Thursday, January 16, 2014

Would you like to have two extra months in 2014?

Seems hard to believe, but many people could have an extra 2 months in 2014 and every other year. How? By reducing the amount of time they watch television. I made this commitment for 2014 simply because it felt like a good thing to do, but when I actually looked at some statistics and negative effects of television, I was blown away and knew I had to explore this further.

Did you know that the average American spends over five hours every day watching TV? That’s over two months a year, nine years in a lifetime! Wow. I am quite sure it’s pretty similar in the rest of the Western world… Statistics also show that 54% of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television. Yikes! And did you also know that watching television makes us more passive, fat and materialistic? Oh oh... (You can see more about this in a great article here).

Now I don’t want to make this post all about how evil television is, because it does have positives as well (a good documentary can facilitate learning, a talent show may inspire us to share our talents with the world, it can be relaxing to watch our favorite show or exciting to watch our favorite teams play….), but because this is a post about reducing TV time, I will focus more an a couple of the negatives I find most important.

First of all, television programming shapes our minds much more than we think. For example, in a movie or TV show, something is always happening, the action sequences are fast, there are virtually no breaks. In fact, it has been proven that movie shots are getting shorter, as prior to the 1960s, the average shot length was 8-11 seconds, but now it is something like 4-6 seconds. This results in us subconsciously believing that our lives should also take place at this pace, and when they don’t, we start thinking something is wrong. And we get restless, rob ourselves of valuable rest and contemplation time, etc. Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn likes to say that as a species we are increasingly turning from “human beings” into “human doings,” and I believe television is a big reason for this.

Second, and this goes hand-in-hand with the first one, television negatively affects our view of the world. Think of all the violence we see, or of all the negative stories on the news. Instead of seeing the world as a friendly place full of people who want to help us (see previous post :-), we start seeing the world as a dangerous place where people and nature need to be feared. Steve Chandler, the author of the excellent “100 Ways To Motivate Yourself,” says the following in his book:

If we realized exactly how much vulgar, pessimistic, and manipulative negativity was deliberately packed into every daily newspaper and most television shows and Hollywood movies, we would resist the temptation to flood our brains with their garbage. Most of us are more particular about what we put in our automobile’s gas tank than we are about what we put in our own brain every night. We passively feed ourselves with stories about serial killers and violent crime without any conscious awareness of the choice we’re making.

Uff.

And third, television (and newspapers and the Internet…) robs us of time we could spend much more positively. Think of all the things you could do with an extra one to two hours per day: get more sleep, read or write a book, exercise, talk with family or friends, cook a healthy meal. The list is endless. And think how much better you’d feel after one of those activities.

So now that we’ve pointed out some good reasons to reduce TV time, let’s talk about the best ways to actually accomplish that. As with most things, I am a big believer in starting small, in baby steps. I would start by making a review of all the programs you watch and making a list of the reasons you watch particular programs and the benefits and negatives they bring. Then try a week or two without one or two programs at the bottom of your list, and replace the time with a positive activity of your choice. And simply see where this takes you.
                                                                                                      
So as 2014 is off to a roaring start, let’s get more conscious about the content we allow into our lives, let’s cut down on television a bit, and let’s fill this newly found time with positive activities!

Tomas

PS: While doing a bit of research for this post, I came across some funny or inspiring TV related quotes that I thought I’d share here as well:

Television is a medium because anything well done is rare.
Fred Allen

If you’re watching too much television and you know it, you might find it useful to ask this one question: “Which side of the glass do I want to live on?”
Steve Chandler

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
Grouch Marx

In Beverly Hills... they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.
Woody Allen

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