Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sensory confusion

Television's mighty grasp on the eyeballs of the viewer is partly due to the human body's inability to react to the transmitted programming. Images from the glowing, pulsing TV screen are simulating, however the nature of the medium does not permit the body to respond appropriately. The body wants to react to the barrage of images, but cannot. This sensory disorientation - the TV watcher is visually and aurally simulated while remaining physically passive - confuses the mind. These conflicting messages and feelings succeed in creating an almost hypnotic trance in the viewer.

In his book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander described how many avid TV watchers described the experience of sitting in front of the tube:

  • "I feel hypnotized when I watch television."
  • "Television sucks my energy."
  • "I feel like it's brainwashing me."
  • "I feel like a vegetable when I'm stuck there at the tube."
  • "Television spaces me out."
  • "My kids look like zombies when they're watching."
  • "I feel mesmerized by it."
  • "If a television is on, I just can't keep my eyes off it."
Anyone who has spent time watching television should agree with some, if not all, of these statements. Mander clarifies the comments by mentioning that not all the perceptions were negative. "Often the people who described themselves as 'spaced out' liked the experience. They said it helped them forget about their otherwise too busy lives," writes Mander. "Others found it 'relaxing,' saying that it helped them 'forget about the world.' Some who used terms like 'brainwashed' or 'addicted' nonetheless felt that television provided them with good information or entertainment, although there was no one who felt television lived up to its 'potential.'"

Mander's book was published in 1978 yet the experience of watching TV has not changed. Television is still a passive medium -- one that requires the watcher to remain silent and still. Unlike any other leisure time activity, watching TV is completely physically passive. (The only other comparison would be going to watch a movie, however one must actually travel to the theater, and buy a ticket, popcorn, etc. Going to watch a movie is an actual experience or event unlike watching TV, whose hours and hours of inactivity blend into each other.) The inactive nature of TV viewing creates in interesting psychological paradox - the more people watch, the worse they feel and, in turn, the more they watch.

The most complete study of TV habit and addiction comes from researchers Robert Kubey, a professor at Rutgers University and director of the Center for Media Studies, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. In the article "Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor," (Scientific American, February 2002) Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi describe their experiment and results.

"As one might expect, people who were watching TV when we beeped them reported feeling relaxed and passive.

"What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. Survey participants commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted. They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading. After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people report improvements in mood. After watching TV, people's moods are about the same or worse than before.

"Thus, the irony of TV: people watch a great deal longer than they plan to, even though prolonged viewing is less rewarding. In our ESM studies the longer people sat in front of the set, the less satisfaction they said they derived from it. When signaled, heavy viewers (those who consistently watch more than four hours a day) tended to report on their ESM sheets that they enjoy TV less than light viewers did (less than two hours a day)."

In a paper entitled "Television Dependence, Diagnosis, and Prevention," Professor Kubey describes a cyclical effect of watching television. Heavy TV watchers tend to be people who feel anxious or lonely and watching TV provides a break from negative thoughts or ruminations. Providing a pseudo-social media experience, the television creates a virtual connection between the watcher and other people, however this does nothing to help the real feelings of loneliness or boredom.

Kubey explains that "the possibility of a vicious circle wherein the experience of negative moods and thoughts when alone and when unstructured may interact with the ease with which people can quickly escape these feelings by viewing. As a result of many hours spent viewing television over many years, some people may become unpracticed in spending time alone, entertaining themselves, or even in directing their own attention."

Watching TV can never be a true substitute for real-life experiences. Kubey explains that his research shows that heavy viewers get trapped watching TV. "In short, a television viewing habit may be self-perpetuating," writes Kubey. "Viewing may lead to more viewing and may elicit what has been called 'attentional inertia,' i.e., 'the longer people look at television, the greater is the probability that they will continue to look.' Discomfort in noncommitted, or solitary time, can lead to viewing, but after years of such behavior and a thousand hours or more of viewing each year, it seems quite possible that an ingrained television habit could cause some people to feel uncomfortable when left with 'nothing to do,' or alone, and not viewing."

Kubey's conclusion makes perfect logical sense. Television watching is not an "experience" but instead it replaces experiences. So TV watchers exchange the real world for the virtual one behind the screen. The cultural pressure and acceptance of heavy TV watching combined with the habitual nature of the medium can produce an unholy marriage between one's inactivity and boredom.

Breaking the addiction
Psychological research suggests that TV can certainly become addictive and that heavy TV watchers display all the symptoms of a non-substance behavioral addiction. Breaking free of TV, and any addiction, is not an easy task. The difficulty in replacing television images with different (and more substantial) activities is the greatest obstacle breaking the addiction.

There is a basic theory in cognitive psychology called structuralism. Most closely associated with the work of Cornell psychology professor Edward Titchener, this theory contends that the mind breaks down life experiences into groups or concepts. Much like a chemist defines complex structures through its smaller parts and elements, the structural approach breaks down experiences and cultural identity into specific perceptions, notions, and thoughts. Titchener believed that the complex world was made clear in the brain through an ordered thought process that included a vast array of individual parts.

Related to this is John Anderson's Adaptive Control of Thought (ACT) model. The ACT model breaks down elements of thought into nodes. These nodes contain a person's concepts and propositions and are put together in a person's head in order to make sense of the world. Anderson's model says that when people think of the past (long term memory), they recall the essence of the experience and fill in the details with nodes of memory.

Breaking a television addiction involves replacing the virtual TV experience with real experiences. This is a choice. Choosing not to watch television and deciding to do something else with one's time and money is not life changing, only experience changing. Moderate and heavy TV watchers are creating nodes of experience in the mind filled with images and lifestyles proposed by the world of television. The addiction of watching TV is not physical, but behavioral. Moving away from the addiction requires the physical acts of turning off the tube and walking away from the set, but the choice is entirely cognitive.

The television addict is someone who rejects opportunities for interpersonal or active experiences and instead chooses to watch TV. In terms of one's cognitive development, this could be viewed as a harmful mode of activity. If we consider the ACT theory, one cannot truly make sense of the world without previous experiences (nodes of thought) with which the mind can call upon. If one's previous experiences are someone else's, such as the characters portrayed on the TV screen, then what is established as real life parallels life on the TV screen. Reality TV is NOT reality. Television only mimics reality and in most cases portrays the world in wild exaggerations.

A moderate or heavy watcher will probably never move down to 0 viewing and totally remove him/herself from the experience of television. After many years of TV viewing, "going cold turkey" is not realistic. However, it is possible to fill TV time with other activities and use the TV as a tool for relaxation rather than continue the subservience to habit.

“There are several things that lead us to the conclusion that entertainment television is lethal to social connection," explains Harvard professor Robert Putnam in a radio interview after the release of his book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."

"Part of it is the more entertainment television you watch, the less civically engaged you are. People watch Friends rather than having friends. And of course, you don’t know which caused which, whether people decided to drop out and were left with television or they started watching television and then dropped out. The circumstantial evidence is pretty clear that television is actually the cause of this. There was a really fascinating study in a couple of towns in Canada were the sociologists got to the towns before television did and they were able to do before and after measurements of the effects of television -- and as I would have expected, once television arrived in these towns, civic activity slumped substantially.” [NPR, All Things Considered, May 31, 2000]

Breaking the television addiction requires making a choice. The famous Ellen Parr quote goes: "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Watching TV fills the mind with the images and creativity of others . . . not watching TV fills the mind with freedom.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Attention Span in Children

Kids today face immense pressure to succeed at school and in other activities as well. This pressure is further intensified by the fact that their minds and bodies are ruined due to excessive television viewing.

For instance, according to one study conducted in a group of 7 year olds it was discovered that a child cannot focus on studying for a minimum of 1 ½ to 3 hours after watching television.

In most families it has become customary to switch off the television and put the child to studying. It is not surprising that children are often scolded and needlessly punished and humiliated when they are unable to focus on the study material.

Their mind wanders just like that of a child suffering from ADHD except that the problem is television.

Previous entries on this blog have already explained the "orienting response" and the involuntary reactions it induces in the viewer. Children are especially sensitive to these reactions.

A child that has been watching television for 5 minutes needs a minimum of 1 ½ hours for his brain to come back to a state of normalcy where concentration is possible.

Within that period any act of studying is just a placebo for the parent that "my child is studying" when in reality the child's mind is not absorbing nor learning anything.

Television not only hampers concentration but it also creates problems with memory. This happens when a child finishes a study period and then immediately begins watching television.

The same scrambling process that occurs during pre-study viewing that prevents absorption of knowledge now scrambles the child's mind post-study and replaces recently acquired memories and supplants them with television memories.

This is because television creates a sense of urgency and panic, forcing the mind to forget everything else and focus all attention on the images on television.

It might be argued that showing educational programs might be helpful in this case.

Unfortunately, television memories are all "stress memories". Half an hour of television means anywhere from 2-6 hours of stress for the child.

After genetics, stress is the biggest worldwide cause for diabetes and hypertension. This is too big a price to pay to educate a child.

For heavy viewers, more than 2 hours of television per day, memory and concentration problems snowball and get worse with time. With advancing years the child's academic performance deteriorates increasingly.

In India parents are no longer able to educate their children and children are no longer able to learn on their own (there are exceptions of course). Most of this is blamed on the fact that the curriculum is getting too advanced. What is not taken into consideration is that no curriculum is too advanced for the generation for which it is created.

The problem is that lifestyle options like television that are made out of ignorance of its dangers are slowly dumbing down the whole country one generation at a time.

The United States today is the laughing stock of the world. In this era of television no one can be bothered to read history and see for themselves that America's problem began with television and worsened as viewing hours and viewing choices increased.

The pressures children face today are immense and yet the modern lifestyle is such that these very children are rendered incapable of coping with the challenges they must face. All this because their parents have some reason (fear of appearing socially backward, "You don't have a TV?", self induced fear of not having a TV, incapability or unwillingness to spend time with children or do chores, or anything else) that justifies the presence of a television in the house.

In Indian families it can be noticed that within a family, siblings separated by a few years during the emergence of 24-hour TV show marked difference in academic performance. Those who had achieved the age of 10-12 before TV became a perpetual household time pass seldom require extensive supervision or tutelage outside of school and home. Those born into the TV culture find it difficult to cope with academic life and tend to be slower in dealing with other aspects. They not only require additional tutelage but that tutelage is often ineffective in terms of practical help. It serves merely as a placebo for parents that they are doing their duty though the truth is that the child needs a healthier growing environment rather than a private tutor.

That is not to say that there are no smart children among the TV viewing population but they are now the minority. The intellectual demographic is being sharply divided like money in America. A small proportion is extremely brilliant while the rest just get along as best as they can.

The trouble with TV is that even 5 minutes of viewing means you lose your attention span, ability to focus, remember data, and analyze situations for well over two hours.

The attention span, concentration power, memorizing ability of these children is shot to hell and no one cares. Should this problem have occurred through any other medium besides television the entire household would be in an uproar but since it is due to television and ignorance of the side effects of watching that contraption these maladies are accepted a little too casually.

It is amazing how parents will concede that the child is not "bright" while remaining ignorant of the fact that perhaps it is not the child that is "dull" but the adults around the child that have made an addict out of the child and all other children besides.

When a family suffers from something it needs to take some action. However, when the adults in the family themselves are addicted to an electronic drug that has nothing to offer but endless suffering then there can be no hope for the generation they birth.

The east makes plenty of fun of the west and their dumbness but does not realize that everyone is getting dumb. In a few years Indians will be as dumb as Americans but we will not realize it because Americans will be dumber than they are now.

If your child's academic performance is unsatisfactory then do not assume the child to be dull. Check his/her viewing habits and do the following.

  • No television 2 hours before studying.
  • No television 2 hours after studying.
  • No television ½ hour before meals.
  • No television during meals.
  • No television 2 ½ hours after meals.
  • No television 4 hours before sleep time.
Digestion and sleep are crucial components to memory and concentration power. Most families eat in front of the television, which is where television addiction typically starts.

The human brain needs at least 2 hours or REM sleep to stay healthy. If your child wakes up at 6 then he/she must be asleep by 10pm. Not go to bed by 10pm but be asleep. So if it takes ½ hour to sleep then tuck the child in bed before 9:30pm.

A brain recently exposed to television is under tremendous stress and will refuse to go to sleep, a preliminary indication of insomnia, so give 3-4 hours clearance before the child's bedtime. Engage the child in physical activity to induce fatigue and if that does not suit you then read to the child.

Reading requires the child to imagine what the words represent and this acts like exercise for the mind, creativity, imagination, and constructive skills. Television does the reverse and fills the mind with nonsense images that blunt the child's intellect and imagination.

Television disrupts the child's sleep cycle. In most households this is because "busy" adults will stay up late to watch television and in crowded families this becomes a serious problem.

Switch to a healthier lifestyle for your children's sake. If you cannot live without your electronic drug then at least learn to control it.

Alternative Reality

The rules of psychology say that whenever we are faced with a situation that seems impossible we seek an escape.

This escape could be in the form of a joke, becoming a prankster, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, or any other form of retreating from reality and escaping into a private world.

In India, where divorce has not yet achieved the "normal" status from society and a divorced woman is often seen as dysfunctional and avoided by all men once her status becomes known, this creates a unique problem that profits the television industry.

Whether living alone or in a joint family, the married Indian woman, at least of the previous generation, had no choice but to continue doing that till death. Divorce was no better than sacrificing children (which incidentally most women with televisions do anyway).

There are no perfect couples and post-marriage friction is inevitable. For the married woman in India there is often no escape. Curiously enough, the more pliable the woman the better she copes.

The toughest situation is for women with egos or stiff attitudes that refuses to compromise with their in-laws. They might not like their husbands but must pretend they do. They might not like anyone in their in-laws but must pretend they do.

A human being cannot live an entire life with such pretense unless he/she is unethical at heart, in which case they are undeserving of a family anyway.

Enter the television
If you ever speak to Indian women that watch the soaps targeted at them you will discover that they speak of television's fictional characters just like they were real.

  • There is deep concern regarding the uncertainty in the lives of the characters.
  • There is a terrible foreboding if an episode is missed.
  • A tragedy in fiction becomes downright appalling in real life.
  • An affair between fictional characters becomes the seed for real life gossip.
  • The bad women (curiously there are hardly any good ones) are bad mouthed.
  • Unsavory characters are cursed.
  • There have been instances where people actually pray for the well being of their favorite fictional characters.
Women gather in flocks to discuss the various serials going on as if they were real life documentaries instead of a money generating tales of fiction.

The reason for this is simple.

These women, curiously enough you will be hard pressed to find a bachelorette, seek an escape in choosing alternative relatives to their real ones.

Their ego problem is clearly indicative here because the television gives them an illusion of absolute control over the lives of the characters they wish were their true relatives.

Their obsession is made clear through their viewing habits where they had rather watch a meaningless episode than tend to the needs of their children or husband.

The worst of it all
The reason why they talk as if those characters were real is because they sincerely believe them to be so.

Since the television creates a hypnotic-suggestive state where the mind accepts everything without question, the brain has no distinction between reality and fiction, everything is real.

The worst part is the behavior modification that follows from viewing such trash.

Even a decent woman with a mild interest in these serials runs the risk of eventually, and subconsciously, modeling her own behavior based on what she sees in these television programs.

That in itself is not so bad if the characters were all half as decent as a bunch of whores.

A family television serial without conflict would never be seen because these women are seeking conflicts that are not their own and which they can control with a remote. The result is a television program where every character is busy plotting, lying, cheating, defrauding, insulting, humiliating, and in general behaving in every outrageous and immoral manner against another set of characters.

You would not want anyone like that in your family because it means ruin.

Yet, these very characters are what keeps these serials going. The sense of control a woman feels eventually fades through familiarity and then the subconscious suggestion begins to take hold.

The women begin to believe that that is the right way to live. That plotting, scheming, lying, causing rift among family members, cutting off those you do not like, deliberately doing what others may not like, is the right and proper way to run a family.

It is not possible to fix this problem because the woman is not choosing this consciously. It is not her fault really. The suggestion is planted and replanted over the years through constant trash viewing on the television until the woman is unable to distinguish between good and bad.

Questioning her conduct will create instant hostility because no one questions what is seen on television and real life questioning is seen as a violation of some obscure law they apply to their real life behavior.

The entire process is summed up in the following steps.
  1. The woman rejects reality by refusing to work on getting on with her in laws.
  2. She instead recedes into the alternative reality of television and builds "real" relationships with fictional characters.
  3. Eventually the fictional characters gain equal prominence and then become more important than her real life relatives, even her own husband and children must take a back seat to her fictional relatives.
  4. The woman can no longer live without her fictional relatives though the absence of her husband and children does not bother her.
  5. The woman will fight to retain her right to access to her fictional relatives and no amount of persuasion or force can change her mind about it.
  6. The entire family suffers because the woman is making decisions that have no bearing on reality.
This is but another interesting psychological fallout of television addiction.

That television causes behavior modification is undeniable because the human brain is not smart enough to realize that the television content is fictional.

However, human society being what it is continues to stay blind to this menace and countless families are destroyed because of greedy producers that deliberately create bad family value engendering television content for its addicts.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Television Addiction and Children - Part 2

Children have varying attention spans at different ages and their way of watching and understanding television changes with age.

From birth to 18 months
Infants can only focus on the television for a short time but the "focusing" requires tremendous effort. The television basically forces them to focus even when their minds cannot cope. Infants have no conception of boredom or entertainment and they are happy with themselves. For infants, the television is a fragmented experience of strange light and sound alterations that sometimes includes recognizable shapes.

Though the precise nature of such viewing has not yet been researched it is known that even infants begin modeling their behavior based on what they see.

2- 2 1/2 years
This is the age around which a child becomes a "viewer". Toddlers are able to create and maintain focus longer on the television and television content becomes meaningful to them, though in a limited way. Behavior imitation starts to become a serious issue at this time.

The biggest concern here is that the viewing habits established at this age are going to heavily influence viewing habits for the rest of the child's life. They need protection from wrong content or they may never see what is "wrong" about it even if they suffer from it.

3-5 years
At this age the child begins to view in an exploratory way. This means that the child is actively seeking for meaning in television content though the primary attraction still remains with fast movement, colorful images, rapid scene changes, unexpected changes in light and sound - all of which are found in cartoons.

Most of the "violent" content in cartoons is not dangerous by adult standards but for children of this age it is a huge problem. The problem is not that the violence attracts children but that children do not have the capability of putting violence into the right context. Things like motivation behind any action or the consequences after it are completely missing in child television viewing. At this age children will become more aggressive after watching any exciting television content but more so after they see violence on television.

6-11 years
Aggression becomes a serious issue between these ages. The cognitive development is far enough for children to follow complex plots, understand motivations and consequences, and to pick up on implicit messages in content. The thing here is that there is no mental effort the way there is during infancy.

By now television viewing is a passive activity - it just happens without thinking. This lack of mental effort means that information taken in from the television is not processed. The child reacts to that information without bothering to think about it.

The child will begin to move away from cartoons, though they will still remain important, and move towards adult oriented television programming. For some reason children also develop a taste for horror movies. This is believed to be an attempt to deliberately scare themselves in order to get rid of unknown fears.

By 8, the desensitizing has begun and the child becomes increasingly aggressive if violent content is viewed frequently. At the same time the child will also expect, and deliver, more violence in the real world with no just cause. It is to be noted that some children will not become aggressive when they see violence portrayed as evil or if it leads to punishment.

12-17 years
During these years the abstract thinking capability of the child peaks out but sadly these abilities are never engaged when watching television. With increasing age the child thinks lesser and lesser of what is seen on the television. Television viewing will decrease in comparison to early years and they will prefer to watch television alone rather than with the family. Puberty gets them thinking of independence, romance, and sex. The result is that they start watching music videos, horror movies, pornography (especially boys) in their quest for a solution to puberty related problems.

And of course, the solutions on television and video are all wrong.

Since adolescents think and reason better than pre-school children and they have a tendency to challenge convention and authority it makes them psychologically vulnerable to violence, crime, and the way suicide is portrayed on television.

Parental Mediation
What should be remembered is that television is all-pervasive because it is all-persuasive. It is up to parents to control television viewing and act as sensors and guides. Children must never be allowed to choose what they watch and they certainly should not have independent television sets.

Toddlers especially need to be protected from certain types of content since they imitate more than any other age group and their behavior and beliefs, such as they are at this young age, might last for life. An important thing for parents is to evaluate their own viewing habits because children are often secondary viewers.

Aggression can also be reduced by watching television together and commenting on the content, comforting the child during moments of fright, and providing the right encouragement or discouragement when television behavior is imitated.

Restricting television only works up to adolescence. After that it is more important to explain and discuss television so that adolescent rebellion does not lead to television victory. It is crucial to make the child understand that absolutely nothing on television is real and should not be taken seriously or imitated. The child must be encouraged to think while viewing instead of relapsing into a zombie state.

Television defenders will point out that television does not lead to all these problems in children. What they should be saying is that it does not lead to these problems in all children. Not everyone that tastes alcohol becomes and alcoholic and it is the same with television. Children are affected to varying degrees and just because so many of them are not affected does not mean you should put your child at risk.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Television Addiction and Children

There is an argument that watching television has some benefits. Like, it can be entertaining (hah!) or educational (bah!), open new horizons to children (pah!), help them know about cultural diversity (tcah!), and so on.

The truth is that television watching is not merely bad - it is downright dangerous. Today, there is content (TV channels, DVD, and so on) targeted at babies 2-years old and younger even when medical science is screaming that children up to 2 years of age must be shielded from this scourge.

It is important to know that television has become a huge part of the lives of children.

  • Children spend around 4 hours per day watching television.
  • In 65% of homes the television is on during meals.
  • In 50% of homes the television is perpetually on.
  • Some parents are actually foolish enough to encourage television viewing.
All this television is having some very obvious reactions that are not at all obvious to those who watch it. Here are some examples of what television is doing to children.
  • It is replacing normal childhood activities like playing with friends, physical activity, being out in fresh air, using their imagination, reading, doing chores and homework.
  • The time spent watching TV is time lost that should be spent in interacting with the family.
  • TV viewing leads to behavior problems, sleep problems, poor grades, and obesity.
  • TV programming for children focuses on stereotypes, violent solutions, bad behavior - not at all what parents ought to be teaching or children ought to be learning.
  • Advertisements for children specifically encourage snack foods and beverages that lead to health problems. This does not include exposure to alcohol and tobacco.
Television Addiction and Child Brain Development
As mentioned earlier, today we have content that is specifically targeted at infants (2 years old or younger). There is no unanimous opinion on what effect this has on the brain development of the child. Some studies show a clear connection to problems like ADHD but then some experts disagree. Another study discovered that cognitive development suffers because of television viewing before the age of 3.

This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about infant television viewing.

"Children of all ages are constantly learning new things. The first 2 years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child's brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much television can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important.

Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger."

In addition to the above it is also noted that television first discourages and eventually replaces reading. Reading requires a lot more brainpower that acts as an exercise regime for healthy brain development. When children are exposed to television they get dumber than they ought to be.

Television Addiction, Children, and Violence
This is another great controversy with no clear agreement on whether television actually causes violence. Considering that children learn from everything they see and experience, here are some damning statistics.
  • By the age of 18 an individual will have seen 18,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence.
  • 66% of all television programming focuses on violence.
  • Programs that are designed for children have more violence than those designed for adults.
  • Violence on television is seldom punished; it is actually represented as being funny. The suffering that follows violence is never depicted.
  • Television glamorizes violence when showing it to children.
  • For children, even the act of good guys beating up bad guys is a clear lesson that violence is good. This is especially true below the age of 8 when children do not differentiate between fantasy and reality.
  • Television viewing effectively murders the human child's inhibition to violence and human suffering.
Television Addiction and Child Trauma
What children view on the television can easily lead to trauma (even extreme conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD).
  • Anxiety, nightmares, fear of being alone, not going to school are all examples of behavior problems because of television viewing.
  • Children between the ages of 2-7 are especially scared of grotesque shapes and monsters. It is no good explaining to the child that it is just television because the child's brain cannot grasp the difference.
  • Though it goes unnoticed, most children regret watching television when they experience "fright reactions".
  • Children become needlessly afraid that they might be the next victim of an act of violence or some natural disaster.
Television Addiction and School Performance
  • Television replaces activities like reading, homework, hobbies, sports, and causes sleep problems.
  • Television has a long term effect on academic achievement. According to one study the individual will be hampered up to the age of 26 after uncontrolled childhood television viewing.
  • Poor academic performance in school is directly linked to television viewing.
Television Addiction and Racial/Gender Attitudes
Television also affects a child's perspective and beliefs about race and gender.
  • Television stereotypes everything and children grow up believing in those stereotypes.
  • Television viewing encourages racism and intolerance.
  • In the western nations, television programs and movies seldom focus on the eastern side and even when it does it is either negatively or it is stereotyped. The same applies in reverse.
  • Television women are always thin. Fat women mostly have negative characters.
  • Fair people are always given prominence and darker skin tones are made to look inconsequential and undeserving of human empathy.
  • Commercials for kitchenware, cleaning products, and similar consumables always feature thin and beautiful female characters.
  • Even in G-rated content for children, which is allegedly safe for them, male characters outnumber females by 3:1. These men are never in healthy relationships and always solve problems with violence.
  • Dark skinned characters in G-rated content are always bad, comedians, or dumb sidekicks.
  • Music videos exaggerate the image of women as victims and darker skinned males as aggressors despite this being a complete lie.
Television Addiction and Child Health
The biggest health hazard in television is the commercials. Children that watch television automatically assume it to be a legitimate source of good information. Unfortunately, all advertisements tell them to eat foods that lead to obesity and cholesterol problems. Television also encourages children to engage in risky activities like performing stunts, doing drugs, and engaging in unprotected sex.
  • Weight and Obesity
    • Children between the ages of 3-4 who spend more than 2 hours watching television will be overweight.
    • This continues into adulthood with a high risk of obesity and associated diabetes.
    • Television is the biggest contributing factor that leads to weight problems. Diet, physical inactivity, and sedentary behavior are all negligible problems in comparison.
    • Television viewing cultivates the habit of snacking, which leads to weight problems.
    • 70% of all food products advertised on child television are bad for health.
    • Metabolism slows with age, causing middle-aged people to accumulate more fat as they get older. The metabolic rate of a child drops like a rock while watching television. Sitting idle staring into space will result in a better metabolism than watching television.
    • Children are specifically targeted by the food and beverage industry. All their products are high on calories, salt, sugar, fat, and extremely low in nutrients.
    • A recent study has showed that restricted television viewing among adolescents resulted in weight loss.

  • Childhood Television and Adult Health
  • A study of adults (age 26) who watched television as children resulted in the following data.
    • 17% were overweight.
    • 15% had high cholesterol.
    • 17% were smokers.
    • 15% were in poor health due to physical inactivity.

  • Physical Hazards
    • The biggest cause of childhood death is injury and television viewing encourages risky behavior.
    • Millions of children the world over suffer injuries every year trying to duplicate television stunts (these include stunts seen in movies).
    • A study of sports broadcasts revealed that 50% of all commercials include some unsafe activity or violence.

  • Insomnia
    • Children and adolescents suffer from maladjusted sleep patterns and other sleep disorders due to watching television.
    • Healthy (REM) sleep is crucial to staying in good health and it requires regular sleeping hours. Children who watch television suffer from irregular and unsatisfying sleep.
    • By early adulthood this problem can solidify into permanent and incurable insomnia.

  • Alcohol
    • Alcohol is nearly ubiquitous on television. Children are constantly exposed to alcohol use. Simply put, it is the most widely used beverage on television and it is always portrayed as "cool".
    • Alcohol consumers on television are mostly happy, sexy, and quite thoroughly successful despite the fact that they are drunk most of the time.
    • Most prime time programs targeted at teens will have subtle if not downright overt references to why alcohol consumption is right and proper.

  • Smoking
    • Though tobacco commercials are banned the programs continue showing healthy people enjoying smoking.
    • Tobacco advertisements are always covert and hence they can target anybody, even a 5 year old can recognize a popular cigarette brand.
    • Children who watch television begin smoking much earlier than others. Parental smoking, peer smoking, and gender bias are negligible to television induced smoking.

  • Sex and Safety
    • Parents, for some reason, avoid talking to their children about sexual intercourse, sexual relationships, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), birth control, and similar important issues. Children receive most of this information through television.
    • Though there is enough about sex on television to make the Kama sutra irrelevant there is hardly sufficient content on safe sex and birth control.
    • Sexual content on television has doubled in the last 10 years. 70% of all teenage programs have sexual content and 15% out of these show spontaneous sex - you meet someone and instead of saying "Hello" you have sex.
    • Television encourages teenagers to have sex at an unsafe age.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Beautiful People Syndrome

"In the age of television, image becomes more important than substance." - S. I. Hayakawa

"Oh, no, I'm getting a zit!"
"Well, he seems nice, but his nose hair needs to be cut."
"I'm losing my hair."
"She's too tall for me."
"Gosh his breath smells."
"Does this skirt make my butt seem big?"
"Oh man, clean your shoes off, you stepped in dog poop."
"Wait, before we leave I have to go to the bathroom."

These real-life adventures never occur on television. These are things TV characters don't have to worry about. Television is, after all, perfect. People are beautiful on television - they live amazing lives and look great doing it.

Television addicts eventually lose their ability to comprehend that TV characters are not real. The images on television may look real, and the people look real, but they are just images. TV characters live in one dimension. TV characters are fictional. Television shows are fictional.

Now, this is not an attempt to insult your intelligence. Of course television isn't real. Everyone knows that. But how much does the world of television affect our daily lives? How much does TV influence your opinion of people? How does TV impact fashion, speech, and social interaction? This is what is meant by The Beautiful People Syndrome: that TV influences the way we view others.

The Beautiful People Syndrome is what happens when you watch too much TV. You begin to believe, or expect, regular people to act, behave, and look like television stars. Does TV imitate life, or does life imitate TV, or do both happen? Television images portray people as beautiful, smart, wealthy, quick-witted, creative, instantly compelling, and exciting. Television wouldn't be worth watching, for those who watch, if it wasn't unbelievably interesting.

In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, New York University Professor Neil Postman explains how television has changed modern imagery: "It is implausible to imagine that someone like the multi-chinned, three-hundred pound William Howard Taft (
27th President of the U.S.), could be put forward as a presidential candidate in today's world. The shape of a man's body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas when he is addressing a public in writing or on the radio ... but it is quite relevant on television. The grossness of a three-hundred-pound image, even a talking one, would easily overwhelm any logical or spiritual subtleties conveyed by speech."

Postman goes on to explain that "on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words ... You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content."

After watching hours and hours and hours of television imagery, those "Beautiful People" will become burned into your mind. The handsome, pretty, skinny and witty characters on the show "Friends" are more famous than writers, poets, politicians and more important than teachers, policemen, or firemen. The characters on "Friends" live the lives we all should live -- and they don't even have to work that hard.

The Beautiful People Syndrome is attacking the psyche of television addicts. For a man, if you are not 6'1'', handsome and wealthy you are not ideal. Any woman who isn't bone-thin with a large chest certainly is below the standard. Television is warping minds worldwide. Everyone wants to be one of the beautiful television people.

What is the result of The Beautiful People Syndrome? A lot of unhappy citizens. Post-traumatic-television depression can set in after you realize that your life isn't as wonderful as TV says it should be.

The ubiquity of television is transforming our lives. If you are not one of the "Beautiful People," you're an outcast.

"Television has become, so to speak, the background radiation of the social and intellectual universe, the all-but-imperceptible residue of the electronic big bang of a century past, so familiar and so thoroughly integrated with our culture that we no longer hear its faint hissing in the background or see the flickering gray light," contends Postman.

"The world as given to use through television seems natural, not bizarre," he says. "Our culture's adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to use to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane."

I hope you know the truth. The trick is to make the truth your conscious and subconscious reality. The truth about the true nature of people: Beautiful People only exist on TV. Beautiful People only exist on TV. Beautiful People only exist on TV. Beautiful People only exist on TV. Make this your mantra. The reality is not as fun or glamorous as television. Rejecting the influence of TV imagery will set you on the path to enlightenment; and make real life so much more worthwhile.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Living In A Culture Of Fear

News Programs

"Local TV news, at least in the U.S., is probably the biggest fear mongering vehicle there is 'cause if you turn on local news in pretty much any U.S. city, you're going to have the sense of chaos that there's crime everywhere and murder and mayhem going on at the very time crime rates are at historic lows.

"This generation of young people is, in general, less violent than many previous generations and, in general, better adjusted than previous generations. But you'd never know that by all the fear mongering about them. We've managed to convince ourselves that just about every young male is a potential mass murderer."
-- Barry Glassner, Sociologist/Author, The Culture Of Fear

If It Bleeds, It Leads.

All television addicts believe that without television they would be ignorant since they would be unaware of what is happening.

However, the purpose of news programs is not to inform. They are designed with the idea to capture the audience with shocking and provocative news stories and to make sure everyone keeps watching.

Most importantly, everyone keeps watching through the commercials. The only purpose of television news shows is to make money for the television network.

Everything else is irrelevant.

Through this mess it happens that sometimes valuable information does seep through. However, the amount of violence that appears on television during an average news broadcast is much more than the amount of violence that really occurs.

The result is fear!

The culture of fear

We live in a culture of fear. Fear of violence. Fear of disease. Fear of war. Fear of the weather. Fear of our neighbors. Fear of the unknown.

What we never realize is that these fears are not natural but are driven through television. This is because people believe what they see on television. Television affects fashion, lifestyle, attitude, and knowledge.

For television addicts (there are no viewers, only addicts) if it's on TV then it's got to be true!

Every culture on this planet suffers from the disease of fear.

"Television news programs survive on scares. On local newscasts, where producers live by the dictum 'if it bleeds, it leads,' drug, crime, and disaster stories make up most of the news portion of the broadcasts. Evening newscasts on the major networks are somewhat less bloody, but between 1990 and 1998, when the nation’s murder rate declined by 20 percent, the number of murder stories on network newscasts increased 600 percent," said Barry Glassner in the book The Culture Of Fear.

In America, and the rest of the world, people watch thousands of acts of violence on television over and over and over. Paul Klite, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Media Watch, said in a statement that "the seventy-five percent of Americans who watch TV news regularly are subjected to a substantial nightly dose of catastrophe. And, in the news, the blood is real. Journalists by now know that their broadcast images have enormous power and must be handled with sensitivity. Yet, the news industry has no ethical guidelines for airing violent images."

Klite's organization found that from 40 to 50 percent of all on-air news was comprised of reporting some type of violent act. "Murder, one of the least common crimes committed, is the number one topic on newscasts," said Klite.

Most gun owners and advocates probably don't want to admit that they keep guns out of fear. "People who watch a lot of TV are more likely than others to believe their neighborhoods are unsafe, to assume that crime rates are rising, and to overestimate their own odds of becoming a victim. They also buy more locks, alarms, and—you guessed it—guns, in hopes of protecting themselves," said Glassner.

Is there a causal link between TV violence and real-life violence? Maybe and maybe not. The answer to this question depends on who you ask.

Why is television news so violent?

"After the dinnertime newscasts the networks broadcast newsmagazines, whose guiding principle seems to be that no danger is too small to magnify into a national nightmare. Some of the risks reported by such programs would be merely laughable were they not hyped with so much fanfare. Competing for ratings with drama programs and movies during prime-time evening hours, newsmagazines feature story lines that would make a writer for 'Homicide' or 'ER' wince," said Glassner.

Television news is compelling. Neil Postman and Steve Powers, authors of the book How to Watch TV News, note that TV news programs are designed to keep the viewer watching and build an audience. TV news are highly rated shows and bring in big money in advertising. "More viewers, higher ratings, more advertising dollars, more profit, more similar programs to try to attract more viewers ... ad infinitum," they said in the book.

"Murders, rapes and fires are not the only way to assess the progress of a society. Why are there so few television stories about symphonies that have been composed, novels written, scientific problems solved, and a thousand other creative acts that occur during the course of a month?" question Postman and Powers. "Were television news to be filled with these events, we would not be frightened. We would, in fact, be inspired, optimistic, and cheerful."

"In the judgment of most editors, people watch television. And what they are interested in watching are exciting, intriguing, even exotic pictures... It is difficult to televise a theory." Most people would rather watch a hot pursuit in the show "Cops" than see a scientist explain his theory with complex mathematics. Also, TV news must be fast. Short sound bites and quick cuts because on TV, time is a limiting factor.

Postman and Powers explain that TV news has got to be brief, because while news can be condensed and cut, commercials cannot. This is what TV news is all about. This is why we live in a culture of fear.

"Daily examples of violence and moral degeneracy that are the staple of TV news shows ... are not mitigated by the presence of recognizable and attractive actors and actresses," said Postman and Powers. "They are put forward as the stuff of everyday life. These are real murders, real rapes, real plundering. And the fact that they are the stuff of real life makes them all the more powerful."

What can you do? How can you stop this culture of fear from entering your own home? Not watching TV news is a good step. Yahoo! News and Google News are two great sources of news, pictures and video on the Internet that is uncut by commercials and news program directors. Radio and newspapers also bring news in a more complete fashion. The Internet and newspapers also allow the reader to progress through the story at his or her own pace. You can read the story again to pick out details or find other stories which will tell you more. Have a conversation around the table during dinner. Keep the tube off.

Watch TV news with a critical eye. TV news shows are designed to keep the viewer watching through the commercials. The video on TV news is edited and narrated and oftentimes the whole story is not presented. A story without good sound bites or video is not shown or is brushed over quickly.

Forming an opinion for yourself about how to establish your own safety is the best way to have realistic expectations. Believe what you see and hear with your own eyes and ears. Don't believe what comes across on the TV screen. TV news exists to sell on-air advertising, not to enlighten the watcher.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television

Review of Jerry Mander's Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television

Television is advertising. It is a medium whose purpose is to sell, to promote capitalism. In 1977, Jerry Mander, a former advertising executive in San Francisco, published Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. In the book, Mander reveals how the television networks and advertisers use this pervasive video medium for sales.

Four Arguments talks about a lot more than just advertising. Mander attacks not only the contents of the television images, but the effects television has on the human mind and body. His discussion includes: The induction of alpha waves, a hypnotizing effect that a motionless mind enters. How viewers often regard what they see on television as real even though the programs are filled with quick camera switches, rapid image movement, computer generated objects, computer generated morphing and other technical events. The placement of artificial images into our mind's eye. And the effects that large amounts of television viewing have on children and the onset of attention deficit disorder.

However, at the heart of Mander's arguments, lies advertising.

Sales, by definition, is the process of convincing someone to purchase what they don't need. Advertising tries to convince someone that the solution to a problem or the fulfillment of a desire can only be achieved through the purchase of a product.

"If we take the word need to mean something basic to human survival -- food, shelter, clothing; or basic to human contentment -- peace, love, safety, companionship, intimacy, a sense of fulfillment; these will be sought and found by people whether or not there is advertising," Mander writes.

"People do need to eat, but the food which is advertised is processed food: processed meat, sodas, sugary cereals, candies. A food in its natural state, unprocessed, does not need to be advertised," he says. "Hungry people will find the food if it is available."

Television commercials and television shows both promote the purchase of commodities. Advertisers and television networks don't want viewers to go out and search for the answers on their own. They want to provide the answers on television. If your head hurts: buy Advil (or some other pain relieving drug). Is your stomach growling? Drive your Pontiac to Taco Bell or Burger King. Are your dishes dirty? Get some lemon-fresh Joy. Every guy wants a fast Acura and every girl wants to look like the women on the NBC television show Friends. Watch the Dallas Cowboys' Deion Sanders score a touchdown, watch the replay (Sponsored by Coors Light), then watch Deion do an advertisement for Pizza Hut.

Television is promoting a lifestyle. It is a virtual reality that advertisers and networks seek to promote in order to gain additional revenue.

"Perhaps there is a need for cleanliness. But that is not what advertisers sell," Mander explains. "Cleanliness can be obtained with water and a little bit of natural fiber, or solidified natural fat. Major world civilizations kept clean that way for millennia. What is advertised is whiteness, a value beyond cleanliness; sterility, the avoidance of all germs; sudsiness, a cosmetic factor; and brand, a surrogate community loyalty."

While watching television, the viewer is not seeing the world as it is. He or she is looking at a world created by advertising. Television programs are put together with the conscious attitude of promoting a consumer society.

"If forty million people see a commercial for a car, then forty million people have a car commercial in their heads, all at the same time," Mander says. "This is bound to have more beneficial effect on the commodity system than if, at that moment, all those people were thinking separate thoughts which, in some cases, might not be about commodities at all."

But what makes television different from other forms of advertising, is that the viewer has absolutely no control over the images. Sure you can change the channel, but you're really only watching more of the same. The images come at you at the pace of the advertiser; the viewer just watches passively. While reading the newspaper, you don't have to look at the ads, you can turn the page. In that same newspaper, if you want to find a coupon for Ranch Style Black Beans, you will look and seek it out. You can read the first few lines of a billboard sign, then turn away.

However, when you watch television, the only way to escape the images is to turn the machine off. The medium of television is controlled by the sender, not the viewer. Images just flow, one after the next.

"If you decide to watch television, then there's no choice but to accept the stream of electronic images as it comes," Mander says. "Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels of reception to allow them in more cleanly. Thinking only gets in the way."

The multitude of technical events and special effects that saturate the viewer throughout an average dose of television occur with such rapid frequency that any response is essentially eliminated. "Since television images move more quickly than a viewer can react, one has to chase after them with the mind," Mander says in the book.

"Every advertiser, for example, knows that before you can convince anyone of anything, you shatter their existing mental set and then restructure an awareness along lines which are useful to you. You do this with a few very simple techniques like fast-moving images, jumping among attention focuses, and switching moods," he explains.

Television watching is not active, it is passive. Both the viewer's mind and body do not react, and cannot react. Mander calls television imagery a form of sleep teaching.

One researcher interviewed by Mander explains: "The horror of television is that the information goes in but we don't react to it. It goes right into our memory pool and perhaps we react to it later but we don't know what we're reacting to. When you watch television you are training yourself not to react and so later on, you're doing things without knowing why you're doing them or where they came from."

Mander published Four Arguments in 1978. I believe his main theme then is that advertisers and networks don't want the viewers to think. They want them to just be good consumers and spend money on their products.

On May 10, 1995 at the National Cable Television Association convention in Dallas, John Malone, president of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), the nation's largest cable operator, was speaking about the future of television. "There's no question machines will be smarter than people," Malone said. "And we won't have to think so hard."

Critics of television have often noted that what is shown on the networks, the programs, are of a low quality. The entire television industry has never seemed able to shake off the words Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow spoke in 1961, that television is "a vast wasteland."

It is the quality of the shows that are often criticized. However, this is missing the point. Television shows are not supposed to be thought provoking. You are not supposed to question the images you see on TV, only believe in their prima facie existence.

Television programs, commercials, news reports and talk shows are all designed toward blind acceptance by the viewer. Because, after all, if you see it with your own eyes, it must be true. It must be real. Flashing images on the video screen. Reality inside a box.

"Television offers neither rest nor stimulation," Mander says. "Television inhibits your ability to think, but it does not lead to freedom of mind, relaxation or renewal. It leads to a more exhausted mind. You may have time out from prior obsessive thought patterns, but that's as far as television goes.

"The mind is never empty, the mind is filled. What's worse, it is filled with someone else's obsessive thoughts and images."

Why do you think they call it programming?

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Tube

How Television Affects The Mind: Review of Le Tube, a documentary.

Le Tube is a documentary film. Journalist Peter Entell and actor Luc Mariot travel to three continents to uncover the history of television and its effects on the human brain.

The focus of their research is to study the effect of television regardless of the content.

This is an outstanding investigative movie for anyone seeking knowledge about television.

Geneva, Switzerland
The movie begins here with Mariot's younger daughter, Zoe, who is crying because Mariot turned off the Pokemon cartoon. Mariot is concerned because Zoe never blinks when she watches television. Researching the Pokemon cartoon on the Internet he comes across an article describing a December 1997 event where 700 children were hospitalized with eye problems and convulsions because of a Pokemon episode.

Tokyo, Japan
Mariot visits the hospital in Tokyo and the doctor there explains that 1 in 4,000 people are hypersensitive to light and are therefore "at risk" when they watch television. An unusually high rate of "flicker" or flashing lights will affect these people and produce symptoms similar to epileptic seizures. TV Tokyo, home of Pokemon, reveals to Mariot that because of public outrage it now uses an Animation Flicker Machine to monitor each episode.

Schenectady, New York
The movie then moves to the Research and Development section of General Electric. The technicians explain Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and Electron Gun technologies that make television work. The television screen is made of Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) pixels that flicker at a high rate when bombarded with fast-moving electrons. Mariot asks the GE technicians why television is hypnotic and addictive. They have no answer.

Lunenburg, Massachusetts
In Lunenburg the film crew meets with Dr. Thomas Mulholland whose experiments with electroencephalograms (EEG) and alpha waves provide the first indications of physical reaction to television. Alpha waves are brain activity that increases as brain work decreases. Closing your eyes, relaxing, sleeping, not thinking, meditating all increase alpha waves while even looking around a familiar room lowers alpha waves. Dr. Mulholland has discovered that children watching television have very high alpha - in other words they have minimal brain activity.

Toronto, Canada
Then the crew visits Eric McLuhan at the University of Toronto where the McLuhan demonstrates in an experiment the difference between transmitted light and reflected light. Movie theaters reflect light on viewers while television creates and transmits its own light. In effect, with transmitted light McLuhan says, "you are the screen." The brain responds to the medium, not the content.

Finally, Mariot tracks down former researcher Herbert Krugman of the Advertising Research Foundation. Krugman's experiments on the effects of television led him to conclude that TV induces some type of "sleeping awake" activity. Why are people so mesmerized or hypnotized by the TV. Krugman used this power of TV to help the advertising community. Krugman says that with TV, "when you lose touch with the body and the brain will play." You're not asleep and not awake. It's midnight and you are staring at the TV and can't turn it off. You sit watching commercials blankly and unthinking. You don't turn it off.

"The television is the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to distract yourself from how you already feel that's ever been invented," says one psychologist in the film.

A worker at a TV station says, she thinks, "TV is like a drug. . . Sure, just try taking it away from them."

The Tube is a well done film. It presents many compelling facts and questions about an activity that most people take for granted. Unfortunately, many questions still remain unanswered as some continue to question the benefit of staring at red, green and blue flickering light.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spy TV

The Threat of Interactive Television.

A review of Spy TV by David Burke.

Interactive television (iTV) is coming to a living room near you! No need to run out to the store to pick up anything, you can order them through your television right after you watch the commercials. In fact, by ordering certain things, the interactive television will show commercials for other products of a similar nature.

Soon, you'll be ordering all sorts of junk with ease. Smart television is an advertisers dream: capitalism millennium style.

"Television's message has always been that the need for truth, wisdom, and world peace pales by comparison with the need for a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth and fresher breath." --- Syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry

"Everything on interactive TV will be designed to get you involved like this, for as many hours as possible, and advertising will become indistinguishable from other programming. Microsoft, for example, has finished an interactive prototype of Baywatch which combines product placement with online shopping. When characters on the show win a Princess Cruise Lines holiday, viewers can hit a button and try to win their own," explains David Burke in a great new book called Spy TV.

Microsoft is positioning itself as a pioneer in the newly emerging interactive TV market. In March, 2000, Microsoft formed an alliance with NDS Group Plc, a British digital TV technology firm and subsidiary of News Corp. (owner of the Fox network). The pair of companies hope to introduce a digital set-top box to control the flow of data into your television. America Online is also going to push the iTV market with its introduction of AOL-TV.

Interactive TV is a lot more than just TV with Internet-World Wide Web-style buttons and links. It is television that monitors and tracks what you watch and purchase.

Interactive TV firms will keep demographic databases full of information for potential advertisers and corporations wishing to peddle their wares on television. "It's like [advertisers] died and went to heaven," Maggie Wildrotter, CEO of iTV pioneer Wink Communications told ZDNet news. "It's finally an opportunity for them to measure the effectiveness and pay for performance and have direct connectivity to customers."

The key to iTV is the invention of electronic programming guides (EPGs). The viewer will create a personalized EPG and control the TV set to only show the programs you want or suggest ones you may like. The EPG can auto-program your media center so you don't miss anything (heaven forbid?!?) or set off alarms about when certain shows will be presented. The EPG is similar to network "push" technology which automatically loads software updates into your local hardware.

Interactive TV is truly the embodiment of the modern television experience. Burke explains in Spy TV that "the purpose of television is to make you watch television, and here is what makes good television: It keeps you watching. It gets you hooked, gets you to cancel appointments and rush home from meetings with friends. It gets everyone in the room to stop talking and listen to what is on the screen, so they won't miss anything, especially the commercials."

"Interactive TV is not about communication," explains Burke. "It may offer email, but the primary goal is escapism, just like ordinary TV. And the only interaction most viewers will have is with the software. Like a video game, or a coin operated gambling machine, an interactive TV is designed to get you deeply involved with a machine."

Spy TV points out that advertisers will be able to track changing channels, selecting certain programs, viewing habits, browsing through interactive sites, and purchasing habits. In other words, "every click" can be tracked and recorded in a computer database. Broadcasters and advertisers will be able to target audiences with products like never before.

"The most important feature of digital interactive TV is not that you can push different buttons, but that any button you push can be recorded," says Burke. "Even if you never 'play along' with what is on the screen, just turning it on and changing the channels will produce meaningful data that somebody can use."

Advertising will be directed to only some people based on demographics and viewing habits. The television will customize itself to fit your profile. Everything you do on the iTV will cause the unit to react and respond. "Your TV will customize and personalize itself to your desires," explains Burke. "It will learn to anticipate them and help you choose hours of programming. As you sit in your living room, relaxing, letting go, a world of information and convenience is going to open."

Spy TV is book ahead of its time. The book points out the advantages of iTV such as advanced E-commerce and fast picture-based access. There is also, however, issues surrounding a loss of personal privacy and the intense targeting of children with iTV techniques. Your child's favorite TV characters could start personally selling corporate products or speak during the commercial break: "Gosh [insert child's name here], I sure like watching TV with you." Interactive TV opens up your home to the constant intrusion of corporate sponsors and broadcast networks.

"TV has always sought to keep its audience living in a small, artificial world, no more than ten feet from their sets. We have all been encouraged to spend evenings, weekends and family holidays with simulated friends and their vicarious thrills," states Burke.

There is no doubt that television is a powerful advertising tool, now, without any interactivity. With the new waves of technology flowing in with iTV, the television may become more influential than ever in our households. Interactive TV will be a global phenomenon. North America, Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, and Asia are all potential markets for this new "revolution." As Spy TV states in its title page, if this is a "digital revolution," just who or what is being overthrown?

A modern idiom states that "the revolution will be televised." Although maybe this revolution should be boycotted.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 8

If you see the advertisements and the manufacturers of products like tobacco, alcohol, antidepressants then you will get a picture full of smiling people who would like you to think they are your best friends. That they have your welfare, your relaxation, your enjoyment, your entertainment, and so on in their hearts. They know what they are selling is addictive but that will not stop them from sugaring you up into using their products.

Eventually you do get addicted and one day you find that despite your hardest efforts to stop using a product you are unable to do so. The manufacturers and advertisers are grinning and perhaps laughing, mostly on their way to the bank, and it is you who is in danger of developing cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and facing a dismal career and short life.

People do not accept the fact that television is just like any other drug even though they watch it for an average of more than 3 hours per day.

Yet when you study the behavior of a television viewer all the symptoms are identical.

Most importantly, television is not merely a mental game. It has physical implications similar to many other addictive substances. Watching television has not caused anyone to die of cancer but diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and other stress related disorders are closely linked to the idiot box.

Our society has no problem in accepting drug addiction, alcoholism, and other problems but for some reason it approves of television despite all evidence of its addiction potential.

My previous articles have already mentioned the Orienting Response (OR). The OR increases stress in our body but for a very limited period. After 4 seconds of an OR trigger we are once again back to normalcy. Watching television puts the OR into perpetual trigger mode. In other words, it is triggered repeatedly at a very fast rate and the temporary stress becomes permanent and lasts for a long time after the television is switched off.

This means that watching 15 minutes of television translates into anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes of stress. This is because the ceaseless OR triggering causes mental exhaustion and through the other physical affects of OR triggering (Central Nervous System depression, exactly what alcohol and other downers do) causes immense physical stress.

The itch to turn on the television to feel the same relaxation that comes through central nervous system depression (as happens with alcohol) and the abrupt ending of that relaxation the moment the television is turned off is the reason why this contraption is habit forming. This is classic habit-forming drug behavior. Quick relaxation and abrupt stop creates a psychology dependence that is not easy to escape.

It is a very simple thing and also noted in laboratory animals. Reward an animal to do something right and the animal will do it repeatedly. In one experiment electrodes were implanted into the skull of mice and the mice were taught to switch the circuit "on" and "off". The electrodes delivered a mild electric shock to certain areas of the brain that induced the equivalent of "pleasure" in the mice.

These mice eventually started using the trigger to "feel good". They preferred this over sex.

The lesson is that when something makes you feel good you will do it (switching the television on) and you will avoid everything that threatens to disrupt that good feeling (switching it off). Consequently, you watch it longer and longer. Much like an alcoholic who first gets along with a few drinks but eventually graduates to a few bottles.

Television makes the viewer passive and that ultimately leads to a lack of motivation to do anything except sit in front of the television. This is why television viewers are afflicted with obesity, laziness, lack of time, lack of social skills, and other problems. The television becomes their god.

Television addiction is not likely to be recognized as such any time soon. There will be no laws to curb television or outlaw it.

It is up to you as a responsible adult to ensure that the spirit of humanity is not crushed under the apathy and laziness induced by watching television so that we continue to look, recognize, and utilize the opportunities around us instead of looking into a screen that is turning us into vegetables.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 7

What is your main means and method of relaxation? If it is the television then you are addicted my friend.

The television has some weird effects on the human brain and most people are unaware of this small bit of knowledge, which is what keeps the networks in business.

Trouble is that these effects are similar to the affects of any drug, alcohol, or other stimulant.

The lack of awareness to the dangers of television is simply appalling.

Relaxing and addiction
When you feel relaxed by watching television you are experiencing the same sort of relaxation you would feel after two martinis. Your central nervous system gets sluggish, your blood pressure drops, your brain surrenders control, and you feel relaxed. Your mind goes into a hypnotic trance and the worries of the world are forgotten.

Any drug or stimulant is not addictive because of the way it is taken or experienced but it is addictive based on how it leaves the human body.

Put simply, the faster a drug leaves your body the higher are the chances of addiction. Even a single use of a drug can cause enough withdrawal to force an individual into using it again and using it longer.

The moment you hit the red button to turn off the television you are, completely unawares, subjecting yourself to sudden and violent withdrawal. One click and the drug induced fantasy is gone.

Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, the two researchers for the Scientific American that looked into television addiction explain it as follows.

"A tranquilizer that leaves the body rapidly is much more likely to cause dependence than one that leaves the body slowly, precisely because the user is more aware that the drug's effects are wearing off. Similarly, viewers' vague learned sense that they will feel less relaxed if they stop viewing may be a significant factor in not turning the set off."

If you were tired or troubled before watching television then you will feel the same or possibly worse when you switch it off. All that you were trying to escape will recoil and hit you hard. On the other hand if you continue watching television as an escape route then in classic textbook addiction fashion you will become dependent on it. Actually, most people are, that is why they cannot give up their beloved television sets.

Whether you accept the fact of evolution or believe in God you have to admit that human beings have their brains wired to catch any changes in their environment.

This is what keeps us alive when crossing the road, driving, or doing any task where there is danger of running into obstacles. If you weren't aware of your environment a simple rearrangement of furniture would become a minefield for you.

There is a certain way in which this works. The brain automatically responds to any change in environment. The more rapid and sudden the change the faster the brain attempts to respond to it. When this happens the brain basically lets go of the body to concentrate on gathering more information about the change and assessing if it is a threat or not. In evolutionary terms this is known as "orienting response" or OR.

Unexpected changes in volume, zooms, cuts, scene changes, or any sudden movement is what forces you to look at the television even if you do not wish to look. Human beings are hardwired for this response; it is beyond control, mostly.

Commercials use these techniques heavily to numb the viewer's brain into a state where it is ready to accept subconscious suggestions. The camera sweeps when following a ball in a match have the same effect. And we all know what the cameras do in music videos.

Television first grabs your attention and then holds it permanently at one point. This is something like what a hypnotist does and the brain wave data collected in laboratories shows that watching television and going under hypnosis is basically similar.

Here are the symptoms of television addiction.

  • You never turn off the television at the decided time.
  • You always wish you could watch less television but you cannot.
  • You feel uncomfortable when you miss watching television.
  • The television begins replacing other activities and you often complain about shortage of time.
In a society such as ours where television is an essential household item, calling it addiction and accepting it as such is virtually impossible. It is difficult to accept that when everyone is discussing the latest game, soap, or cartoon then they are actually discussing their drug induced fantasies.

According to the most recent study by the Kaiser Foundation our new generations get addicted to television within the first year of their life. Between the ages of 8 and 18 they spend an average of 4 hours per day watching television.

If you cannot call this addiction then I do not know what you call it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

13 years is a long time

The average person watches 5 hours of television per day.

This means:

  • 35 hours per week.
  • 140 hours per month.
  • 1680 hours per year.
All of that translates into 70 days per year.

The average child today spends more time in front of the television than being educated at school (or home for that matter).

For most adults struggling to make ends meet with two jobs the 5 hours per day is like a 3rd job that is not paying and actually destroying the body and mind.

All of us tend to encounter a time problem once in a while. Things are rushed, there is always tension, a push to meet deadlines, and a quite desperation to get things done.

Life itself seems too short to enjoy and you spend it slogging away to retirement only to find that retirement is not so enjoyable after all (forget all those wonderful ads on television).

If you assume an average life span of 70 years then you just spent 4900 days (or 13.6 years) watching television.

Are you even capable of asking yourself what you could do today if you got 13 years to better your life? What about your children and your family?

Every human being is wasting 13 years of his or her individual life watching television but such is the wonder of this addiction that human society itself fails to see the consequences and actually welcomes television as something good and mandatory.

What is more, if you consider the population of the United States alone (approximately 300,000,000), then 5 hours of average viewing per person comes to a staggering 500 billion hours spent in watching television.

500 billion hours per day wasted by one country. Now span that across the global population and see how you feel.

There are other damning statistics as well.
  • The Obesity Epidemic is directly linked to television viewing.
  • ADHD symptoms are manifested and aggravated through television viewing.
  • Children witness more than 15,000 murders before they are 18.
  • Despite dangers of diseases like AIDS sex is glamorized on television.
  • The brains of the viewers go into a hypnotic trance during every viewing, making them susceptible to any nonsensical suggestion. That is why each person witnesses more than 50,000 commercials per year (32 commercials per hour).
However, even if you refute the above and dispute the studies that arrived at the above statistics you would not be as foolish as you would be if you ignored the fact that you are going to spend 13 years of your life watching television.

Just sit down and think that a family of 4 will have spent 280 days in the last year watching television.

We love to harp on family values but what sort of values are these?

We are upset over increasing rates of divorce, belligerent kids, social problems, declining education, and God alone knows what else.

Just imagine - if we took the trillions of hours per day we spend on watching television and applied even a fraction to working on bettering our world then where we could be.

Unfortunately, addicts are not capable of thinking like that.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 6 - The Family

In an experiment conducted a few years ago 25 families (all with young children) were asked to go without television for 1 month.

Not all of them managed but the ones that did reported that after the initial adjustment (withdrawal from television addiction):

  • Their home felt more peaceful and relaxed.

  • Children were more helpful with chores.

  • Interaction between children improved.

  • Children grew more interested in puzzles, crafts, arts, reading, and other activities.

  • Adults found more spare time to devote to productive activities.

  • Mealtimes were more enjoyable and everyone felt healthier.

  • Overall family interaction and relationships improved drastically.

  • Everyone had more free time to work or play or relax.

However, here is the kicker.

When the 1-month was over even the families that reported the above benefits went back to television.

I think that conclusively establishes the parallel between a drug addict and a television addict. Despite enjoying good health in a rehabilitation center the drug addict will relapse when let loose in the real world.

The problem is that the kids will begin to throw tantrums because they cannot cope with withdrawal and the adults are glad to turn on the television just to get the children to leave them alone for a while. After a while the adults will go into "Ok, now it's MY turn," mode and start watching the television.

Most people, when questioned, are ready to admit that the television is in control and not the viewer.

Studies show that the average family (in separate doses) watches around 8 hours of television per day and that television has become THE single most time consuming activity among children. It is also concluded that after money the second biggest obstacle to family harmony is television addiction. Sex, alas, comes a dismal third.

Skepticism to Television Addiction
Some people are not convinced that television is all that dangerous.

When informed that a human being will have watched 15,000 hours (on average) of television before the age of 17 out of which 5,000 hours were watched before attending kindergarten, these people simply shrug and say, "So what?"

The California Department of Education conducted a study correlating the amount of television viewing and scholastic achievement across half-a-million school children.

Their conclusion: regardless of the child's social and economic background, study habits, lifestyle, and IQ, higher time spent watching television was directly proportional to lower test scores.

Television addiction replaces the playtime of children. It is a passive and antisocial activity that replaces an active and social childhood.

Playing is a major part of childhood because children are learning social skills along with developing their imagination and intellect.

Playing with other children enhances social skills, team building, support, mutual reliance, and respect for others.

Playing alone teaches the child the value of leisure, the strength of independence, and the ability to self-entertain and not give in to boredom (a state that often leads them to drugs and alcohol).

In one sweep television takes all that away and replaces it with a hypnotic trance like state that stunts the child's intellect, imagination, creativity, social skills, and self-reliance.

Every moment spent watching television is a moment the child should be using to develop into a stable human being that is equally comfortable when alone as he or she is when in company.

Parental interaction is also crucial to the child's development. Using television time to come physically together and pointless if there is no interaction between child and parent or all interaction is centered on the television.

A child has to learn how a family works, how individuals live together, how adults solve problems, and so on. All the time that should be going towards this is now dedicated to television.

Many families assume they are interacting by watching television together. Sadly, television watching is a passive activity. The viewer's brain effectively shuts down when watching television. The togetherness is only physical with no intellectual or emotional interaction between family members. You might as well sit in a busload of strangers and assume they are all family members for how much you interact with them.

Every generation of television addicts follows the same pattern.
  • The television begins as an adult's addiction.

  • Then the television becomes a babysitter to keep the children occupied until adults finish their chores.

  • The children are numbed through viewing, as they do not have sufficient self-control to cope with the anesthetizing effect of television.

  • The children are soon addicted and their development is badly affected.

  • Eventually it is impossible to separate the children and television. The link between addict and drug becomes permanent.

  • Parents meanwhile retreat from active child rearing as they too suffer from the same problem from their childhood.

  • This leads to family breakdown that could have been avoided if the children had not been exposed to a known addictive substance to begin with.
The evidence of television addiction for adults and children is the same as it is for any addict and his or her substance of choice.

Take away that substance and their lives are reduced to uncontrollable chaos.

The children will cry, lose temper, throw tantrums, sulk, go into depression, fight with one another, cause trouble in school, not be able to focus on daily tasks . . . the list is endless.

The adults will feel stressed, unable to handle free time, feel an uncontrollable urge to fondle the remote control, be restless, and suffer from other withdrawal symptoms.

The adults will admit that most of what they watch is worthless in that it neither entertains nor informs, it is watched through sheer helplessness of an addict.

What to do
Those families that are serious about maintaining harmony and saving their kids from this corruption take the best, and most drastic, step. They simply get rid of the television.

In other words, they are the type of addict with the guts to go cold turkey after realizing the dangers of addiction.

However, it is not required that you make this ultimate sacrifice as long as you can show and enforce some discipline in your viewing habits.

The important part is that ALL adults must follow the same rules about television watching if the children are expected to follow. There are no exceptions when dealing with addiction. If one adult snorts coke in the family then I leave it to your imagination where a child addict will look for his or her next fix.
  • Monday to Friday
    This is your first rule. No television, this means the damn thing should not be powered, unplug it and put it in storage, from Sunday night to Saturday morning. Even if the school assigns work that requires television you will not use it. This controls random viewing. Children KNOW when and what they get to watch. They do not bolt down their dinner, or worse, eat in front of the television. They are also under no pressure to finish their homework before some show begins (they of course will think the adults have all gone crazy).

  • There should be no concessions, exceptions, "Okay, but just this once" type of situations. Long holidays do not mean you can do drugs. If you do something like that then all the hard work in months past will be wasted in a single day.

  • Daily Limits do not work. Trying to limit viewing to 1 or 2 hours per day never works. Studies show that these rules are the easiest to violate. For a rule to work the television must be inoperable. That is why the "in storage from Sunday night to Saturday morning" rule works better than daily restriction.
For some families the addiction is so severe that they hesitate from establishing rules, following such rules is way beyond their capacities and capabilities. These are addicts that cannot be cured through therapy but need their stomachs pumped. In other words, they need some really tough treatment.

Some doctors are beginning to recommend the following for such hardcore television addicts.
  • Use an old television with poor reception.

  • Do not keep the television in the living room. Move it to the basement that has no heating or air-conditioning.

  • Do not keep more than one television.

  • Do not give separate televisions to children.

  • Enroll in some classes that help build confidence and regain self-control.
Beware of being a hypocrite. Lecturing and scolding your children on the ills of television or just asking them to cut down on viewing while following no such restrictions yourself will defeat you in this fight against addiction.

Some people argue that adults do lots of things that children are not permitted. Quite true, but do you have sex in front of your children? If you have smoked marijuana then would you do it in front of your children? Do you want them to turn into sex maniacs and pot smokers just so that you can indulge in your pleasures because "I am an adult so I can do this but the kids should not"?

The first few days will be terrible because of withdrawal. Children will numbly sit and stare at the vacant spot where the television used to be, that is when they are not crying, arguing, wailing, sulking, and bugging you or pleading with you to get the root of all evil back because they miss their addiction.

As an adult you have to be planned for this. Do not expect children to just switch from television to reading or crafts on day one.

It will take time and hard work to get them interested and get their rusted and atrophied brains working again.

You have to teach them how they can entertain themselves and most importantly pay attention to their needs. Do not leave them to sulk it out.

In the end you will have saved them from ruin and kept your family together.

When you begin seeing improvement in your children and family life it is time to be really tough and vow to not bring the television back into your life and explain to your children to stay away from this scourge and pass on the same lesson to their own children.

This is your family and all its future generations. Do not piss it all away to a stupid addiction.
If you have not read Unplugging the Plug-In Drug (by Marie Winn) then I strongly recommend you do so.

In addition you must also read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

Winn's book provides several insights into television addiction that are helpful for adults and children alike.

Trelease's book will help you in getting started with reading stories to your children. This book features 300 reviews of books that you can start with. It also has 1 chapter dedicated to television addiction and how to break free from it.

Both these books are ideal for facing another scientifically established menace that holds humanity in its grip. Television addiction is believed to be the biggest reason for decline in literary knowledge and learning levels (do not confuse this with education levels).

Television decreases the attention span while reading expands it. Television replaces imagination and creative thought while reading encourages growth and development of imagination and creativity.