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THE IDIOT BOX October 22, 2009

Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.

The television does not run around here anymore. So nobody watches it. This means that we are out of the loop, cut off from the wider world of ideas and news. We are living in total deprivation.

Television is simply a technology that did not live up to it promise. At The Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby went to town on the chattering, eye glue machine in the corner:

For turning brains into mush, you can’t do better than television. The “vast wasteland’’ Newton Minow deplored in 1961 is infinitely vaster now – a largely unrelieved wilderness of mindless, stupefying entertainment, where dysfunction vies for predominance with vulgarity, and where the insatiable hunger for ratings eventually overpowers every consideration of taste, morality, and intellect.

TV isn’t called the idiot box for nothing. Even at its best it replaces engaged and active thought with passive and sedentary spectating, while at its worst it destroys children’s innocence, inuring them to violence, mockery, and crude sexualization. Television is by definition a visual medium; it appeals not to the brain but to the eye. You don’t have to study hypnosis to understand how easily the eye can be exploited to undermine alertness, focus, and good judgment. Just look at the dazed and vacant expression on the face of a youngster watching TV. Most parents would be calling 911 if their child drank something that caused such a reaction. Why doesn’t the zoned-out oblivion induced by TV cause parents to panic? Is it because they’re hooked on it too?

“Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,’’ reported Scientific American a few years back, and the identity of the world’s foremost TV junkies is no mystery. It’s us. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American households in 2007 watched an average of 8.2 hours of television per day, nearly twice as much as anyone else. And we are awash in television outside the home as well. In gyms, bars, and airport terminals, of course, but increasingly even in public elevators, taxicabs, and gas stations. Many airlines now provide live satellite TV on individual seatback television screens.

It’s bad enough that American adults watch so much TV. That so many kids wallow in it veers on child abuse. Some parents speak confidently of “educational’’ television, an oxymoron on the order of “diet ice cream’’ and “congressional wisdom.’’ Children don’t become educated from watching TV, and the more TV they watch, the less educated they usually end up.

Countless studies have documented the inverse link between devotion to the boob tube and achievement in school. Researchers at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons concluded in 2007, for example, that 14-year-olds who watched one or more hours of television daily “were at elevated risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.’’ Those who watched three or more hours a day were at even greater risk for “subsequent attention and learning difficulties,’’ and were the least likely to go to college.

In 2005, a study published in the American Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that the harm caused by TV watching shows up even after correcting the data to account for students’ intelligence, family conditions, and prior behavioral problems. The bottom line: “Increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood.’’

There must be something good to say about the miracle of the twentieth century.



1. Judith Ellis - October 25, 2009

Wmmbb – It seems like we exchanged one square blue tub for another. Computers seem to be the new TV.

wmmbb - October 25, 2009

Yes indeed, Judith, except I suggest the most recent addition to the lounge room is more active creation than passive reception. I do watch television via the computer screen.

The aspect of the article that caught my eye was the amount of television viewing, compared to other countries in the US. Can that be true?

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