I don’t own a tv…

…but I do own a computer, and these days you can do almost anything on a computer, including watch TV.  There are many, many fewer ads and you don’t fall prey as easily to the chanel surfing phenomenon, but it’s still essentially television with its (mostly) unhealthy side-effects.

Enter Mark Shiffman:

Originally, we did not have televisions because we always had something better to do. This to me is the first question to ask yourself with regard to watching television: Is there something better I could be doing – something better for me, for my family and household, for my community? As it turns out, the answer to that question is always yes. Even when we need to relax, there is always a better way to do it than in front of a screen of moving images pumping them directly into our minds…

The quality of our life depends to a great extent on the quality of our love. The quality of our love depends on the attention we give to other human beings and to our natural surroundings. Attention is not only a sign or expression of love. In an important way, it is the very substance of love, a central part of the very practice of loving. By receptive attention, we make space in ourselves for the presence of something or someone else. If we do not do this, we do not love….

By habituating us to follow along impatiently and passively, to filter and frame the world before we’ve had the chance to see anything, television damages our capacity to love well, to love others and the natural world for what they are rather than for what they can do for us. Television is, after all, one of the great tools and purveyors of consumer culture. The culture of consumption and exploitation has every interest in encouraging our self-centered and unreflective egoism and our oblivion to the loveliness of the natural world….

These are just excerpts – the whole thing is worth a read.  Shiffman gets to the question that is the focal point of his post, which is: “Does the presence of a television in a home ever increase the happiness of those who live together there?”

I would have to agree with his conclusion that quite the contrary is true.  And it’s hard.  Even though we long ago ditched our television, we still watch our various shows online, and they’re mostly enjoyable.  It’s a great way to kill time – an expression which is, when one thinks about it, frightening enough to give pause.

It’s certainly the easy way out.  After a long day of work, a couple hours spent chasing your kid(s) at the park and helping with chores, it’s often hard to sit down with a book and not fall promptly asleep; or to sit down for a nice conversation over glasses of wine and stay in any sense of the word awake.

Television works its strange magic on us by allowing us to at once completely zone out and stay wide awake after a long and tiring day.  This internet creature is also strangely addictive and time-sucking, though I don’t think it quite turns the mind off in the way that tv does.  It certainly can lead to a bit of ADHD though…

Do you ever find yourself reading a book or an article and wishing you could click a link about this or that subject to find out more about it?  Not a good sign.  This is the insidious promise of kindle in the long run – turning our reading of books into little more than web sessions, contributing to our collective levels of distraction….

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5 thoughts on “I don’t own a tv…

  1. I suppose I would agree with his arguments, but I don’t get all the way to his conclusion. Is there always something better you could be doing? With maybe a few exceptions (The Wire) I would say yes. But frankly, I’m not mentally equipped to be healthy and engaged all the time. As long as its done in moderation, I would say there’s room in a healthy life for a little time-killing–in that way, TV is like any other drug. Getting drunk every day is bad news, and so is watching TV every day, but as occasional indulgences go there are worse things.

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  2. I agree with Dan. I think it is silly to discount an entire medium because the vast majority of its programming is useless. I wonder if Shiffman would say that cinema is similarly useless, because aside from long-form narrative and a dark, public theater, television and film are quite similar. Or does having to purchase one’s ticket from a pimply teenager and getting one’s shoes stuck in the aisle count for enough social interaction to produce “love.”

    Films and television are modern ways of storytelling that are just as powerful as reading. I know Sullivan had a post the other day about television being able to make people feel more connected. Again, almost everything on television is horrid. The new wave of cable drama provides some hope to the format. “The Wire” was fantastic, and “Mad Men” is an excellent vehicle for exploring our own era in contrast with a very different 1960s. “House” is a guilty pleasure that is the same as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mystery stories.

    I fear broadcast television will go the way of newspapers. They have sacrificed content and quality with few exceptions for ratings and cost-effectiveness. See the rise of reality television, for example, which has no use at all other than voyeuristic schadenfreude. The exodus of quality content to cable and time shifted viewing through TiVo and the Internet will kill broadcast’s advertising revenues as their audiences diminish.

    Enjoying television as you do is okay. We can’t always be playing in our string quartet, teaching the children the dual case declensions for body parts in Czech, or reading Kant. That’s why people used to go to the theater, opera, or symphony. Now we can have the same enjoyment in sweat pants. We just have to be careful not to give in to watching “Deadliest Catch” or “To Catch a Predator” marathons. But they are so good…

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  3. I didn’t read this very carefully but I have to say that we agree here completely. Just so you know I’m not here just to try and stir up trouble.

    One thing I didn’t see is about the effects on children. Are children happier if they grow up in a household without a TV? My own would answer “yes” without hesitation. In fact, they’re proud of it today. Of course at the time the opposite was true. They thought we were the worst parents on the block for not owning one.

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