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Thinking about television
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If you are living happily without a TV, interested in limiting or eliminating your TV consumption, or simply interested in thinking about the role of TV in our lives, tv_thought would love to have you.

Read on to discover why we exist, or... stop reading already and join up. :)

Television is extremely powerful.

It's audiovisual. It glows. It flickers, remains in sharp focus (most TV screens at most common distances are viewed entirely with the fovea), and changes constantly, thus demanding almost constant attention from the primitive centers of our brains. In addition, TV tends to focus a great deal on human beings -- and, no matter how misanthropic you may be, people are wired to look at people (especially faces) and wired to react to the extreme emotions often portrayed during commercials and TV shows. We're not even (at the moment) going to get into how every 10 minutes the TV portrays snippets of more must-see TV in an attempt to keep you glued to your seat for as long as physically possible.

However, there's a ton of research indicating that it isn't that good for you, and doesn't even make people especially happy.

I haven't even done much research into what it does for kids -- that's been done by many other people including the authors of The Plug-In Drug, The Other Parent, and so on. What it does to adults is quite bad enough.

Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow) have argued that TV watching is actually addictive. (Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor, Scientific American, Feb 23, 2002). They argue that TV stimulates a pre flight or fight reaction through the use of movement on screen by use of scene changes, jump cuts changes in camera angles etc (known as technical events). This puts the mind into a passive state where it is wating to see if it needs to engage the flight or fight reaction. Since nothing ever does happen and this reaction is stimulated over and over again we become locked in this passive state, unable to break free.1

Sound familiar? Here's something else Mihaly has to say about TV in his book The Evolving Self.

Television the world over seems to have the following effects on viewers: it makes them feel very relaxed, but also significantly less active, alert, mentally focused, satisfied, or creative compared with almost anything else they could be doing. At the same time, in every culture where TV is accessible, people watch it more than they pursue any other activity in their free time.

Did he really say that? It makes people unsatisfied and less creative, and people still do it. There has to be an addictive effect going on there -- or maybe people simply are so incapable of reading their own state that they haven't figured this out. I'm told that in real life Mihaly goes by Mike, and Mike concludes:

Television is a dramatic example of a meme that invades the mind and reproduces there without concern for the well-being of its host.

But... some of it is really good stuff.

Mike does on to say that people who watch less TV tend to watch more critically and thus get more out of the experience. I believe that -- and there certainly are movies, etc, that require a ton of mental involvement. Memento comes to mind, and I'm told the TV series 24 is similarly thought-provoking. Plus, the AV nature of it provides a wonderful tool for ecucation in many fields. I've heard some heartfelt defenses of The History Channel.

And at some point, we're going to be experiencing SOME packaging of ideas.

Plenty of criticism can also be leveled against spending too much time in virtual computer-based worlds, or surfing the net, blogging, or even reading. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, recommends a week without reading as a powerful tool to get past an artistic block -- a challenge I haven't risen to yet. However, no matter how much time we spend trying to be creative, few people would argue that we shouldn't experience the results of other people's work at all. Addiction is the problem, if there is a problem, rather than the occasional experience.

So why bother creating a community?

Because a post regarding the sneaky, single-minded remote called TV-B-Gone generated over 20 comments on my personal journal in one day. A post on the same topic generated one -- count 'em, one! -- on televisionfree in 10 months. I realized that people who have made different choices about TV just aren't talking to each other very much.

So here's a forum for discussing and debating these things. I hope it will be, in general, a fun place. I have not declared it rant-free... rants will be quite acceptable until or unless they become a problem. So if they just put a TV in your favorite restaurant, or conversely if one of your anti-TV friends got completely sanctimonious on you last night, fire away.

A few links: