Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Some people are surprised at how little television I watch. I'm a bit like my local boozer, which has a telly in the corner, but it has a little sign underneath it that reads 'News and Sport Only.'
Basically, down the pub, the box goes on if there's a big game on, or for the Six-One news. All other times, it rests in blissful silence. I've adopted a similar policy.
This doesn't mean that no telly gets watched in our house. My other half is still an addict, and after a hard day's graft, like so many people, she likes to sprawl on the sofa and zone out in front of the goggle box.
I've long since learnt to either leave the room or ignore the prattle of the box in a zen-like fashion when she's watching.
This is not to say that there aren't things I might like to watch. But generally, those are few and far between. They tend to be documentaries about nature or history, or movies I haven't seen.
But the annoyance of having a programme broken up by hard-sell advertising, or on at an odd hour, simply doesn't suit me. So if I want to see those documentaries or movies, I simply go and rent them from the video store or download them (in an entirely legal manner, when available, of course!)
My objection to television is a scientific one - research has linked TV watching to everything from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder and autism among kids. Leaving your child in front of the boobtube is not the easy alternative to childminding you might have thought it was.
And for adults, the effects of television are just as baleful. Television watching causes insomnia, stress, indolence, obesity, and it doesn't educate, despite what its makers might tell you.
So dangerous is television to health that doctors are now being advised to monitor their patients' viewing habits as part of a general health check-up.
Television is anti-social, ruins public gathering places and the art of conversation, and erodes children's ability to create their own playtimes. It is the ideal tool for advertisers, short of beaming ads onto the inside of your eyelids, as the audience will mindlessly sit in front of their sales pitches for hours upon hours without moving.
It's time to turn off the demon in the corner of the room. Time to reclaim your leisure time and do something useful with it.
When I was a nipper, there was a TV programme on BBC during school holidays called 'Why Don't You...?' It was aimed at encouraging slothful kids out of the couch and outside to do something with their time that was useful. That impulse seems to be too ironic and subversive for contemporary TV producers. The programme was dropped years ago.
There is an organisation aimed at encouraging more people to free themselves from TV slavery. They are called White Dot. Ironically enough, I came across them on the television. They once used the media format they abhor to broadcast a documentary about the evils of television watching.
One of the exercises they suggested to the viewing public was so potent it has stuck with me, affecting my own viewing patterns and indeed my life as a whole. I urge you to try it yourself.
Get a shaving or make-up mirror and position it on top of your television so that when you sit in your favourite chair or couch, you can see your own reflection.
Then turn on the telly and start watching.
Wait for a moment of high drama, the sort of screaming match in the pub that soap operas love to portray, and look up suddenly from the screen to the mirror. See what you're doing while these imaginary people are living life in top gear.
Or turn over to a nice holiday show. When Kathryn Thomas is skiiing down the alps or scuba-diving in the Seychelles, look up from the box to the mirror and take note of what you're up to.
After a day or two with the mirror on the TV, you'll soon realise that a small cohort of actors and presenters are living a wonderful life which your indolence is paying for. By sitting in front of the box immobile, you facilitate the adverts and the funding that pays for their fantastic careers and existence.
While you, meanwhile, are doing nothing more than vegetating on your couch as life passes you by.
When that sinks in fully, you'll start watching less television, becoming truly discerning about your viewing, and eventually you'll be only turning it on to catch up with the news.
And many hours of your day will open up to you suddenly. In this time-precious world, you'll have freed up more hours in the day than you know what to do with.
So use your life. Write a novel, dig the garden, go for a walk, meet some friends for a pint, take up a hobby, or go to evening classes and learn a new skill or language.
Just as no one yet said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd done more overtime at work", no one is recorded to have said "I wish I'd watched more telly" either.
Join White Dot. Press the freedom button to turn the goggle box off, and reclaim your life today.