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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Press the freedom button

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.


The Great Wee Azoo said...

A good thing to do is to join one of the online DVD rental schemes and order all the arthouse movies you've ever wanted to see but refuse to pay £19.99 for. Record them and send them back. Voila - an instant DVD library of classic films.

yourcousin said...

Too true the TV is an idiot box. All the guys at work look at me funny when I tell them that I don't watch TV (ie it doesn't get any channels and is only for DVDs and PS2). My saving grace is that I still watch sports (at someone else's house) and can relate to movies. Although in fairness though I think we ought to mention the dangers of the internet and it's allure of endless blogs, news outlets etc. as an equally deadly time sucker.

JC Skinner said...

The core difference between the net and telly, not to diminish the risks of internet usage, is that of interactivity.
If you are mindlessly surfing shit on the net, you are still having to make choices about what you read and encounter, as opposed to TV, where they tell you what to watch.
White Dot have a very interesting piece on the different effects of net usage and TV addiction in their FAQs.

Missing Neighbour said...

I agree with most of what you say about TV. It is in the most part uninformative and highly insulting to most people of average intelligence. I do think it can be educational when it is well made, honest and not dumbed down to the point of nausea (something that is increasingly rare these days). I myself find it almost impossible to sit down and watch television for any extended period of time.
On a more humorous note maybe Nintendo have helped to solve the problem of sitting in front of the television like some sort of deep sea cod on mogadon. There will be no sitting around wide eyed and slack jawed for this child:

Frank said...

I can understand a lot of this. Soap operas, celebrities being put on islands or castles or, no doubt one day, space. Endless, endless amounts of shows set in hospitals or police stations.

Personally, I don't watch a lot of TV, but the shows I do watch, I think are, in my inflated sense of self-importance, quality, as good and as thought-provoking as any book. West Wing or Sopranos are obvious examples.

Even science-fiction, the only show I watch regularly these days, Battlestar Galactica, set the start of one series in a scenario where the heroes were suicide bombers battling a brutal unwanted occupation maintained through colloborators in the police.

And this is setting aside some of the good documentaries or current affairs programmes like Prime Time or Despatches. Or even some good comedies like Arrested Development

Cutting down the amount of television people watch would be an immense positive in my book, but the oceans of nonsense on it should not blind us to the quality that co-exists with it.

One last thing. Mock those travel shows, but for some people, it's the closest they'll ever come to seeing those places.

JC Skinner said...

Frank, I mock those travel shows precisely because they mock the viewers who, while sat on the couch doing nothing, will never hope to see those places.
If they weren't spending their lives viewing those shows, perhaps they would be out there travelling to them instead. Or at least doing something more productive.
Most of the shows you mentioned are ones I've watched and enjoyed. But I enjoyed them by watching them by my own volition, without advertising, at a time of my own choosing, not when the TV listings tell me to.
Watching TV per se is not the problem. Watching it mindlessly, turning it on just to see 'what's on', is the problem.