Thursday, July 07, 2005

Television Versus Reading

I'm quite behind on reading the TLS. It doesn't help that I usually get it a week after it is published in the UK and sometimes not for two weeks after depending on the vagaries of the mail. So it happens on occasion that I will be caught up and then it doesn't arrive until two weeks later when I get two of them in the mail and then a third a few days after that. So I find myself reading the edition from June 17th which came the same day last week as the one from June 24th and now I got the one from July 1st today. I complained once to my sister about how they arrive "late" and she told me that she didn't know what I was so upset about because it was only book reviews and as far she knows those don't expire and generally aren't time sensitive. She had a point, but still. All that to explain why I am just getting to the review about three books on happiness. The books sound interesting but what caught my attention was this:

With happiness as with food, what is and feels good in the short run is not always what is good over time. Consider television, which is to happiness what McDonald’s is to slenderness. People enjoy television for many reasons, and even infants will turn to its rapidly changing colourful images as a plant does to the sun. In excess, television promotes passivity and anxiety, filling time that people might otherwise spend on activities that are intrinsically satisfying and create a sense of competence. Yet, given a choice, many people choose television and other narcotic pleasures that dull the mind and quell its restless search for meaning over activities that, in their complexity and challenge, offer the real promise of satisfaction.
Television takes away quite a bit of time from our lives and we don't seem to mind much. Well, most don't seem to mind. I mind and try to make it a point to watch very little tv. I probably watch about 3 hours of tv a week on average and it bothers me that I watch that much. It cuts in to my reading time. Quite a few years ago just before my husband and I moved from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, we got rid of our tv. It was a huge console monster that my husband's parents had given us before they left LA for Las Vegas. We off loaded it onto my parents. After we arrived in Minneapolis it was a year before we decided to buy a tv so we could rent movie videos. That year I read more than I ever have in any year where I kept track. I haven't been able to duplicate it since. So why is it that I feel compelled to watch television at all? In some respects I feel like it keeps me connected to other people. When I can go to work and talk to coworkers about who won on Dancing with the Stars last night it gives us a common ground. If I try to solicit conversation about Umberto Eco's latest novel I guarantee I'll get mostly blank stares, Umberto who? So in that context watching tv actually promotes happiness because it gives me something to chat with coworkers about. That's just an excuse really. There are other times when the tv is on because it is there and it is easy. It takes no effort to watch television. But even though reading makes me happy, the tv still wins and I will sit and scowl my way through some pointless sitcom or reality show. Like the reviewer writes, in spite of television not making us happy even when given a choice most choose the tv. The tv makes no demands and after a long tiring day at work meeting other people's demands and then coming home only to be faced with demands from family, the tv is a breather. Or it seems like one. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this or what point if any I am trying to make. The passage in the review really got my attention for some reason. Not all tv is bad but I think most of it is. And if it is escape that is wanted I think books are better than the television any day. Now, how to convince more people of that? And next time I turn on the tv instead of picking up a book, how do I remind myself to turn off the "idiot box"?