Jan 21

Kill Your Television!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zzkt

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zzkt

 

I used to watch a lot of television. It seemed natural. Everyone else did it and being a social creature and wanting to fit in I went along. I’ve since learned there are few things in our lives that are such a destructive force to our time, money and happiness.

I actually still own a couple of televisions but now they spend the vast majority of their time powered down. I can go days weeks months without turning one on and when I do it is usually to watch a movie or to stream music.

We got rid of hundreds of toxic channels a few years ago and now only have access to the basic networks, C-SPAN and whatever other garbage included with the ‘basic package’. It is such a low level of TV service it’s not advertised anywhere on the cable companies website. They assume that no rational person would want this few choices unless they were completely destitute.

So why kill your TV? Three reasons:

 

  1. It destroys time.
  2. It destroys money.
  3. It destroys happiness.

 

Television is extremely toxic and should only be used with extreme caution by people completely aware of its awesome power.

 

Now I realize that these statements are slightly provocative, but stay with me here. Let’s go over each one in detail.

It destroys time:

The latest data I have seen shows the average American adult watches on average about 32 hours of television a week.  When I first read this I thought it was a typo. I literally couldn’t believe this represented the average person. I figured for sure this was some extreme end of the bell shaped curve. Nope, this is average. I almost stopped writing at this point out of sheer depression. Kids are not far behind incidentally and probably are only lagging adults because they require more sleep to function.

If you would like to stop reading for a bit and shake your head in disbelief please do…

Alright lets analyze this for a minute. According to google there are 168 hours in a week. Throw 40 hours of work in there and a nice healthy 8 hours a night of sleep and lets see what we get.

168(total)-56(sleep)-40(work)-32(TV) = about 40 hours left over from a week.

This is 5.7 hours/day to eat, commute, bathe, groom, raise kids, exercise, maintain friendships, learn, etc..

My suspicion after just a few minutes observing the general population is that the average American cuts corners in one of more of these areas. I wonder how many healthy home cooked meals are prepared in this average TV watchers home. I wonder how much daily exercise is sacrificed. I wonder how much reading goes on. I wonder what the kids are learning to do with their free time. Simply put, each hour you watch TV is an hour takes from becoming more awesome!

It destroys money:

The least expensive monetary cost of television ironically is the purchase of the actual TV. A quick internet search revealed dozens of 50 inch+ television sets* for less than 1000 500 dollars. I’m sure with a little patience 500 300 dollars will buy a nice TV that will last years. For the more frugal types, a used TV can be had for almost nothing. It is the sneaky collateral damage that is most destructive though.

A television is the dirty bomb of consumerism, leaving its surrounding environment contaminated, dangerous and unproductive.

At the core is the insidious radiation of advertising. If you are going to pollute your life with one of these at least filter out the advertising the best you can. Traditional programming is so inundated with advertisements I consider it unwatchable.

Advertising is everywhere. Advertising creates false needs and desires. Advertisers know more about psychology and human nature than you do, and they will win.

Great, I will just DVR everything, skip the advertisements and boom, problem solved. Gosh I’m smart, why the hell am I reading this drivel?

If it were only that simple maybe we could just agree that television ONLY destroys time and happiness but the truth is it’s NOT that simple. Advertisers know you are going to skip the commercials, they are not stupid. Much advertising is built into the programming through product placement and branding. Also if you don’t think advertisers have tested the effectiveness of their advertisements viewed in silence and 4x speed you are just not cynical enough.

Even more insidious though is that these shows for the most part portray the idea that a consumer driven lifestyle is to be admired. Living a life of happy consumer slavery will being happiness. It is often subtle but if you look for it you will see it.

But even if you stubbornly argue that you are immune to the effects of advertising and will not buy a single unnecessary product as a result, there is still the additional loss of productive time. Every hour of watching television is an hour less of precious free time.  We simply need more than 5 hours a day to tend to our lives and our loved ones. Scarcity of time will cost you.

Life costs more when we substitute monetary solutions for time. When time is scarce we eat more expensive, processed unhealthy foods. When we neglect our health it costs us more down the road in direct and indirect medical costs. When time is scarce we outsource more of our needs whether these are childcare, cleaning, maintenance, etc. We have less time for our intellectual development and continuing financial education. We often cut corners on sleep to find more time in the day which leads to poorer overall decision making.

Optional homework: find the happy and successful people you know. ask them how much television they watch.

It destroys happiness:

A recent study about happiness revealed that unhappy people watch more television. Other studies correlated increased depression with more TV watching. Now this does not prove television causes unhappiness, as correlation does not imply causation. In other words maybe unhappy people just watch more television. Also most of us would admit that watching TV is at least somewhat of a pleasurable experience. So how and why does is destroy happiness? The reasons are multiple and complex.

First let’s explore why we watch TV and what it does to our brain. TV hits our visual and auditory systems with stimulus which in turn releases chemicals in our brain like dopamine and serotonin which make us feel good. Like any pleasurable stimulus this works in moderation. However, the goal of TV programs is to get you to consume as much as possible so you are exposed the maximum amount of advertising you will tolerate. Thus television is by its very nature is designed to be addictive.

The purpose of television is to create false desires and to sell you things you don’t need.

Seriously – its that simple.That’s the business model. No rational business person would design it any different. It is a drug. Drugs make you feel high. Feeling high is pleasurable, but I would not recommend drug addiction or alcohol abuse to anyone as a vehicle for happiness.

Your brain adapts to increasing levels of neurotransmitters by decreasing the sensitivity, thus you will require more and more stimulus to produce the same pleasurable effect.

It is true that TV may allows one to live in the moment, to get consumed by the story, and maybe in small amounts this is not a bad thing. What destroys happiness though is that you are replacing living in your moment, being present in your life with being present for a fantasy, or being present in someone else’s reality. It is false presence, the illusion of mindfulness.

Additionally the advertising is once again an offending agent. Advertisements are designed to create  subconscious desire for the advertisers’ product. In a few cases these are products that are needs, but for the most part advertisers are selling wants. A good advertisement will create a desire, a longing, and a feeling of incompleteness that can only be fulfilled by their product. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Happiness is being destroyed. Anxiety is created. Spending money on their product is the cure.

 

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

Once you rid yourself of television there will be freedom that will be very subtle at first, but will grow with time. After a few months without television going back to it will seem strange and uncomfortable in large doses (especially with advertisements every 10 minutes). It will rightfully seem unnatural (sitting in from of a box with glowing lights spewing out passive entertainment is not natural or healthy in case you were still wondering).

What about news?

I need to know what is going on in the world. Without the news I won’t be able to function in this increasingly complex and dangerous world we live in!

No…you don’t.

This is sure to anger many of you reading these next few paragraphs, but I don’t care.Contain your anger for a few more minutes and read on for an uncomfortable blast of reality…

Since news programming works the same way as all television programming (advertisement driven and addictive) you are stuck with all the same problems I have detailed in the above paragraphs. But what is even worse is that there will be new unhealthy emotions which are created and amplified: anger and fear. News is even worse than the mindless sit com or “reality” television program because at least these do not usually lead to fear and anger. In fact, taking a news holiday is one of the best therapies for anxiety I have ever tried.

If you are going to eliminate only a part of your television watching, news should be the first thing to go. Watching news is not going to make you happier, and will likely not result in actionable change you can apply to your life.

Watching the news distorts our perception of risk. With 7 billion plus people going about their business there is no doubt going to be many people suffering horrible tragedies each and every hour of the day. Watching a recap of the worst ones at the end of each day is senseless. Of course, now with multiple 24 hour news channels readily available, waiting until dinner time for the daily dose of gloom and depression seems like a quaint notion.

With every murder, plane crash and terrorist attack we watch on TV it gives the impression that these are likely events to happen to us. It results in anxiety, fear and depression, in spite of the fact we are living in one of the statistically safest times ever in human history.

In reality, of the top 10 causes of death in the United States in 2013 only two of them were non-psychiatric medical problems (accidents and suicide). Yes that is correct, murder and terrorism are not in the top 10. Many of the medical deaths are either partially or mostly preventable by not smoking and eating healthy (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease), not drinking (cirrhosis), getting proper vaccines and medical care (influenza and pneumonia) and getting proper mental health care (suicide). Instead of watching television news and worrying about low probability events, most of us would be much better served by focusing our time and effort of making ourselves happy, healthy and fulfilled.

In other words, stop watching television and read this blog instead!

Now I’m not saying murder and terrorism aren’t important things in the world. They are. But unless it is your job to directly work on these problems you don’t need to be constantly bombarded by information about them. And even if it is your job to fight terrorism or solve murders I’m pretty confident you will not be getting your information from a 24 hour cable news station.

Get your information from books, peer reviewed journals or if you insist on polluting your mind with the occasional magazine or newspaper article you have my permission. Be selective. Pay attention to how you feel after consuming news. If you feel agitated and have gained no actionable information** then stop, put it down and find a better use of your time and energy.

So why are we drawn to television? It’s one thing to spew out facts and intellectualize the harm of something, but the real truth comes in knowing ourselves. We use television to escape the painful reality that the majority of our day is spent doing things we don’t want to do. As we stumble through these days and live our lives of quiet desperation we turn to television to forget, to numb ourselves to reality. Mind numbing work or school. Empty relationships. It is an easy way out. It is an easy place to hide from life.

Go talk to your kids, take a bike ride, reconnect with your partner, read a book. Connect with life. Kill your television and instead do something awesome.


 

*If you click on this Amazon link and buy a television I will hang my head in shame and promptly donate any commission I receive to some worthy cause to try and counterbalance the levels of ridiculousness in the universe. Namaste.

 

**close to 100% of the time in my experience.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/inoneear/

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  1. /rant on
    Oh no!!!! Not another diatribe against the TV! I love mine and you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

    But maybe you’ve been TV’ing wrong all these years? Because my TV experience sounds nothing like yours.

    Time
    What is unlimited time for if not to pursue leisure as you see fit? For me, leisure includes enjoying the outdoors, exploring, traveling, reading books, playing video/computer games, learning, and watching TV. TV is simply a source of leisure and entertainment, much like the other sources of entertainment and fulfillment in one’s life.

    Money
    I’ve never spent $500 on a TV set yet I have two large HD screens (one of which rarely gets used) hanging on the walls in various rooms in my house. Throw in $50-100 here and there for media devices to play content and $4/month for a shared netflix account and now we’re talking $500. But that’s some cheap entertainment! Amortize the cost over a few years and you’re paying no more than a couple of movie outings for the family.

    Happiness
    I get it – 8 hours of daytime TV drivel would suck my soul. Which is why I don’t watch it.

    I watch good stuff instead. Deeply entertaining, edgy, enlightening, challenging, moving stuff. Because I enjoy it.

    Today’s TV experience is the ultimate in flexibility and choice. Imagine if a king or queen from the Elizabethan period discovered a 60″ plasma with Netflix. The court jesters would have been fired (soooooo incredibly boring after watching all the beautiful diverse content in HD!).

    /rant off

    Ok, off to have some lunch and watch something edgy and funny on TV for a while. 🙂

    1. Haha! Feel free to rant over here any time Justin. I get what you are saying but allow me to retort 😉

      Reading your blog I declare you unusual (in a good way!). You have achieved awesomely early financial independence, have more free time than most, create awesome writing in your free time and still have time left over to watch some passive entertainment. Also, you are obviously highly resistant to toxic advertising (implied from your early FI).

      Simply put, the average person working a full time job with a soul crushing commute who eats crappy, exercises infrequently and hardly knows their kids does not have the time to waste in front of the television. 4-5 hours of TV a day is AVERAGE! I still don’t know if I believe that statistic…

      There is some cool stuff and great entertainment being produced, no doubt. In small doses it is OK, but most people I know can not consume it responsibly. It is like alcohol to an alcoholic. Know yourself. Watch responsibly (sheesh, I sound like a beer commercial).

      It is cheap entertainment for sure, but even if the cable company started offering 700 channels for free I would not upgrade. I don’t need more things to fill the space in my life. At a point, entertainment becomes clutter. I would tell anyone who is ‘busy’ or ‘doesn’t have enough free time’ to go cold turkey. Quit consuming television and movies for 30 days. See what happens and add back the dose that feels right, feels uncluttered.

      Thanks for your comments, I appreciate you taking the time 🙂

      1. I’m not sure I believe the 4-5 hours per day either. I don’t even watch 4-5 hours per day and would probably get bored if I did!

        I see where you’re coming from – the average person who is still working is already crunched for time and you are right, they can ill afford to waste it sitting in front of a TV for hours per day.

        I’m not sure I would take a free 700 channel cable TV package either. I don’t know that that’s “more” in any real sense than the tens of thousands of episodes one can already consume from Amazon Prime or Netflix for a few bucks per month for each. Except with the live streaming you get zero commercials. I can’t stand those commercials. No thanks!

        For me, TV is just another form of entertainment. No better and no worse than reading a book, watching a concert, listening to music, or browsing the galleries at the art museum. TV is performing art.

        I also find myself getting more engaged in subjects after watching TV. Watch a documentary on WW2? Oh, what kind of books can I read to get more in depth about particular topics surrounding WW2?

  2. Whoops – hit submit too soon.

    I totally agree with you on the TV news. Absolute complete garbage. The only relevant thing is the weather and there’s an app on your smartphone for that (smartphones are kosher still, correct?).

    I like to get my news in digest format. The Economist mails out a few emails per week with nice summaries of the most important world events. Otherwise, I keep up to date with relevant local, state, and national issues from Facebook. My neighbors and friends (along with my like button and “ignore posts” button) are much better at curating timely and relevant (to me) news than any TV news editor.

  3. “Television is the dirty bomb of consumerism” – wow, that’s quote of the week material!

    I appreciate the vigor, but I am s TV defender. I grew up with it, enjoy watching, and made my living creating TV ads for a long time. You are right that TV ads work. But they only work because they reach a MASS audience. Most spots are irrelevant to most of the audience, but when you see a product you are interested in, you can be entertained & informed like no other media can provide.

    1. Hahaha, thanks MrFireStation. Appreciate you stopping by.

      TV is pleasurable just like any drug. I do not disagree with you. This is why people spend 30+ hours a week watching it. Nicotine and alcohol feel great too, but it doesn’t mean they are good for you.

      I understand my position is unpopular but I stand by my guns – advertising of any sort is designed to create a need or unconscious desire. It is specifically designed to push your evolutionary buttons. Good advertising goes right to the reptilian brain, stimulating very primitive drives and desires. Nobody in their right mind desires shitty watered down light beer – it is the advertising that creates this desire by mixing in a sense of belonging and vague implications that your sex life will somehow be better as a result of drinking it 😉

      It’s interesting, every now and then I will watch something (maybe a playoff game or something) and I’ve noticed a shift in the tone and style of many advertisements. It seems they are getting shorter and more subtle – I wonder if this has to do with the influence of social media and how we consume our entertainment. People just won’t tolerate an advertisement that is not clever and entertaining. I saw one for some protein drink in front of a youtube video that I watched all the way to the end because it was so clever and entertaining…yes even this cynical philosopher is not immune!

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more! Television is such an unbelievable time suck for so many. It’s also damaging developmentally and addictive for kids when they are allowed to do without any restraints on their time. Although I agree with Justin that in moderation television can be great fun—I love movies—but when it becomes your default to come home from work and watch 5+ hours of TV, that’s just ridiculous.

    We send our kids to a Waldorf school for just this reason. They are very sensitive to “screen time” and strongly discourage it. What else is there for a kid to do? Ride a bike! Read a book! Go swimming! Play with friends! Invent a game! Draw a picture! Build a fort! TV and movies are entertaining, but I couldn’t agree more that they should be very limited.

  5. I enjoy TV but only to a point. I find some shows entertaining and find it relaxing to watch one I enjoy at the end of the day. I think the big thing is the amount you watch. If you are watching nonstop each day, I could see how that could have a negative effect on your life. Like just about anything else, it is all about balance!

  6. When my son was in 7th grade, his school performance began to suffer. As a single parent, I had to continue to work while I expected him to get his school work done in the afternoon before I got home. In desperation, I cut off cable, put the TV into the attic, and pronounced it dead.

    That was 15 years ago. To this day, neither of us have watched TV again. My son is hard working, and successful, and I think everything you have posted is correct. It injects us with “wants”, distracts us with “bright and shiny”, and does little to help us. Ever try watching an educational show? 5 minutes of info, 2 minutes of commercials, and when the show restarts it takes a couple minutes to repeat what they just said.

    I’m convinced that the constant array of flashing “light” from the TV pushes the Reticular Activating System to untested limits in our brains. Not tested, not scientific, but my opinion only….

    1. Great story Planedoc! Your theory is interesting and would make a great research project. I think we can all agree that watching screens is not our natural state. Whenever I have been staring a a screen for too long (work, writing, movie, etc.) I find that taking a walk and being in nature ‘heals my brain’ and resets me to a more healthy baseline. The strange thing is I don’t restrict my kids from watching TV, they just have no interest in watching it. If they are going to be in from of a screen they play video games, or watch the occasional movie. I think this is because they never see their parents watch the TV and never had that behavior to model after.

    • Ron Cameron on July 31, 2017 at 1:51 pm
    • Reply

    I think the thing TV is guiltiest of is being an enabler. By itself it isn’t bad. Justin watching a WW2 documentary is probably pretty good stuff. Ron falling down the rabbit hole and watching crap that is a waste of life is different. I loved LOST the first time. I should not, however, watch it again!

    And it’s very, very hard to NOT watch the garbage if your couch is your relax/unwind zone and you just finished the documentary and OH LOOK up next is a documentary on the guy that created Legos and blahblahblah.

    Just like alcohol, in small doses and self-regulated it can be great, but on average it’s very hard to keep those doses small!

  7. Great post. And I believe every word. Trouble is, after a long day and the kids are finally off to bed, there’s little energy left to do anything but turn on that damn box! We only watch for an hour, but that’s an hour we could be using towards something a helluva lot more awesome.

    Appreciate the inspiration. I’m going to suggest a reading hour tonight!

    1. I find reading quiets the mind and makes sleep better than screens 🙂

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