November 4, 2007
How TV Makes You Dumb
Does Watching TV Really Make You Dumb?
TV makes you dumb. But it’s oh-so-good nonetheless. And therein lies the problem. The “boob-tube” is aptly named.
I heard this guy being interviewed the other day who said that his really good friend was a writer for a major TV crime drama on a network station. He said his friend was reprimanded by his superiors for writing plots and dialog that were too complicated and required too much of the viewer’s full attention. He was summarily told to dumb-down his writing to allow for dish-washing watching. In other words, make the plots and dialogs easy enough to follow for a person to be capable of following it while washing the dishes.
Okay, so I think that says it all. A lot of mainstream TV is seriously dumbed down. It is purposefully made for multi-tasking. In fact, I’m watching TV right now as I write this, seriously.
But does it make you dumber? I sometimes envisage the television set silently and invisibly sucking brain cells and synapses out of my brain the minute I switch it on. I imagine that the longer I watch, the more of my brain matter is methodically extracted. I guess this is just a fantasy, but I really do believe it does indeed make you stupid.
Ways TV Makes You Dumber
- TV puts you in a mild trance-like state where your brain shuts down and is left unchallenged (I’m pretty sure there have been studies that have shown that TV does have a hypnotic affect on the brain)
- It rewards you for doing nothing, sort of like a drug, and that can’t be good for you
- It’s a passive activity, non-interactive, so watching TV is something that is being done to you, not with you, again leaving you completely unchallenged.
- TV usually panders to the lowest common intellectuall denominator
- It efficiently and all-too-often takes the place of activities that could potentially expand our intelligence, such as conversing, reading, or project undertakings
- Television is intimately tied to advertising and consumerism, so the goal of most programs is to promote capitalism (through commercials and actual program content), and not to represent reality. TV often distorts reality and manipulates meanings in a way that benefits advertisers. Since we have a tendency to believe what we see on TV, our minds are susceptible to being influenced in a way that benefits advertisers and promotes the goals of consumerism, which is often at odds with intelligence.
- TV pushes upon us the erroneous mindset that if we only buy a certain product or service, we’ll be happy. Furthermore, and even more damaging is that this implies that if we are not currently satisfied or happy, then there must be something wrong with us. This is a horrible state of affairs, because as the Buddha so elegantly put it, life is suffering. There is no escape from suffering, and the sooner we accept this, the better off we’ll be. I remember this one commercial I saw for an over-the-counter pain reliever that claimed to be “one more step to a pain-free life”, implying that life is supposed to be pain-free!
- In George Leonard’s book Mastery, Leonard explains that TV shapes our thinking in a way that makes us believe that the outcome is more important than the process, that everything can be achieved, resolved or wrapped up within a specified and short period or time. Again, this is a bastardization of reality. Life simply does not work this way. Most things aren’t black and white. And most things that are worthwhile do not take a half hour or hour to achieve. He explains that both TV shows and commercials present viewers with an unrealistic rhythm of life where problems are encountered and then resolved by the end of the commercial or show, and that it is one climax after another. So watching TV distorts our perception of reality, which makes you less intelligently equipped to deal with the real world.
- Our minds are further warped by constantly watching beautiful people enjoy wonderful lives, called the Beautiful People Syndrome by Ron Kaufman (http://www.turnoffyourtv.com/commentary/syndrome.html) Thus we tend to erroneously believe that our lives ought te be filled with goodness, perfect looks and perfect lives, and that if we don’t have this, then there is something wrong with us.
- Here’s an interesting tidbit of info from http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=805412: Scientists did a calorimetric test to determine energy consumption while watching TV. What they found surprised them. They found that on average people watching TV consumed ten per cent less energy than normal resting energy consumption. That’s right, you actually consume more energy sitting there doing nothing than when you are watching TV. There is a simple explanation. It seems that this is due to the concentration people exert while watching TV reducing the amount of fidgeting and random movement people do. While fidgeting may be a major part of one’s resting energy use, thinking uses up energy, too. The neurons in the brain aren’t very good at holding their own energy for long, so glial cells in the brain constantly transfer energy to the brain cells, energy taken from the blood. So if you keep your body steady but try solving a differential equation, you’ll probably find yourself losing more energy than while sitting and doing nothing at all. Of-course, TV excites neurons in the primary visual areas, but perhaps that’s, on average, as far as it goes ;). We may lose less calories watching TV because we’re not using our brains to think, only to watch.
The problem is that TV often feels so good. It’s the ultimate in laziness. You don’t have to do a thing, it’s done for you and to you without having to put in any effort. You don’t have to participate in life at all when watching TV. It allows you to escape life, avoid your problems and numb your brain. In all these ways, TV is truly like a drug. And those who put people down for abusing alcohol or drugs but then go on to watch too much TV are simply being hypocritical.
I remember when I was a child, I was hooked on TV much to the chagrin of my dad, who is the intellectual type and has always known the dangers of TV. So he handed down a new law that I had to live by. I think it was that I was allowed 2 hours of TV a day and no more. Every time I went over my allotted 2 hours, he took .50 cents out of my allowance. I remember that we never had cable because my dad didn’t want us to have even more temptation. I clearly recall how Stripes starring Bill Murray came out on HBO and everyone at school talked about it endlessly. I felt so left out and deprived. Unfortunately, all that did has made me appreciate TV even more as an adult, and sometimes I catch myself watching way too much on a daily basis.
Child Development and TV
And I have a child on the way now. How am I going to manage and regulate his TV viewing? How should I? I recently read that Baby Einstein, a TV video series that is purported to be good for children’s development is actually bad for them. In the latest study on the effects of popular videos such as the “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” series, researchers found that these videos may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers. Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.” (from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1650352,00.html). Interactivity is paramount for the development of babies. Face time with people trumps passive TV watching every time.
We have a brand new HD LCD flat screen that is huge. I absolutely love it and it has inevitably increased my television consumption. It’s like one side of our living room has been transformed into a massive wall of entertainment. It calls to me at all hours of the day and night and I can’t get enough of it. How on Earth am I going to be able to limit my child’s TV watching when I love it and have a huge new HDTV?! I knew it was stupid to have purchased it.
But I really think TV makes you dumb, so I guess I am going to have to be strong and seriously limit my child’s viewing.
I just read this startling article on CNN:
Kids’ TV time linked to school woes, bad habits - Young children who watch a lot of TV aren’t just missing out on more stimulating activities. They may also be destined for problems at school and unhealthier habits later in life, new research suggests.
AND . . . watching too much TV seems to take years off your life too! Check out this health.com article.