled brain?

I'm all for removing TVs from living rooms. But if I sit and waste time surfing the net, I am no more engaged than if I were channel surfing. If I subscribe to a narrow subset of the offerings of a DVD providing service like zip.ca, am I not liable to fall into the same trap? If I read the news online from only one favorite source am I thinking any more than if I passively received from CNN on a TV?

Posted by: Pearl | Oct 19, 2005 8:38:47 PM

this is great. This is exactly what i do. The only time i watch tv, is when i'm watching the shows i like. i watch my shows like i watch movies. I watch them, and then go on to something else. I dont flip to the next channel and "find something" to watch. I'm done.

I stopped watching tv period for about 4 years and just recenlty got a few shows that i religiously watch. People think i watch a lot of tv, even i thought i was. but i realized that I watch a lot of "content" not "tv". And with no ads in the way i can watch 2 shows very quickly and be done with it, and off to another project.

Posted by: Jon Maddox | Oct 20, 2005 10:28:17 PM

I am not and never was a TV addict, never had cable since the day I moved out of my parents house 11 years ago. My children are now 5 and 10 and they are smarter, more athletic and better behaved than any other kids I know! (of course I'm probably biased)But my 4th grader reads at 6th grade lvl and has never gotten below a B on a paper or report card and always scores way above average on Iowa and Proficiency Tests. We do occasionally rent dvds and whatch movies together, but that's all my TV has ever been used for and I love it that way.. Here's my dilemma a boyfriend whom I love dearly just move in an can't live without cable (so he thinks!!) Most of the time he doesn't even whatch it!! It is just background noise while he does something else and the "constant noise" drives me insane!! Any suggestions??

Posted by: Tiffani Cross | Oct 21, 2005 1:25:46 AM

Great article! They are words I already live by. Thought you might appreciate this shirt. :D

http://www.areyougeneric.org/cat_tshirts_trashtv.php

Posted by: Tony | Oct 21, 2005 6:25:21 AM

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