In defense of television

I came across an article this afternoon entitled “11 Reasons You Should Stop Watching Television Now” that I found pretty dim. An outgrowth of the “I don’t even own a TV” fad I thought was dead, the article isn’t just smug, it’s wrong. Let’s count the ways.

Wasting Time

It’s pretty obvious that when you’re watching TV you’re not doing anything else. Time spent watching television is similar to being asleep (although you will see some other consequences below). The question is whether you want to spend even more time in your precious day asleep.

Oddly enough, the author posting in the “productivity” section of a life hacking website has apparently never heard of second-screening. Thanks to tablets and smartphones you don’t have to sit in front of a television screen like a zombie anymore. Second-screening is productivity. Some might even call it a life hack. Why, here’s a piece in a newspaper all about it, but it’s from someone who actually works in a television network, certainly not the the kind of expert productivity blogger you’d find on a life hacking site.

Missing Out on Social Interaction

Every hour you spend in front of the TV is another hour you’re not making the most of your life. You could be playing with your family, hanging out with friends or doing an activity you enjoy. Connection is one of the basic human needs we all have and it will never be fulfilled by your television set.

If you look to the left of the article you’ll see colorful little buttons with various symbols in them. Those are for sharing on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the like. Funny thing about those sites: You can use them while you watch TV, too. I know, right! When you’re watching — and I’m being totally hypothetical here — a show about a tornado full of sharks, you can talk about it on social media and — hold on to your butts — other people will respond. Are you sitting down? THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. 

Allow me to be serious for a moment to say that there is social value in watching television. This article appeared on August 15, an ordinary day in the Gregorian calendar…unless you’re a devoted fan of Lost, then today is 8-15 and you get to talk about it with complete strangers on Twitter. Or next year in Hawaii when you’re celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its debut: My life would be less without these conversations.

So in fact watching television isn’t costing you social interaction. It is actually increasing it in ways we couldn’t have imagined even on September 22, 2004.

I made my name on Twitter tweeting the most partisan political spew you can imagine. It was fun but it was a recipe for very isolated online interaction. I needed to branch out and chose television as one of the ways I would do so.  I tweeted as incessantly about Lost as I did politics and a bizarre thing happened: Democrats responded.  You see, television brought us together to create social interaction where there would otherwise be none. What a concept. But I’m sure our lifehacker’s life doesn’t need such richnesses.

Programming Yourself with Negativity

Just about every television show, from comedies to drama to reality TV and the news, is negative. If you look at almost any TV show there is a complete lack of positive redeeming messages. While there are exceptions to this rule they are few and far between, so choose carefully what you decide to spend your time watching.

Nice opinion, and in many ways it can be true. But in many ways, if television is where you turn for positive redeeming messages you are doing life wrong. There should probably be a hack for that.

TV Poisons Your Belief Systems

In comedies, we laugh at the stupid/overweight/socially awkward/racial stereotype/different people. The news is filled with stories of pain/suffering/disaster/death, and arguing and drama has to be about problems in order to create the drama. All of this is affecting your outlook on life and the way you see the world.

Wow, now that is some serious literary dissection. “Arguing and drama has to be about problems in order to create the drama.” Slow down, buddy, I’m not a computer. Yes that is what drama is about. Next you’ll be telling us to avoid watching the weather because it’s only notable when there’s a storm.

I’m putting the next two together…

It Creates Unrealistic Expectations

Television distorts our understanding of reality. It’s filled with beautiful people doing amazing things and having great adventures every show. Ask any TV or movie star with half a brain and they’ll tell you that the images you see of them on the screen and magazine covers are completely fake.

Careful going after the half-brained now. #mirrors

Feelings of Inadequacy

Life is never going to be like a TV show and this can make people very disillusioned when they compare it with their real life. The messages within television imply on a regular basis that we’re not pretty/smart/funny enough. Our lives can feel quite empty when compared to the perfection of the TV world.

I could not agree more, actually. Television is not real and viewers should never forget that basic fact. Even “reality” television is not real. Despite all the changes brought about by DVRs, online delivery and binge viewing, one foundation of television remains unchanged: It is made to sell. Ads, subscriptions, clicks, merchandise, DVDs. That’s why television exists. Television is not how most women look; it’s not how most men look. It’s not how most crimes are solved. It’s not what being president is like. It’s not the likelihood of surviving a major hull-loss incident. It’s only when your suspension of disbelief transforms into pure ignorance that a television viewer develops unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy.

Subliminal Programming and Advertising

Make no mistake that there is only one reason why television exists, and that is to sell products. No one is producing TV shows because they want to create great art. Every single part of every single TV program is designed to keep you in front of the TV and prepped to buy the advertised products through traditional advertising or product placements.

I already said this.

Television is designed to make you feel bad so you will buy products that make you feel better. It’s the ultimate in mind control systems. Companies figured out how to get us to voluntarily brainwash ourselves for their benefit.

Why do I want an ice cold Coca-Cola all of a sudden? Seriously. Now you’ve added an anti-marketing screed to your arrogance. You live in the real Uptown, don’t you?

It Degrades Your Self Control and Discipline

Thanks to the incredible psychological hooks that television uses, it’s very hard to stop watching it. We lose our self control and cannot turn off the television even though we may want to. As this continues, our self control and discipline decrease even further and the harder the battle becomes.

I think this is what gets thrown in as part of the standard holier-than-thou smugness that comes from people who look down their nose at television. We’re not supposed to turn it on, therefore we cannot bring ourselves to turn it off. Prediction: People who don’t watch TV still masturbate.

The Health Effects of Sitting Down

We now live a more sedentary life than ever before with most people having jobs behind a desk. We compound this problem when we go home and sit down in front of the TV as well, because the electrical activity in our muscles stops when we’re sitting. Research is showing even the most basic movement of walking or moving our bodies in subtle ways can make a big difference to our health.

Ermagerd, I’m gonna furking die. Not sitting down is the new grass-fed beef so it does make sense that the War on Sitting gets included here. Let me guess, you also drive a hybrid, don’t think Chipotle is real Mexican and make your own detergent? If only there was a way to — again I’m being totally hypothetical here — do 10 sit-ups during every commercial break or sneak in some push-ups during a pitching change. Alas, the unfortunate truth remains that once you flip on the tube you are invariably bolted to the couch through your ass. It’s like prison. Comfy, comfy prison.

We Teach Our Children These Habits

Children are now being trained to watch TV and live a sedentary lifestyle. There is a lot of research showing the negative effects on a child’s development due to both inactivity and the influence of television. Your children will imitate your lifestyle. [sic] so any choice you make will be echoed in the generations that follow.

If all your children see is you watching television you’ve got bigger problems. Parenting is hard, maybe you should try a goldfish.

Is It Really Relaxing?

My personal argument for watching TV is that it’s easy. You stop working for the day and get to relax and turn off your brain for a while, but the reality is that what is good for us is hardly ever the best thing.

I also get to relax when I’m out at a kung fu or dance class. I get to relax when I’m hanging out with friends or spending time with my girlfriend. I also get to relax when reading a book, listening to uplifting audio or even watching uplifting videos (like TED talks or educational materials).

OMFG wait…you know kung fu, too! Jeepers! Let me guess, all your chicken is free range and your software is open source. You have a girlfriend?!? You can read?!? YOU LISTEN TO TED TALKS?!? Shit, bro, the Dos Equis guy has nothing on you, my friend! I cannot believe I have been wasting my life away for the past two decades talking with my mom about last week’s The Young and the Restless when I could have been sitting in the corner of a coffee shop with my nose buried in a book and my hand warmed by a free trade frappuchino mocha with non-fat. (Non-fat is still cool, right?)

Our life-hacker closes:

We get one life to live … 

Clever bastard.

…and it’s up to us to make the most of it. Every hour of the day is an investment that pays off right now and in our future. Invest wisely and your life will actually be filled with truly beautiful people doing amazing things and having great adventures.

It’s time to stop watching television and start living instead.

Sorry, I guess my life sucks. Even though what you’ve done here is waste my time, which I could have spent looking for a job, and blasted me with negativity that changed my belief systems in a way that left me feeling very inadequate about myself.

Worst of all, I read it sitting down.


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