Television Simulating Life

Many people are now using television as a substitute for life.  The content of television – with its cuts, edits, zooms, pans, and sudden noises – mimics, although poorly, real life interaction.  The temptation is to substitute watching programs for participation in life’s events.  The brain is easily fooled by this counterfeit simulation of the real thing.

Researchers say that people lose their ability and confidence to interact socially after heavy viewing.  Statistically it has been found that television has the following negative effects:

1) The couch potato factor:  It takes away the time and incentive to exercise.  Individuals watching TV use even fewer calories than when sleeping!  Studies have found that heavy viewers are less likely to participate in community activities and sports and are more likely to be obese. 

2) Less social interaction: television poorly mimics interpersonal relationships, lessening the need and the ability to interact.   Introversion can result.

3) Snack attack:  The foods people choose while watching TV have been found to directly correlate with the advertising messages of the sponsors.  41% of the foods portrayed on TV are snack foods.  These foods contain high amounts of fats and sugars, which stimulate the appetite center and do not signal the brain that we are full. 

4) Vicarious experience:  Watching others engage in new experiences drains the motivation of viewers to go out into the real world.  The mind becomes used to letting a source outside of itself give it data for conclusions.  Curiosity, intellectual questioning, and learning from one’s own experiences are slowed down

when television watching is increased.  Watching television does not put one in touch with other people, or even with ourselves.  Instead, it bombards the individual with the agenda and values of the TV programmers and advertisers.  Spending a lot of time in front of the TV feeds loneliness.  It encourages viewers to let someone else decide what’s interesting. 

Television As A Drug

One determination as to whether a substance or a behavior is an addiction lies in whether the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms.  Substances that are addictive involve the triggering of a reaction and a subsequent cessation. 

In the 1960’s, Gary A. Steiner of the University of Chicago followed families whose TV sets had broken.  “The family,” he recounted, “walked around the house like chickens without heads.”  He related some of the comments by those involved in the study: “It was terrible.  We did nothing – my husband and I screamed constantly.  Children bothered me; my nerves were on edge.  Tried to interest them in games, but impossible.”

In experiments, families have volunteered to stop watching TV.  Many of them could not complete the short period of self-restraint.  Charles Winick of the City University of New York concluded that, just as with chemical dependence, the first three or four days of withdrawal from TV were the worst.  In over half the households, during those first few days, regular routines were disrupted and family members had difficulty adjusting; anxiety and aggression were expressed.  People living alone tended to be bored and irritated.  People had lost the inner resources to entertain themselves.

To Sum Up

Television watching increases passivity in human behavior by developing reliance on vicarious experiences.  People interact less with each other and more with the “electronic babysitter.” 

TV promotes avoidance of movement and exercise and encourages overeating.  Dr. John Foreyt, obesity expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has said that the strongest predictor of obesity, especially childhood obesity, is the number of hours spent in front of a television. 

The constant visual and auditory stimulation coming from the TV set is addictive.   Knowing that TV is, in fact, a drug, can help us combat its deleterious effects.  Like any drug, the first hit, or in the case of TV, the first program, leads to watching more.  One sitcom turns into another…until the evening is gone, and with it the opportunity to interact with loved ones, build interpersonal relationships, communicate with children, exercise, take up a new hobby, or take an adult education course at school. 

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