Kill Your (my) Television (and similar).

I don’t believe anyone really holds television watching as a noble pastime, rich with empirical or moral value. It doesn’t often fill bellies or pockets, my town (Los Angeles) notwithstanding. It holds our attention, but.. does it do much else? Are we even using our imagination, watching it? Or our we being used by it?

Regardless of it’s lack of tangible benefits, we do a LOT of it. The average American watches around 3 hours a day. Heavy watchers trend above 8 hours a day.

This has a huge impact on our culture and us as individuals. First consider the marketing/socialization angle. As a nation, TV has defined our culture with increasing impact over the past 50 years. From products to politicians, it’s invented what matters to us as a nation. In today’s shift to things like TiVo and bittorrents, the overt marketing is stripped out, though of course, the non-overt comes through full strength as we watch the stories, the “information”, the values and experiences on the screen.

Unfortunately, it appears that we are pretty much built to be compelled by the television watching experience. Our brains respond preferentially to multi-modal integrated stimulus stream of a visual/auditory media. Arguably this is because a rich stream is closest to what we experience and interpret in real life. Because of this, functional brain nodes used to process reality and learn about it are activated by tv-watching. It’s not a complete activation, though, the way “reality” is – there is little action on the viewer’s part. TV watching is passive – it is difficult to do unless you are watching passively, and you immediately miss stuff when you start talking or attending to much else.

This immediate negative reinforcement when turning your attention away from TV is enough to train you to watch. When one considers all of the surrogate reality that we DO build into our memories and experience, the psychological impact may be significant. And then compound this with how we are trained to be passive in response to the “people” and relationships we are presented with, in their shiny, expensive, heartbreaking, sexy, and well-packaged forms. It’s almost addictive, in scale and impact in many many people’s lives.

That’s the bad news. The good, is that as insidious as Television has become, it doesn’t really have the true “withdrawal” symptoms of real addiction, when one stops. We will live, and probably relatively pain free, from not knowing what Jack Bauer, John Locke, or Kara Thrace, will be “doing” tomorrow.

All it takes to stop watching TV is a cognitive decision, and the act that follows.
Yes, all one has to do, is do something else.

I find I can stop if i put some music on. And then I can write, think, and even move, more easily than when getting bombarded by vibrant colors, explosions, sex, emotion, and product.

So, I’m making that decision here, publicly. A (quickly becoming) dear friend recently reminded me about how things in life can become “punctuation”. Things we do just to break our day up, displace our boredom, do “just because”. She mentioned how sex, food, etc., can become this. TV certainly is, for me. Time to eat? Grab food and play a show. Time to work? Open the document, and watch a show. Time to do anything? Well.. maybe I’ll just watch a show.

One of the mantras I try to live by is Intention, Not Momentum, so when I realized that TV had snuck in, and become only momentum, I knew I had to act. My TV watching habits vary, but have for too long peaked over the national average. Television gets in the way of life. It replaces MY life with another, constructed from electronic woodwives and will o wisps, one dimensional and illusory.

I want my time back, my MIND back. Television gets in the way.
It gets in the way of writing, of my reading and dreaming, of moving, of living.

To that end – I just deleted all the archived torrents, dvd rips, etc., that I had stored to watch. Any effort and time I’ve spent downloading / recording / watching TV programming has now come to an end.

One or two caveats – I won’t rule out TV under a couple of conditions. First – watching it with a friend here and there is fine, as long as I’m not sitting at my desk for hours zoning out. Second, going to the movies with friends is OK, too. Both of those are as much about friends as anything, and the media has a discrete start and end. It’s the habit I want to eliminate, as much as the media/content, but I – I do live in the world after all.

So – from here on, if I stumble and download something, or watch something that doesn’t involve hanging out with a friend or going on a date, etc., I’ll post it into Paradigm Pusher.

Wish me luck!

2 Replies to “Kill Your (my) Television (and similar).”

  1. well, i’ve had a couple of “slips”. have mostly been successful, and have found myself stopping watching a show after a few min when i realized what a waste it would be of my time and energy.

    i did watch “Role Models” last night though.. needed some stupid humor! 🙂

    mostly i’m choosing to interact with real-live people instead of the television, and getting more work done routinely (though it’s still hard to not follow the habits of procrastination with TV being such a great mind-suck).

    i’ve also started paring down my procrastinatory crutches. this topic probably deserves it’s own post, but i’ve found i can almost entirely forgo my semi-compulsive websurfing to 20+ sites, looking for tech or science news. instead i’m using an RSS feed reader to quickly identify the topics i do want to read, and thus i’ve mostly stopped the rote behavior of pulling up the next site i usually read to see if there is anything new (which is very addictive, since a partial reinforcement schedule of intermittent content is more highly conditioning than full or absent reinforcement).

    i’ve also started deleting my presence on sites whose only purpose was to distract me. Livejournal is a case in point – i only used it to post silly meme results, and keep track of about 10 friends who post there.. but most of em post on Facebook too, so i don’t need LJ!

  2. found a good balance with this over the past few months.. and meditating has helped me not want to blindly turn my brain off with TV anyway. so there are a couple shows i watch each week, but it’s a diminishing presence in my life.

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