I had a conversation with my family recently about some of the reasons I don’t have a TV. A lot of them, I admit, are ex post facto. The actual reason is that I’ve just never bought one. And the one that I’d want is hella expensive.
In explaining why I’ve chosen not to fill this void in my life, I said that I often visualize outcomes with this kind of long view of repeated action. So when it comes to TV, if I estimate watching 3 hours of TV a day (apparently the American average is more like 4!), I end up imagining the accumulation of all that time spent watching TV over a year. The effect for me is quite visceral, which continues to turn me off from the idea.
Now I don’t usually do any math when I’m thinking like this, but if I did, I’d find that 3 hours of TV a day amounts to over a thousand hours a year, or 68 straight days of TV watching from the time I wake up til the time I go to bed (with no pee breaks!). That’s more than 2 months!
It’s even more dramatic taking into consideration the aggregate effect of a population doing the same thing. My anti-TV stance seems almost political from this perspective. Think about the human cost of every American watching more than 2 months of TV a year. If you consider TV watching to have an essentially passive, if not pacifying effect, what is it doing to our collective productivity, our intellectual capacity, our ability to act independently and make informed decisions? What is it doing to our memory? How is it changing us?
Or more interestingly, how am I different by not watching TV?
I’m not denying TV any educational or theraputic effects. In fact I’ve written before about how TV or a movie can effectively distract my conscious mind while the subconscious gnaws on more challenging problems. But in that case I was talking about the hypnotic effect of watching a movie on the order of once a month or less.
Ironically, it was the The Matrix that really drove home the idea that we do a lot of things wholly unaware of their effect in aggregate or over time. How a little bit of TV can be a transformative experience, but a lot seems like being plugged into the Matrix.