Friday, July 10, 2015

#12 on the Top Ten List of Life Thieves - "Television"

Television! TV! The One-Eyed Monster! The Boob Tube! A rose by any other name is still a rose. The same goes for television.

People were amazed and delighted with the first photographs. What a technological advance dating back to around the mid-19th Century. It was the beginning of what became a huge industry for over 150 years. Recorded sound was the next major technological advance. It is, of course, with us today after evolving through a variety of format/media advancements.  Then came the motion picture. From its very primitive beginnings without sound and only in black and white to the technological marvel movies with multi-channel sound movies have evolved to today.

Public consumption commercial radio broadcasts began in the 1920's. Broadcast radio is now ubiquitous in homes, cars, trucks, motorcycles, farm tractors, boats, etc. They are terrestrial based and satellite transmitted. And let's not forget that radio has expanded to the Internet and can be received on computers, tablet computing devices and smart phones.

And then there is television . . .

The average person probably doesn't realize that television experimentation began as early as 1851. The systems were mechanically based throughout the 1800's. It wasn't until 1939 that RCA, in the U.S., ran an ad promoting the beginning of broadcast television. Most people from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation didn't see commercial television until the late 1940's and early 1950s. There were a limited number of TV stations, three primary and one secondary networks and many markets in the U.S. only had one channel, if they were lucky enough to have that. 

Television consolidated the photograph, the motion picture and recorded/broadcast sound and, once again, created a major technological advance. Then came color TV and stereo sound and finally wide screen, high definition, surround sound TV to bring the movie theater home. Video tape recording was developed during the '50s for commercial TV use. Consumer video equipment was introduced in the 60's, but didn't become affordable until Betamax and VHS video cassettes were introduced. Then came the DVD, Blue Ray and now the YouTube and streaming TV and movies are capturing more and more of the ever growing viewing audience. The rest of the story is all history. I should also mention television spawned the cable and satellite TV industries as delivery systems to expand the viewing choices in underserved regions of the country.

During the mid-1960's I was involved in the planning and installation of master antenna systems (mini cable TV systems built within apartment, condominium and hotel/motel buildings) and a couple early community cable TV systems. Radio and television have always been a significant area of interest to me. That interest was one of the motivating factors for me to earn a masters degree from the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University during the latter 1960's. It has, in a variety of ways, been part of what guided my professional career for 50 years.

So, that's the back story.

Television as a Life Thief

 I count television as a Life Thief for one major reason. It has and continues to (in its various forms) consume massive amounts of life (aka time) of billions of human lives ranging from very young children to centenarians. TV is additive and meant to be so. Television, from more than 200 channels (an estimate, probably quite conservative) in just the U.S., permeates our existence 24/7/365 providing program content in every genre the human mind can conceive of. This doesn't include hundreds or thousands of channels from all the other countries around the globe.

The average person in the U.S. watches 4.65 hours of TV per day or approximately 20% of each day. Over an estimated lifetime of approximately 80 years, deducting the first three years as being too young to be significantly impacted by TV, this accounts for a total of 145,058 hours or approximately 16.6 years of our lives. No matter how you rationalize it, that is approximately 20% of our lives.

I doubt many of us think about our time and our lives in the terms I'm describing. I certainly didn't until I reached a point in my life where I realized that my time is finite and dwindling at a rate I can't truly comprehend. I don't know how much time I have left. Should I live to 80, I have less than ten years left. Do I want to give away 20% or two of those priceless years of my life to the TV sponsors and everyone involved in providing me with this mind bending array of content, much of which is of dubious value?

What is your life worth? How much of your life/time can you afford to "give away" to others who have no real interest in you or your personal intrinsic values, dreams, passions and aspirations for fulfilling your life? Their main interest is in your wallet and how much they can extract from it.

I am not condemning television (in all of its forms or through the variety of delivery systems). Whether it is commercial or non-commercial (public, educational, government, informational) or any other form, its purpose is simple; attract and retain eyeballs and attention. This is neither good nor bad. It's all based on your personal value system. If you feel your life is being fulfilled by sitting in front of a high-definition, wide-screen, surround sound television and living your life through someone else's eyes, ideas, mind and values, then television is fulfilling a purpose in your life.

I know people who are so attached to televised sports events, movies (old and new), reality shows, soap operas, news, situation comedies, etc. that their televisions are on from the time they awake in the morning until they go to bed at night. Some people are so addicted to this mesmerizing device that it controls when they wake up, when they go to sleep and even when they take care of the other necessities of life. It is so pervasive that it's in every room of their homes including bathrooms. I can't and won't pass judgment on anyone else. However, in my value system this is untenable.

Others watch no television - broadcast, cable or satellite TV. Still others may use their computers (streaming TV programming on the Internet) to time shift TV programming to fit into time slots during an individual's  own programmed "down time." These folks are very selective in what they choose to watch and fit programming into their lives on their own terms. If they miss "episodes" they aren't broken up by it. Their lives are not run by the programmers and screenwriters. I fall into this category.

There are still others who choose not to own a TV or subscribe to any of the programming and find other ways to keep informed. They seem to always have something personally fulfilling to fill their time. They read books (what a concept), enjoy hobbies or all manner of crafts, volunteer, etc. whether it's productive or simply downtime.

My personal battle is with being an information and news junkie. Too often I find myself overly attached to the news channels and listening to breaking news. This is, to my thinking, dangerous. When the Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared it consumed a few weeks of time on all the major news outlets. When the recent riots occurred in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, again, that was almost all we heard or viewed on the news channels for weeks. Typically, 98% to 99% of this news content is simply repetition of the same information with an occasional nugget of new information. Once again, this numbs our minds and steals significant parts of our lives.

Preventing Television From Stealing Any More Life

I do not have any cures or specific plans for alleviating this pervasive force from stealing your life or, even , my own. I am stating the facts, hoping to present the reality in such a manner as to raise more awareness. I certainly don't have a Messiah complex and feel like I can "save the world." Like everyone, I have challenge enough dealing with, not only the Television Life Thief, but all the other things stealing my precious time and life.

The reality is we live at a time in human evolution and development where technology appears to run our lives. Many, if not most, of the kinds of activities, diversions and values we grew up with a mere 50 years ago were only science fiction at that time. And, if we go back 100 years most of what occupies our time today and even 50 years ago not only didn't exist, but wasn't even touched in science fiction of that time. Europe, Africa, Asia, South and Central America, the islands of the Caribbean and South Pacific, Hawaii, etc. were places we read about in books or saw photos of in magazines like Life or National Geographic Magazine. We not only lived in our very small, localized regions, the idea of a "global" community was very foreign (no pun intended).

Each of us needs to evaluate the value of our time and lives and determine how much of it we're willing to allow the television life thief to extract from us. I know I've already sacrificed far too much to this thief, but everything about our current society allows this pervasive thief to steal from us. Maybe we could learn something by spending time studying less developed or primitive societies about how to use our time for our own purposes. How can we study and learn this? Through some form of television, of course. Yikes!   


Richard Rosen said...

We all change. What I once found of use or entertaining on TV is no more. I have realized how little on television attracts me. I find it more and more repelling and am often grieved by the insidious messaging and role modeling that affects and harms so many.

Whether it is TV, movies, literature, etc., it has to be "real," contain value. My sense of truth quickly lets me know whether it is so or not. Life is too valuable to squander it.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Your last sentence is an excellent wrap up, Richard. Anytime we become vested or addicted to anything, TV being one of them, we're giving away the control of our life to someone else. Thanks.