The inventor of the television would not let his own children watch TV. He once said to his son, “There’s nothing on it worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet.” – Philo T Farnsworth
Even decades after Farnsworth banned his kids from watching ‘the idiot box’ there isn’t that much worthwhile on it for children. Sesame Street and a few early-childhood programs are the exception. A steady diet of television, I believe, trains children to pay attention for only five minutes at a time, which handicaps them when they begin school. Teachers don’t cut to commercial breaks, nor do they tend to break into song and dance. How do teachers reach the generation raised on television viewing? I knew my daughter–then age four–was watching too much TV when she told me she’d be “right back after this commercial break.”
When I was in grade school back in the Jurassic Era, we managed to sit still and learn for hours at a time without Ritalin. As children raised playing board games and constructing 1000-piece puzzles, my brothers and I learned how to take turns, share, win graciously, and lose graciously. We watched about four hours of television a week. Today’s children often park in front of the ‘electronic babysitter’ four hours or more PER DAY. Could there be a correlation between watching hours a day of television in childhood and Attention Deficit Disorder?
Today’s children are fatter than previous generations. Can we blame food commercials? Or shall we label this the inert generation? My generation played outdoors instead of hunching over tiny blinking screens or gaping up at larger screens. When we watched shows, back in my day, we had to GET UP to change the five channels by turning a knob on the set. Our first television had a screen slightly larger than the average laptop and programs appeared in black and white. And no, we did not own the prototype television.
Handsome bought our latest television because it plays not just in color, but in such high definition on the sixty-two-inch screen that we can count Justin Bieber’s five chin hairs. The surround sound system in the movie room also has amazing clarity. When we played a CD of Yo Yo Ma, we heard him breathing. Don’t even get me started on 3D movies with the pricey glasses. Technology overload!
If someone had told me twenty years ago that there would be networks broadcasting twenty-four hours a day exclusively offering programming on soccer, cooking, cartoons, news, weather, history, science, aviation, Bible study, or farming, I would have laughed off the idea as preposterous. But here we are.
I would have laughed even harder if it had been suggested that one day I could watch a television program on my phone. Technology marches on at a faster pace each decade. The Star Trek communicator has an uncanny resemblance to my old flip phone. And the Bluetooth earpiece reminds me of Seven-of-Nine’s Borg implant that connected her to the hive. Resistance is futile….
Shall we question the value of television in our lives? Certainly volume and variety do not equate with quality in broadcasting any more than fast food can be considered nutritious simply because we can eat it. Consider the choices and the consequences of the choices. Will watching reality shows that glorify unseemly behavior encourage more of the same? Does watching violent behavior beget violent behavior?
In the fifth week without television, I can say with a straight face that I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.
Next January might find me parked on the sofa binge-watching a stack of Netflix season’s recordings of Castle, Major Crimes, The Librarians, CSI: Las Vegas, and other shows the DVR couldn’t hold, but for now, I’m celebrating five weeks without television and hunkering down with my shelf of to-be-read books.
Go ahead and laugh, but you might join me in skipping television during the next presidential campaign.