Listening to National Public Radio (NPR) last week, I was astonished to learn that some people in America do not own a TV.
A listener had written in complaining about a story NPR had done on rapper Eminem. Apparently the report featured explicit language. The folks writing the letter stated they didn't own a TV, and that radio was their main source of entertainment. They were particularly aghast, because they were listening to the report in question with their 3-year-old son.
About a week later, a guy turns up in the hot seat of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He, too, does not own a TV, and hasn't for 10 years. His sisters told him about the program, and gave him the 800 number to call so he could qualify to be on the program.
Are these people for real? Perhaps. I have had conversations with people who claim not to watch TV. No one, to my recollection, has claimed not to own one. Perhaps for fear of being caught. "Oh, that. I'm turning that into an aquarium," or "Well, er, uh, I just watch the news in the morning/ evening."
Ironically, Philo Farnsworth, the man credited with inventing TV, or most of it (it was a sort of combination of independent efforts), claimed to have never watched it.
Actually, I have a confession to make. I don't watch nearly as much TV as I used to. When I was 13 I could recite the prime-time lineup for all three commercial networks, PBS and the local independent channels. Yes, that was only 6 channels, but it's still a frightening testimony to how I spent my spare time back then.
Today it oscillates between 2 and 3 hours. The real change came about when our daughter arrived. We made a conscious effort to restrict her viewing of TV and videos. I know there are folks who would be mortified to hear that she's allowed up to an hour-and-a-half of TV a day, but it's made her very selective. Teletubbies have been cancelled, along with Barney. Nice while they lasted, but Clifford and Blue's Clues are tops, along with sing-a-longs from Disney and Australia's very fine Wiggles.
It's when you impose these limits that you start to pay attention to your own viewing habits. Having the tube on for "background" noise is a thing of the past. Shows are taped and watched at a convenient time, usually just before bed.
What's important to note is that we didn't throw the set out the window, but merely reassessed its presence. The old "less is more" principle certainly applies. When the tube is on, it's because we want to watch something, not because we have nothing better to do.
I agree that less TV would mean people doing more constructive things, but I think proponents of that theory would be disappointed with the true results. The first thing I think people would do is sleep more. Maybe read. Maybe take up a hobby. But who can say for sure?
Already there are those saying the Internet is siphoning viewers away from TV. Others claim that hours spent online are more wasteful than those spent in the glow of Farnsworth's electronic window. Will we one day hear mothers tell there kids "turn off that computer and go watch TV?"
Another argument beginning to sway me is that of TV in kids' rooms. It's hard to disagree with the assertion that it separates the family. However, I do know families that watch all sorts of programming together. This would seem like a great way for parents to gain insight into what their kids like and dislike, as well as how they view the world. Yes, obviously they could just ask their kids at the dinner table, and that would be the best place to start. Yet, we sometimes have trouble communicating the more subtle aspects of ourselves. Is this from watching too much TV? Not necessarily.
TV takes on a whorish existence in our culture. It's cheap and easy, and can get out of control with little effort. It is, though, part of our culture in the 21st century. Whether you own a TV or not, it has an effect on you because it affects others.
If you watch a lot, try stepping back. If you never watch, give it a try. It's mostly crap, agreed. But it's not entirely worthless either. Be judicious. Moderate. Enjoy.
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