Why we do not own a Television

by Mark Shiffman on May 1, 2009 · 36 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Philosophers & Saints

boy and tv

April was “Media Awareness Month” at our sons’ school. I took a couple weeks off from the Porch, and I also published a first draft of this piece in the school’s weekly newsletter.

When my wife and I met as graduate students, neither of us kept a television around. We always had reading to do, lectures to attend, friends to hang out with. When we married, she brought along her ancient black and white TV from her childhood home, and we would regularly watch The News Hour on PBS and then (to recover from news) The Simpsons before dinner. When our son was born, we put it away in a closet. We took it out on 9/11/01, and returned it to the closet three days later. It did not get packed when we moved to Philadelphia, and we have not replaced it.

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.

But clearly, that was not enough for us. For awhile, we kept the TV around, and benefited in a way from programs offering somewhat thoughtful perspective on the news and providing a good laugh. The final decision against it was made on the basis of what kind of family life we wanted to have and what living environment we wanted to shape for our children. A television in the house is always a temptation to slothful self-enervation, always something to negotiate and fight about, and sends a message that this piece of equipment and the programming it invades us with has a place in our household life.

Obviously, the content is nearly always bad. As Mark Mitchell observed, even sporting events are saturated with the loudest and most wretched commercials. There is really nothing happening on television that we can’t afford to miss. When Villanova makes it to the big tournament, I have no objection to walking down to the local pub (on the rare occasions when I have time) to watch the game on a silenced screen. It also gives me a chance to commune with a different cross-section of my neighbors, and at their most festive.

In an odd way, I am glad I saw the Twin Towers collapse and shared dramatically in the national horror of that day. But upon reflection, I can’t say that my life would really be worse in any way if I had missed seeing it. Again, that can be said about everything that is on (especially now that we can often get access to what we’ve missed online).

But our objection is just as much to the medium itself. The most thorough examination of the harm it does us is Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (a former advertiser who gradually realized that his job was to undermine viewers’ power to make free and sensible choices, and for the last 15 years headed up an anti-globalization outfit). Mander looks at TV viewing from a lot of illuminating angles. Physiologically, it puts us in a state like sensory deprivation, making us susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, which it amply supplies. It stockpiles our minds with images fabricated by others, with virtually no participation on our part in appropriating or contextualizing those images and shaping their meaning for us. As a medium, it is incapable of capturing many important experiences (like the powerful living aura of an ancient redwood forest), and so bolsters the positions of those who would treat everything reductively and exploitatively. This is a small taste of Mander’s rich analysis.

In my own effort to make sense of my intuitive reservations about the medium, however, it has helped me to turn to one of my favorite writers, Simone Weil. One important thing she points out is the vital connection between love and attention.

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.

What does television do to our habits of attention? It habituates us to see less, to see it less completely, and to engage it less actively and imaginatively. Our attention is strung along moment by moment, from one thing to the next. What we pay attention to is managed, packaged, enclosed in a frame according to someone else’s priorities for what we should see. We are encouraged to be passive and impatient at the same time.

The attention that constitutes love – love of others and love of the beauty of nature – requires patience and a kind of active receptivity. While a person, or a plant, animal, stream or valley is in front of us, we cannot take it all in at once. There is looking and listening to do, and this involves a real effort on our part, both to direct our attention and to quiet our distractions. We have to let it sink in, and reflect along the way on what is actually there before us and how it all fits together.

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. Why should we be surprised if the medium that is its most powerful tool encourages the same vices?

Ultimately the question is this: Does the presence of a television in a home ever increase the happiness of those who live together there? My suspicion is that, on the contrary, it mostly decreases their happiness by increasing their self-enclosure and alienation.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dan May 1, 2009 at 8:19 am

An excellent and thoughtful post.

I find television and the debate between viewers and non-viewers to be a very difficult debate to have. Those advocating ‘dropping out’ of television often come off as smug (and sometimes they are) and this is something I think this piece avoids for the most part by emphasizing acts of love and serious as alternatives to narcissistic amusement (See I just got a little smug, it’s a difficult line to hold).

What I have found intriguing in having this debate (I am a non-viewer myself) is how many viewers are willing to concede that there is nothing good on television. These folks usually have a few shows or sports they follow which they believe worthwhile but admittedly watch a lot of trash as well. Two reasons for this I have heard:

1) Television gives you something to talk about. It’s an icebreaker.

2) Television as a form of rest. It’s something to do that doesn’t require you to do.

These are hard habits to break. It offers a common cultural landscape between viewers and serves a social function and is itself a cultural form of rest and relaxation. It’s a tough institution to replace.

avatar Tim R May 1, 2009 at 8:25 am

Good thoughts! I was raised without a television in our home, which forced me to entertain myself, to learn how to read, and to begin writing. I think keeping the television out of our home was one of the better parenting decisions my parents made.

avatar Will May 1, 2009 at 8:26 am

I have often wondered if it would be best to own a television connected not to cable but only a DVD player. It’s true that 99.9% of television content is crap, and that even the good stuff is saturated with commercials unless you cough up extra for HBO. But I believe there is, amidst the garbage, some absolutely worthwhile programming which can, indeed, enrich the lives of its viewers.

With a DVD player, the images projected onto your screen are up to you, and lack commercials (besides product placement, but why are you watching something with product placement anyway?). In the age of Netflix, one can reasonably view virtually any television show which has been put onto DVD, as well as just about every film ever put on disc. I am not yet willing to concede, despite the well-reasoned arguments above, that there can come only evil from a tube in the house.

avatar Will May 1, 2009 at 8:29 am

And just for reference, as this doesn’t refer to anyone here:

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/01/26/28-not-having-a-tv/

avatar Russell Arben Fox May 1, 2009 at 9:27 am

I have often wondered if it would be best to own a television connected not to cable but only a DVD player….With a DVD player, the images projected onto your screen are up to you, and lack commercials (besides product placement, but why are you watching something with product placement anyway?). In the age of Netflix, one can reasonably view virtually any television show which has been put onto DVD, as well as just about every film ever put on disc.

This is what we do, Will. Our television has been without any reception capacity–partly because of where we placed it in the basement, but also partly because of our conscious decision not to upgrade it–ever since we moved into this house nearly two and a half years ago. And we don’t have cable. So we use it to watch videos (we still have a lot of old VHS tapes, yet video players are getting harder and harder to find and/or repair) or DVDs which we get through Netflix or from the library (just walking or biking riding distance away, thank goodness). It makes for a pretty good balance, we think.

avatar Puma for Life May 1, 2009 at 10:02 am

I am also a non-tv watcher; haven’t owned one in nine years and in the previous seven years owned one that I remember watching while lying on the couch on the third day of having the flu…I turned on a soap opera and fell asleep almost immediately. I read an article many years ago in a science magazine of some sort that said that the problem with tv is not what is on it, but the medium itself. It constantly triggers something like the fear or flight impulse and leads people to make instant decisions before thinking them through. This article suggested that the educational system was failing our students because it should be teaching people to slow down their decision making consciously so that they don’t just jump to some conclusion without thoughtful consideration. I also find that I do not have time for tv although I have a computer and find time for that.

avatar Elias May 1, 2009 at 10:16 am

Can’t most of the same arguments against the TV also be made of having a computer/internet connection at home?

I can see a well-meaning person reading this article and then tossing their TV into the closet. That person then is left with a void of time to fill and because its the easiest thing to do they fill the void with the internet. You run into the same trashy content problems on the internet (even worse actually) as on the TV.

I think as long as you are willing to have a computer and an internet connection that any arguments against the TV fall flat because you have access to the same exact content only via a different medium. You may have more control over what you read or watch online but is that really that different from the remote control for your TV?

just a thought, because, I totally agree that no TV in the house can be a really great thing.

avatar Brett Beemer May 1, 2009 at 11:03 am

Elias,

Excellent point. We have recently disconnected ourselves from Cable to DVDs but my wife says the biggest issue is how much time I spend on a computer connected to the internet or playing games on it. I think the point that Mark is really making is not just against Television but against anything that breaks up the love of the Family.

As the Bible says our hearts are where are treasure is. In the same sense what we spend time with is also what we see as the most important things in our lives.

Just last night I came home from a Bible Study and got the family to read the Bible together and my wife asked why we did it right before the children went to bed rather than in the morning (she is a morning person). I told her that spending time with the people that mean the most is the best thing we can do.

Commitment to the family and spending time with them is what will cause the family to have the best results for the children and for the community. I look forward to spending more time with my family and less with other distractions that I am seriously thinking of stopping the internet to my house.

Gardening Tip “Do not let your children think that young tomatoes are balls as they will pick them all and throw them all over your yard”

avatar Mark T. Mitchell May 1, 2009 at 11:11 am

Mark,
It seems to me that Elias and Brett make an excellent point. We don’t watch television (we do have Netflix) but the internet seems to cause the fragmentation of attention in the same way a television does and it’s perhaps even worse. Sometimes I wonder if pulling the plug on the Internet might not be the consistent thing to do. But then I couldn’t participate in FPR. Is this a worthy distraction or a false justification for inattention?

Mark

avatar Roberto May 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm

What does television do to our habits of attention? It habituates us to see less, to see it less completely, and to engage it less actively and imaginatively. Our attention is strung along moment by moment, from one thing to the next.

I don’t know: a lot of the stuff I watch has the opposite effect of what was described. Then again, my three favorite channels are National Geographic, Science Channel and the History Channel.

I will often watch a show about something — for instance, the neolithic revolution, and decide I want to know more. So, I order several books (used of course) and read them. My world has grown as a result. My judgments about life, culture and all that jazz are based on a broader, not narrower, frame of reference. I am more aware than just about anyone I know that there are literally billions of people who don’t think as I do.

Sure, TV is no substitute for walking in a redwood forest but, as someone who lives on the other side of the continent, I’m likely never going to walk in the real thing anyway. Ditto for the taiga in Russia or anywhere in Australia and China, although watching a BBC series on the Ganges inspired me to plan a trip this year to India.

Am I an outlier? Perhaps.

avatar Dan May 1, 2009 at 1:10 pm

There have been some great defenses of television here and what I believe to be some short sighted indictments of the internet.

Is there valuable and enriching programing on television, yes. The problem with the medium, historically at least and in the practice of many still, is that one doesn’t watch programing but television.

The VHS and DVD began to change that and Tivo and On-Demand have in many ways completed the transformation to program centered viewing. This is a good thing for people, and a bad thing for the industry. Instead of a captive audience in which programing and advertising could be beamed to passively they are now faced with consumers that can, when they decide to, choose their programing (and if they wish to view advertisements). In order to keep pace with the internet the media is destroying itself. Television as we have known it is disappearing, slowly.

One can of course spend too much time on the internet and if you believe you are by all means pull the plug. The internet is however a fantastic tool for the exchange of ideas and information (In every conceivable media), the trick is to have a purpose in what you utilize it for. For those who feel that their internet usage may be just idle surfing I recommend an RSS Reader to focus and limit your usage to sights you find engaging.

avatar Elias May 1, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Pulling the plug on the internet sounds like it would be the “consistent” thing to do but I don’t think that consistency and wisdom go hand in hand. It seems unwise to totally cut yourself off from the rest of the wold in that way.

Especially since newspapers seem to be going out of style. I feel that its important to know what is going out outside of your own community. Also, since it seems that in America the local community has trouble participating in the exchange of important ideas (faith, philosophy, ect) we are left with the imperfect medium of the internet to do this. Places like this.

I suggest switching to Linux and using a text only web browser like lynx…

Or maybe the internet and TV are like a loaded gun. When used responsibly they provide sustenance and protection. But you don’t leave a loaded gun around a toddler.

I totally agree with the fragmentation effects of TV and even online media. I can “accidentally” spend 3 hours watching TV online or on air because I don’t want to deal with other problems. Or I will also find it so much harder to pick up a book and be able to focus and read after watching TV. After lots of TV its even harder to have a conversation about things of any importance.

Clearly, I shouldn’t own one of these “guns.”

avatar Elias May 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Dan, I hadn’t read your post before I put mine up. Even though I slighted the internet I still see its value for the exchange of ideas.

avatar Stewart K Lundy May 1, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I’m with Tim on this one, being his roommate and all.

avatar Roberto May 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

The VHS and DVD began to change that and Tivo and On-Demand have in many ways completed the transformation to program centered viewing. This is a good thing for people, and a bad thing for the industry.

Precisely. I rarely watch shows like “House” or “Lost” live. I record them and watch them on my own terms which, at a bare minimum, means without commercials.

Re: the Internet. I find that the Web has a much higher noise-to-signal ratio than TV. For every site like this one, there literally countless sites that are, at best, the intellectual equivalent of a midden: for every scrap of worthwhile information you have to wade through so much refuse and unpleasantness that it may not be worth it. At least TV has listings that give you some idea about what you will come across.

avatar Tim R May 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Elias, I like your loaded gun analogy – I think it’s perfect. Television does have some great material to offer (the History and Discovery channels are two of my personal favorites), not to mention feature films that, in my opinion, transcend into actual art/literature (There Will Be Blood, Legends of the Fall, etc). The Internet, too, can be a powerful tool when used correctly.

I make my money in web development though, so don’t take my word on that last too seriously.

avatar Rob O. May 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

We strike a pretty good balance and even more so since becoming parents last year. Our toddler watches Blue’s Clues once or twice a week, but most evenings are devoted to playing outdoors and/or reading books. We’ve tried very hard to downplay TV in favor of activities that promote some learning and, perhaps more importantly, familial bonding.

However, once the kiddo is in bed, we usually watch an hour or so of recorded TV while we wind down, fold laundry, etc. We’d be sunk altogether without our DVR to allow us to skip commercials and thereby condense show runtimes.

avatar D.W. Sabin May 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

It aint the TV that’s a tad deficient, it’s the culture it springs from like a puncture leak in an over-stuffed plastic bag. It functions as an able vehicle for providing the citizenry with something vaguely exciting so that their stultifying workaday world doesn’t seem quite so bleak. It’s primary function is to maintain the consumer frenzy and congratulate the good taste of the viewer for being a ready and trusted buyer. There actually are several good things that spring out of the screen but like the world it attempts to stand in for, real invigorating wonder is in the minority position.

It’s wonderful for inducing sleep quickly and equally useful in creating a comprehensive data base concerning the most ridiculous aspects of modern consumer culture.

When we rebuke the television, we should just as well defame the mirror.

Those film studies of people’s minimally changing facial expressions while in the act of watching the telly should tell anyone all they need to know about how much actual value the beaming charade is.

I watch it a bit myself……usually things the rest of the family find alarmingly odd but I will jump headlong into the more mainstream output , including the comic thirty minutes of network news because I feed on frustration, rage, disquiet and consigned hilarity like a Mekong Water Buffalo gorges on riverine grasses. They’re a belligerent sort too. They also produce a lot of bullsh*t.

avatar Anthony May 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

It would be interesting to do a poll of FPR readers to see how many of them don’t have a boob tube!

avatar Esmeralda_Pearl May 1, 2009 at 10:03 pm

When my children were growing up we didn’t have cable; so viewing was limited to the local PBS stations and the NBC & CBS stations. That was fine with me. I limited their vewing time to one hour (or less a day; mostly “Sesame Street,” etc.

After the kids were grown and I retired; my husband and I subscribed to TV cable for awhile. Eventually we cancelled the service because we didn’t watch it that often.

The computer/internet? You’d have to destroy our computers and pry the mouse out of our hands!
:) ;) :)

avatar Mark Shiffman May 2, 2009 at 6:16 am

Thanks to all of you for thoughtful comments. I’ll pick up a few themes they have raised.

Brett is quite right that one of my primary concerns is the life of the household, as the core of all our human relationships. A second concern is our ability to respond with love to the natural world, which I think is not only good for us as human beings, but also is what constitutes love of the Creator.

And so Mark is right to raise the question whether the internet is not equally problematic. Clearly it can be, and I think that was a concern for everyone who agreed to start up this site and provide its content. I would entirely respect the decision of anyone to have neither TV nor computer. While the internet can be very useful, and requires a more active engagement (your eyes actually move across the screen to read things, to take just the minimal difference), it still, in my judgment, damages body and soul and often encroaches on better uses of time. If I did not have a job that requires me to be connected, I probably would get rid of it, with apologies to fellow Porch denizens. On balance, I think involvement with this site has been worth the drawbacks, but I have not yet reached a final judgement on that point.

And this brings us to the question of the medium itself. Here finally I have found something about which I can heartily disagree with my friend Sabin. Yes, the culture is a huge problem, but the culture has in so many ways resulted from television that I can’t see this as a mitigating consideration in any way. Television more than anything has made the consumer and banal-sensationalist ethos invade deep into our homes and minds and reshape them from the inside.

To expand a little on its effects on habits of attention, I found one of Mander’s points utterly compelling. Television watching is intrinsically boring: motionless staring at a rectangle of light at a fixed distance. Producers try to make it captivating to keep you hooked, and learn much of their techniques from the admen who have loads of money to devote to studying the effects on us. Thus there is some technical effect every few seconds to give us something new to follow (shift of camera, sound effect). This habituates us, way down in our nervous systems, to find real life boring, because it is not like this. (The link Will provides is good evidence of this.) In the quiet of conversation or of a walk through the neighborhood, we ourselves have to work in real life to recognize what it is that we are not noticing but is already present.

Thus, while I will readily agree that on rare occasions TV brings us a package of some new and interesting info (though the way it is packaged necessarily involves drastic reductions of the real content), I am not ready to concede, for example, that nature shows help us to better experience nature. Although they seem more contemplative in pace compared to the speed of technical effects in other programming, the difference is slight when you compare both to the texture of real life.

As for connecting us to others in conversation, having listened to such “conversation” as an outsider, even among very intelligent persons, I almost never find that it is about anything of significance. The problem really is that one feels like an alien among those who have a common point of reference and enthusiasm. So if you are not fortunate enough to have a circle of acquaintance who have something more substantial filling and enlivening their imaginations than what television has streamed into it, you have to decide how you feel about being a social alien. The compensation, it seems to me, is that you are not so alienated from the things that are most important.

avatar Linda Wightman May 2, 2009 at 8:55 am

To my total surprise and (almost) mortification, I write in defense of television. I agree with some of the comments that DVD is the only way to go, but most if not all of the content I find valuable on DVD originated in the TV and movie media, so despising them completely would be a bit hypocritical on my part.

It was Marie Winn’s The Plug-In Drug that first alerted me to the dangers of the beast, and when our first-born, at age two, asked to watch Sesame Street at at time when the television was off, I said, “That’s it. No more.” Had the decision been mine alone, I think I would have discarded the television set altogether, and certainly that would have been the easiest course. What we did instead — because my husband was not quite ready to give it up himself — was to make it less convenient. At first we moved the TV to a room away from the main traffic of the household; later we put it on a shelf with doors that remained closed most of the time. Out of sight, out of mind. We also never had cable, and reception was not that great, and the TV screen was small.

Our first concern was for the effect of watching television on our growing children, so we instituted some pretty strict non-watching rules. This was not difficult for the children, since we started when they were young enough not to have developed an addiction. At this stage it’s much harder on mom than on the kids, because anesthetizing lively preschoolers with an “educational” television program sounds like a guilt-free way to grab a precious half-hour of peace. I’m standing here today to tell you that removing that option — and thus forcing yourself to help your children develop the ability to entertain themselves — is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your future self.

And your kids? The benefits of growing up free from a television addiction far outweigh any social harm that comes from not having TV as a conversation-starter. (Our children became quite adept at picking up enough information about TV shows from their friends’ conversations to be able to hold their own without ever seeing the shows themselves.) Even long ago when our children were young there were one or two high-quality shows available, but we soon discovered that even a half hour a day of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was better filled with real-life activities.

It’s also important to point out that, when it comes to creating or avoiding a TV addiction in children, it matters little whether the show is broadcast, cable/satellite, VCR/DVD, or online. We do our children no favors by calling them “TV free” yet popping in a movie every afternoon so we can fix dinner without interruption.

And yet…and yet…. If the only way to avoid the ravages of the beast were to destroy it altogether, I would do so. Taming the beast, however, may have greater benefits. Our youngest’s lifelong love of opera began when she was 10 years old and we let her stay up — wide-eyed and astonished — to watch the four-day PBS presentation of Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle. Performances were meant to be watched, and if they remain true to the original television and movie productions give us cultural opportunities often out of our reach in real life. (My definition of “true to the original” is admittedly hazy. I’d call Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V a great, accessible version for neophytes, even if it omits parts of the play. But the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings fails miserably to capture the book, perhaps because the book was not meant to be performed in the first place.)

Television is also great, as was mentioned, at providing an entryway to books and further investigation of a subject. Ken Burns’ treatment of the Civil War succeeded where friends, family, and all my history teachers failed, overcoming my lack of the Y chromosome that seems to give interest to studies of war. “Educational TV” may be somewhat of an oxymoron, but a little, at the right time, can be invaluable.

I could go on — discussing the value of armchair travel as preparation for the real thing, for example — but the point is made. Television and its cohorts (movies, DVDs, computers, video games) I dare to say, are the hot peppers of life: In small amounts they enhance the experience; in greater amounts, they wash out all other flavors; overused, they destroy the senses and wreak havoc on the whole system.

avatar Greg Jones May 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm

After initially reading this post, I thought about the few hours today I’ve spent watching a hockey game. I also thought about the countless (sadly) hours that I’ve spend absolutely wasting time in front of the television, all the while complaining about how there’s “nothing” on to watch.

I kept coming back to culture. I think engaging in culture is important for Christians. Though I am a hockey fan legitimately, I also find it useful to be aware of the proverbial “water cooler” discussions that sports can allow. I’ve found myself able to “build credibility” among non-Christians as a “normal” guy instead of being one of those bug-eating, honey-smelling outliers. Nothing against the man who baptized the Christ, but we can’t all be him.

I say all this to say that the post initially is quite convincing. The debate that follows is also quite even handed. I just wish to contribute a suggestion and possibility that engaging in the filth of our culture means that we must be aware of it. This slippery-sloped argument calls for all kinds of caution, including a very individualized awareness of personal sins, but it also calls those of us who are “in but not of” the world to find ways to reach out to the “lost” we work, play, and commune with.

Similar to others, I encourage the readers here to limit television time, but to find redemption in the good moments. Not all music is good, but we don’t throw out our radios. Sometimes just knowing songs on the top 40 list give us an opportunity to engage in the culture with the people who are absolutely begging to have communion with us.

(I don’t mean to be a discouragement to those throwing out your televisions though. I just wanted to raise a counterpoint of why, for some of us, television is a useful tool in our efforts at evangelism.)

avatar Franklin May 2, 2009 at 9:22 pm

I have watched almost no TV for about 7 years now. I don’t miss it a bit. However, as some other commenters have pointed out, TV is no longer the biggest problem in inattentiveness. Computers are. I have a very uncomfortable realization that since the Web came along, and since I got fast enough computers and permanent DSL access, one thing that has happened is that I spend much more time online than I ever spent on TV. I used to think this tradeoff was only good, because online I am almost always learning something, and of my own curiosity and choosing. But lately I have become very ambivalent about the Internet. I’m no born Luddite, since I have been sending email since 1987. I lived through Usenet, ftp, Gopher, dialup modems. But one thing is clear: since 1995, when the Web started coming alive, my mind has changed in ways I do not like. Impatience, short attention span… Another thing is clear: I have learned things a hundred times more efficiently since the Web has come aboard. But still, does this quick knowledge result in reflection or wisdom or a good life? The fact that I’m here responding to an article I read late at night at home raises that question and leaves it unanswered.

avatar Puma for Life May 3, 2009 at 10:24 am

I agree that the computer is also a problem. I went for a year and a half without a computer (or tv). It was really nice. Very relaxing and I did not miss it. I did find I had to go to the library a couple of times a week to check my email as that is how I keep track of family and friends. I finally bought a computer and now I find it is taking up much of my time because I have a blog. I have noticed in myself, and a friend with a blog who also spends an inordinate amount of time on the web, that my mind is racing more and constantly thinking about current events. I meditate daily, so I can see that my mind is a bit slower than my friend’s, but still not good. I am considering taking a break from the blog and just leaving the whole computer alone for a while. When I am away and can’t get to one I feel fine and don’t miss it. It was nice not to own one for a long time and I still knew what was going on…you kind of absorb the news just by being alive. Trust me, it’s everywhere. I voted knowledgeably for several years without a tv or computer.

avatar Chuck May 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I find that I watch less and less television with each passing year. The entertainment programming is pretty much garbage designed to sell incontinent briefs and beer to morons, I dislike sports in any event, what passes for news is nothing more than undisguised and usually shrill advocacy.

On the other hand, my video and dvd collection is huge, almost as large as my collection of books so I have little need for the droppings of the various networks.

avatar Mark Shiffman May 4, 2009 at 6:33 am

We will watch the occasional family video (somewhere under 3 a month or so, depending on the weather), but we watch it on a laptop computer. This has a few advantages. One is that the machine does not have a place of honor in the arrangement of the living space, and entertainment is not its main purpose. Another is that we have to sit all four cuddled together to be able to see the screen.

avatar Mark Shiffman May 4, 2009 at 8:25 am

Incidentally, my 10-year-old, who watched me write the last comment, said I should also mention that having a TV in the room encourages the desire to play video games.

avatar D.W. Sabin May 4, 2009 at 10:54 am

Shiffman…a little chicken and egg question here……is the culture witless because of the telly or is the condition of the telly a reflection of an already witless culture……I guess we will never know but one does have to admit that the rate of decline in the vicarious agora can be described in an arc indicating increasing numbers of channels on the telly so you may be right. Politics too has seemed to have become more ruinous with more cable channels yammering on about it in a partisan manner…..but again, the chicken or the egg…..

Not long ago, I pulled into a gas station that actually had televisions posted atop the pumps with..I kid you not…a Petroleum industry Broadcasting Network and on it were weather and news snippets between NASCAR films and a Demolition Derby.

I still hold to my sneaking hunch that the Telly is much like the Bread and Circuses of the late-Roman Forum, more a reflection of the addled culture than a cause of it.

As to alien-hood, embrace it warmly because to be an oddball or fringe-outrider in this besotted day is to demonstrate a fitting level of disgust for something that , like a drunk, is immune from anything resembling self-preservation. You are likely correct in at least one aspect…the Telly is a pallisade obstructing any kind of reflective analysis of the prevailing dysfunction of the evolving beast Publicus Auto-Carnivorius.

avatar jeff v June 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I know this is a bit late but…

It seems a point has been missed in the debate as to whether computers are as “bad” as televisions. I’ve never met anyone through my television, but I did meet my wife via computer. I’ve never produced any content for television, but many of my written words have made it out into cyberspace. I could go on but my point is that that the internet, for all it’s vast wastelands, is a much more decentralized and democratic medium than television. To say that computers are like televisions because they both have screens and moving pictures, is to say that bicycles are like airplanes because they both have wheels.

Technologies are, for the most part, benign. It is us the users who ultimately decide whether to use a hammer to pound a nail, or to pull a nail. The problem when it comes to television is that very few of us get to operate the tools. More often than not we are the nail.

avatar http://tinyurl.com/lachdeasy34951 January 28, 2013 at 10:40 pm

This is the second article, of yours I actually read through.

However , I like this specific 1, “Why we do not own a Television | Front Porch Republic” the most.
All the best -Sherri

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