October 22, 2003

Your TV: Kill or Be Killed

Patti has a decent comment on the Cable Science Network post. She ends it with:

TV is overrated. I'm not a "kill your TV" person--the box has its place. I'm just not interested in being a slave to what my mother always called "the boob tube."
She also points out that TV takes time away from other activities, like reading. It's an excellent point.

I have to say that when I have a serialized story TV show I like to watch, I sometimes feel like a slave to the tube. I really don't watch much broadcast television at all. At our house, the TV is mostly used for watching DVDs. Maggie completely avoids the TV, except for every few years when we are doing renovations. She gets an urge to have Home Garden TV on while she's working, but spends limited time at that.

The kids have a limit set on their TV viewing, and they only complain while they're watching TV. Deprive them of TV for a couple of days and they don't miss it anymore. They do play a video games, often with me (a race game, or a board-type game like Mario Party II).

But we're really talking here about 2 things.

  1. the quality of broadcast TV
  2. time spent on better things
My broadcast TV viewing used to happen (and is starting to happen again) when I am exercising. I use it as an incentive to use the treadmill. I figure, if I am going to feel hooked to a show, I may as well try to use that to motivate myself. Thats why I have a slightly harder time staying on the exercise schedule when the shows are off-season.

There is quality TV out there, it's just in the minority. And I don't really want to sit through the junk to find out what it is. It's easier to just let the critics and viewers decide and then rent the shows when they come to DVD. (As with The Sopranos).

Ideally, the TV ought to be a resource, not a taskmaster. That's why so many people like TIVO. Instead of being chained to the TV, you can approach it like a menu from which to dine. I manage this situation manually by recording every single show I watch and time-shifting it. I don't watch anything live anymore. I waste less time (no commercials) and I don't have to be a slave to the tube because I can drop the show in a second to do anything else. No commitment whatsoever.

No, Patti, I don't think your comments came off as snotty. TV is a vast wasteland, and we're not lying to our kids when we tell them that it shrinks their brains. The challenge in TV is using tools to separate the wheat from the chaff (there is some wheat there, I think we all agree), and it is all too easy to get sucked in to a mediocre show. in some ways, that makes it like a drug. Another opiate of the masses.

TV news is a whole separate subject. I think the "10 minutes of news" your journalism professor was talking about has now been reduced to about 40 seconds of news.

If there were a real science channel with informative documentary content, I'd have to seriously consider getting TIVO. Even now, NOVA is consistently the most interesting show I fail to watch every week (it's tough to watch documentaries because the captions are tougher to read while you're running -- most other TV has fewer words).

But TV cannot educate people. People educate themselves, and they can use the TV to help do that.

Sometimes I wonder about all the things people could have done if they weren't watching TV. But, then again, what about all the not-so-great things that people might have done if they weren't distracted by that opiate. The balance depends on what you think the inclination of the masses is. Just what would people do with their free time if TV were to suddenly disappear tomorrow, for an entire year?

Posted by James at October 22, 2003 3:29 PM
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