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.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Television Addiction - Some Social Issues

Social Perception of Addiction
Reduced to ultimate simplistic levels addiction is nothing more than a habit gone out of control.

Any habit that gets out of control may be considered addiction but not all habits have a social stigma attached to them that makes them undesirable.

For example a drug addict obviously has a wrong or negative habit.

An alcoholic similarly has a problem with alcohol though it has less social stigma attached to it than drugs. The middle class is full of moderate alcoholics who drink to sleep every night but otherwise lead perfectly normal lives.

Then there are workaholics. Seen from a clinical perspective they are no better than alcoholics except for the nature of their addiction. They have little or no social stigma to worry about. Besides complaints from their immediate family there is sufficient admiration for a hard worker to prevent him from changing his ways.

It may even be argued that those who completely dedicate themselves to the pursuit of knowledge or some idealistic goal to the neglect of their own needs and those of their family are also addicted in some way though they are often perceived as heroes.

Social Perception of Television Addicts
Seen in this light, scientists conclude that a television addict is somewhere between a drug addict and a workaholic.

A drug addict has a negative image in society while a workaholic is on the positive side.

The television addict has a slightly negative image that is neither considered fully positive nor wholly negative.

The reason for this is that human society evaluates certain attitudes based on what it considers work and leisure. Anything productive is work and hence good. Leisure, by definition, is not productive. It may be relaxing and all other wonderful things but productive it is not.

Therefore, the social attitude is that a person committed to work cannot become a television addict because television is a leisure activity.

It is also argued that television addiction has some benefits in that it brings the family physically together (especially during dinner time). The catch here is that the togetherness is only physical because no one desires of conversation when they are together in front of the television. They are merely "there".

In this way a family full of television addicts is physically together and mentally distanced at the same time.

The problem arises because the addiction is not limited to the content but the medium in which the content is presented.

Studies show that people who are hooked to specific programs (sports, cartoons, wildlife, and so on) are less likely to suffer from full-blown television addiction when compared to mindless channel surfers.

Sadly, the percentage of television viewers that have specific favorites is dismally low. Most viewers will watch damn near anything that is coming on the television.

The Family of Television Addicts
Television addiction increases because in a given family there are people of different ages, genders, with differing levels of education, personal beliefs, intellectual orientation, personal tastes, and so on.

This creates the familiar situation where children prefer cartoons, women prefer soaps, young males to sports, elder males to news, young females to fashion shows, students to quiz and educational programs, while the very elderly may veer towards religious programs.

The end result = Non-stop television as they take turns = A family full of television addicts.

The physical togetherness mentioned earlier is not harmonious under these conditions. This is especially true when two different programs are aired at the same time and cause a conflict among the family as to which one will be watched.

This creates categorical addiction and its associated conflicts.

Sometimes a single program cannot be watched together. When all age groups in family are watching the same program a sudden appearance of nudity, excessive violence, foul language, or any objectionable material causes severe tension as embarrassment or confusion is experienced by the entire family but there is a severe inability to do anything about it.

This creates responses like panic channel switching, leaving the room or asking the children to leave the room, or the elderly scolding their children for allowing the grandchildren to see such material.

The physical togetherness in front of a television not only harbors mental distance but also engenders intellectual conflicts.

Then there is the fact that addiction to specific programs can have severe and direct impact of the lifestyle of the viewer. Around the time when the program is to be aired the addict will resent social intrusion by others and avoid personal social duties. In other words, the addiction to a program will begin to determine the addict's behavior related to eating, study, exercise, worship and other lifestyle issues.

The physical sense of being together is false because there is no intellectual or emotional togetherness. The addicts thus begin to lose out on social life as well as family life.

The Multi-Channel Problem
This problem was less severe before cable and the advent of hundreds of channels. The increase in choice has increased the probability of every family member being addicted to a different program on some channel and this eventually leads to time conflicts when two channels show their programs at the same time and there are different viewing demands.

Among high-income families this results in more than one television in the house and the physical togetherness of the middle-class family is sacrificed to television addiction.

In essence, the so-called freedom of choice actually turns into a form of bondage. This is especially true when you consider that all family soaps targeted at the lowest common denominator are essentially the same and the conflict on who gets to watch which one is completely without merit.

Another problem with multi-channel content is language. With the advent of international channels, countries like India suddenly had a ton of English channels that found favor with youngsters, college students, and Hollywood lovers. This is in addition to multilingual countries like India having hundreds of channels dedicated to individual languages. There are Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Gujarati, Jain, Assamese, and many, many more channels carrying programs specific to certain regional languages. The case is the same in other countries with international operators vying for local audiences.

This is often seen as progress but when seen from a television addiction perspective it all comes down to restricting the choice of the addict and forcing him down one particular line.

Think of it like this: You are walking through a jungle and suddenly you are face-to-face with a hungry tiger. Your freedom of movement is limited to every direction except the one leading "towards" the tiger. If a second tiger appears from another direction then you freedom of movement has two restrictions. When you are completely surrounded by tigers you have absolutely no freedom of movement.

In my earlier articles I mentioned how the human brain perceives television as a potential threat from a predator. When there are too many simultaneous threats, the human being will simply drop unconscious, as the brain is unable to cope. With television there is a severe restriction in freedom of choice of action and this creates a false sense of anxiety and all its associated physical and psychological evils.

Eventually the family of television addicts reaches a point where, for example when a student has to skip television because of a crucial university exam, the inability to watch television begins to create deprivation and withdrawal.

Television addiction is also a result of inability to intelligently choose what to watch and above all else it is clear and undeniable evidence of a lack of self-discipline.

Human beings with physical and mental self-control are fully capable of avoiding all sorts of addiction.

Start fighting television addiction today.

Fighting television addiction - Part 5 - Television & Watching Television

What is the main difference between someone who has been off drugs, alcohol, and tobacco addiction for 5 years and someone who has been off television for the same time?

"Been off television," means the device itself has no existence in the former addict's life.

The differences are:

  • The television addict is at a higher danger of suffering relapse.
  • The television addict seldom has any help from family and friends in staying away from the electronic drug.
  • The television addict receives no encouragement from society and his social circle for having successfully avoided the drug for 5 years.
  • There is hardly any place where the former television addict can turn to for help in case there is imminent danger of falling into addiction again.
For the regular junta it is impossible to understand a life with no television. This does not mean not watching television for 3 days because you were hiking with your girl/boyfriend. It means living as if no such thing as a television exists.

There are two broad categories of television viewers.
  1. Those that have a television.
  2. Those that watch television shows without cable or satellite TV. In other words, they watch recordings with all commercials and promos edited out. Or they are subscribers to services like Netflix.
Studies show that the 1st type of viewer is the true addict and watches more television per day than the 2nd type.

The human brain (and mind) is incapable of distinguishing the source of television content. The difference simply is that having a television with a live source (like cable or satellite) prompts higher viewing instead of subscribing to a recording or rental service.

What this means is that having a television involves less thought and less choice. When you have to choose what you watch because every rental is going to cost you something you automatically become severe in your choice. You will want every minute of viewing to be worth what you pay. This is the reverse of having cable or satellite where you pay monthly and get into the mindset that you ought to recover your monthly expense.

There are some common observations among people who give up on television completely.
  • Lower stress levels
    Television subconsciously creates stress in the viewer that keeps adding up and eventually begins to show adverse affects. Hypertension (high blood pressure) can be seriously aggravated through television viewing.

  • Increased reading
    It has been documented that those who give up on television automatically begin reading more. Their minds make a natural shift to a healthier source of information.

  • Increased physical activity
    People who give up television are more active physically and consequently they are in better control of their weight and fitness. Countless medical studies have shown that television causes problems like weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol, arthritis, and visual impairment.

  • Increased libido
    As I have mentioned in my previous articles, the affect of television is similar to alcohol or any other central nervous system depressants. You know what happens when you drink too much or take antidepressant pills for too long. Your libido drops like a rock. Long term alcohol and antidepressant usage leads to male impotency.

    Put simply, sex and television are completely incompatible. Giving up television means more sex and more importantly, quality sex (sorry if that sounds cheesy).
So what is the difference between "Television" and "Watching Television"?
There are three major problems with television. Switching to "watching television" (pre-recorded and edited content) lowers the risk of incurring the damage that comes from "television" (owning the device and having a live source like cable, satellite, or Internet TV).

The 3 evils of "television" can be avoided by switching to DVDs, downloadable content, and time-shifted and prerecorded shows (as available on TIVO) that edit out all commercials and promos).

Richard Restak has been one of the biggest promoters of television programs and even he has begun to speak out about the dangers of this device. In his book The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind he highlights a study that shows clear evidence of how television viewers suffered from higher PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from post-9/11 programs than those who did not watch television.

The 3 Evils of Television
  1. Addiction
    To repeat: Viewing television is like consuming any central nervous system depressant like alcohol, tobacco, antidepressant medication, or recreational drugs. Television creates the same psychological and mental state in the viewer as a drug creates in a drug abuser. Skipping television creates the same problems with withdrawal as any other addictive substance. Similar to other drugs, television viewing is required in increasing doses before the addict is satisfied.

  2. Loss of Logical Thinking
    The human brain involves something known as the "Fight or Flight" response. Unfortunately, despite all evidence of intelligence the brain is not smart enough to know which trigger is real and which is not. In the presence of false triggers the brain self-induces anxiety and panic attacks.

    Television news is now available in HDTV with fantastic color resolutions. The bad news is that MRI scans used in experiments have shown that the brain cannot distinguish between reality, what it sees on television, or high-resolution photographs.

    In all three cases the brain reacts as if it is seeing the real thing and the "Fight or Flight" response is triggered.

    This means that the brain cannot distinguish between experienced (real) and visualized (only seen) terror.

    The eventual upshot of this all is that the brain's capacity for logical thinking is reduced because the "logical" part of the brain is constantly defeated by the "reflex action" part of the brain.

    Studies have also concluded that the same news event experienced through a radio or print (without photographs) does not produce any of the above ill effects because the mind has no visual interpretation of what it listens or reads.

  3. Brain Drain
    The reason television is addictive involves both the above 2 points. The "reflex action" part of our brain is an evolutionary hangover from the days when humans lived in the wild and were under constant threat from predators.

    When the brain perceives a threat it puts other physical activity on hold and concentrates on seeking out more information about the threat in order to be prepared for the right response: Fight or Flight (please read Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor for more information on this).

    You may be in the 21st century but this part of the brain is still in some jungle with a tiger or snake behind every tree and in every bush.

    The human brain is highly tuned to any change, no matter how small, in light and shadow that can help in identifying a potential threat. The television (even HDTV or whatever might come next) is nothing more than light and shadow manipulation to create images.

    This is the reason why, when there is a television within eyesight, it is impossible for human beings to ignore it. Your brain will demand you look at it because it might be a potential threat.

    This leads to brain drain, as a major part of your brain is busy processing information for threat assessment. This causes lapse in concentration, disruption of thoughts, and decreased relaxation because of higher stress levels resulting from assumption of danger.

    During this stage your blood vessels are dilated, the heart rate slows down, blood flow to all major muscle groups is constricted, and the alpha waves in your brain stop for a few seconds.

    This happens no matter what type of content you are watching. Even if you are watching a comedy, a romantic movie, a thriller, a boring documentary - the content is not the problem, it is how television works.

    The device itself is a threat and not what you see.

    It not only causes the muscles and heart to suffer but also involves the brain in needless processing leading to needless complications in thoughts and emotions.
There are some serious physical, psychological, and emotional complications that can arise from television addiction. This is especially true of children who have very little mental control and absorb all received information without questioning its legitimacy.

Avoiding The 3 Evils of Television
Here are some tips on how you can save yourself and your children from this dangerous drug.
  • Switch to DVD or downloadable content
    Quit on "television" as a whole and switch to "watching television" that is edited to your preferences. This will still trigger the same responses in your brain but in a limited way. Movies are less harmful than news, advertisements, and promos. The potential for abuse is still there as you might download dozens of movies so be careful.

  • Home Theater
    No, I am not going to suggest you buy a home theater. What I mean is to move the television to a room that is treated as a movie viewing area and not a "television" area. This may not be possible for everyone so a little creativity is required. The objective is to convert the existing TV room into something more productive and beneficial. Treat the room as a destination where you would only go with an objective and not to pass the time. Only watch movies and pre-recorded edited programs that have no news, advertisements, or promos.

  • Websites, RSS, and Radio
    If you have something against newspapers then switch to getting your news through the Internet or Radio. When using the Internet use "text only" services that do not show images with news items. RSS feeds are really helpful.

  • Time Tracking
    Maintain a log of how much television you watch per day and aggressively work on reducing it.

  • Dealing with children
    This may just be the toughest part to handle as the kids are going to raise hell and even think you are crazy for quitting on television and forcing them to do the same. You need to act responsibly, hold open family discussions, and explain the issue of addiction. If you have explained about drugs, alcohol, and smoking then treat this similarly.

  • Plan B
    Make backup plans of activities that you can enjoy when the withdrawal symptoms have you in their grip. Always have a list of things to do when not watching television so that you are never caught in the, "I have nothing to do, I am bored," trap.
The problem with "television" is that it is always there. You just need to click the remote and you are back at drug abuse and so are your children.

You cannot avoid the natural reactions of the human mind and body by switching to "watching television" selectively but the ill effects are drastically reduced.

Some parents often show concern when their children switch from "television" to spending excessive time on the Internet or playing video games.

This indicates and appalling lack of awareness. The evils of television stand alone and so far there is no scientific evidence that excessive Internet usage or playing video games has the same effect on the human mind and body.

The problem with television is not only related to what you see on it but also to the device that shows it. You can bring a black-and-white television from your great grandfather's days or use the most up-to-date HDTV - the problem is not the content but the form.

"Watching television" is less harmful but only because you get to choose how much and in what way you wish to harm yourself.

"Television" used normally is much more dangerous and addictive.

I would recommend that you switch to "watching television" with an ultimate goal to give up on "television" altogether.

We live in a pleasant and safe world that no longer has predators lurking around every corner (unless you count MBAs) so why are you burdening yourself with imaginary and addictive terrors and exposing your children to the same?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 4 - Curing the Children

Whenever anyone out of my 3 nephews, 1 niece, 2 elder brothers or their wives enter a particular room they switch on the television.

2 of my nephews wake up and reach for the remote control (one of them is only 3 years old). When the other nephew and niece wake up they will first go to the television room and not brush their teeth or do anything else.

They will usually all be in front of the television by 9:30am on holidays and will breakfast till 11:30am. How anyone can spend 2 hours on breakfast should be apparent - they are not eating breakfast, they are watching television.

If you do not let them go out to play and they have finished their homework they have a problem. "What should I do?"

Their respective mothers will sit beside them with remote in hand watching all sorts of immoral women on television while the children attempt to do their homework.

The truth is that these children are as addicted to television as any adult might be addicted to alcohol, smoking, or drugs.

They wake up in the morning and in a half-asleep zombie state will shuffle to worship the television. They cannot eat anything without the television on. They cannot spend one minute of their free time doing anything except watching television. All curricular activities are done at school. At home it is either schoolwork or television.

The consequences of such habits can be serious because numerous studies evidence the fact that children that watch television tend to be fatter and have higher cholesterol levels when compared to children that do not (or watch less). Because of the hypnotic-suggestive state induced by television some medical experts also argue that children may become violent, depressed, short on temper, intolerant, and anti-social through excessive watching.

These are children, our children, the future of the human species and I think we all should be taking better care of them. We have laws to protect our children from exposure to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

It is time you became responsible and followed some laws to protect your children from the dangers of television addiction.

  • Track viewing time
    In his book Helping Children Watch TV, Nicholas A. Roes suggests that parents are never aware of how much time their children spend watching the TV. He suggests maintaining a log. Most parents are shocked to know that the children spend an average of more than 30 hours per week on television.

  • The TV is not a pacifier
    In my family the television is used as a pacifier. When a small child becomes uncontrollable there is a always the tendency to, "Heeeey, look at that. What is that on the TV?" If a child refuses to eat then, "Why don't you watch this cartoon and I will feed you?" The Television is used as a device to get children to do something or to control them. Busy parents are more guilty of this as they leave their children to the television while finishing chores.

    In her book Unplugging the Plug-in Drug, Marie Winn says, "Don't get in the habit of using television as a babysitter, no matter how busy you are." Seek out things that your children can do instead of turning them into addicts. If it's wrong to give them marijuana it is wrong to let them watch television.

  • Be Prepared
    Go through the list of programs for the upcoming week and make a careful selection that balances time and program value. Remember that television creates a suggestive state like hypnosis and children absorb the values they see. Cut out all the violence and add more educational value to the programs you choose for your children.

    Always watch at least one episode on your own to make sure that these are the values your child should learn. If it does not measure up, never try it again.

    One important thing here is that as soon as the program is over you must unplug the television and lock up the remote. There should be no delay for any reason that serves as an excuse to watch more television.

  • Weekly off
    There are two easy (for parents at least) ways of cutting out television. The first is to make a rule that there will be no television on school days. Marie Winn recommends discussing this openly with your children so they understand why this is important. The second way is to again discuss things with the children and designate either Saturday or Sunday as the weekly "No Television For Anyone" day. On this day no child or adult will switch the television on - for any reason.
People mistakenly believe that this will turn the children toward needless rebellion but as Marie Winn explains in her book, if you discuss it properly with them so that they understand there will be no rebellion.

Once the children fall into the habit of filling their leisure time with other activities their chances of reverting to television depends on their level of addiction. Needless to say, as a parent you have to provide the right support to help the children recover.

The weekly television off method will also make it clear how dependent the family is on television. You may almost feel ashamed but that cannot be helped.

You are dealing with addiction and you cannot cure it without facing withdrawal.

The children will beg, plead, cry, throw tantrums, and do everything in their power to melt you or manipulate you into letting them watch television. If you give in then picture yourself as a dope dealer giving one more fix to a dope fiend because you felt sorry for him.

Would you do that to your own children?

The important thing here is to explain to the children that this is not punishment but the right and healthy way to live. The children will assume punishment and it is your job to explain the difference. Use the reward method if required. Promise them something by the weekend if they are willing to give up on television.

Modern technologies can help you manipulate television programs. It is recommended you never watch anything live. Use timers to record programs and then watch them on replay. This gives you tremendous control on what your children get to see. You can pause during conflicting or violent content to explain things to the children and fast-forward during commercials to protect them from mindless advertisements. You could also watch the commercials and discuss with slightly older children the benefits of skepticism at advertisements. Buying this toy, that deodorant, some toothpaste, or anything is not likely to make them achieve the same things the commercial says - explain this to them.

In my own family there is no fixed bedtime for anyone. Bedtime is when the movie or program is over. Dishes are not done, beds are not made, sleep is insufficient and all the countless evils of arranging life around television are perpetrated every day.

It is critical that the bedtime for children be fixed and television must not be even the last reason to change that. An addition to this rule is that there should be no television in the room where children sleep.

These are some of the things that you can do to control television addiction in your children.

It may not be easy but it must be done if you wish your children to lead healthy and normal lives without sacrificing their respective minds and bodies.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 3

The average individual today spends 70 days a year watching television. That is almost 20% of 365 days spent in doing - nothing.

The United States and most developed countries are now facing an obesity crisis but so far no bright mind has caught on to the fact that nearly every medical study has linked television with higher rates of diabetes and obesity.

Like most forms of addiction the first step to fix this is to acknowledge that the problem exists. If you insist on spending at least 1 hour (even if that is in installments) watching television but holding that you are not addicted then best of luck, enjoy channel flipping.

If you do not have the guts and the determination to kick your addiction then I can only hope that you do not end up an obese and diabetic idiot that complains there is no time to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

If you exercise for a total of 70 days a year you will live longer and healthier. Not to mention a lot smarter because you mind will not be mud.

Here are some gradual steps on how to decrease watching television with a view to finally giving it up forever, just like you would want to give up booze, pot, heroine, amphetamines, or any other type of addiction.

  1. First off, do not switch on the television until you know exactly what you wish to watch. Do not flip channels in the hope of finding something worth watching. In short, stop hunting like a junkie roams around town looking for a dope pusher so he can get his next fix.

  2. You have to make watching television difficult for yourself so throw away the remote. Get rid of it so that you have to get up every time you want to adjust the volume or change the channel. This will automatically get you off the channel surfing habit.

  3. When you sit down in front of the idiot box (by the way, the idiot is outside the box, watching it) set an alarm or timer for an hour. When it goes off switch of the television no matter what. This is important, do not fall into the classical addict behavior of "just one more drink", "just one more drag", "just one more fix". When the timer goes, unplug the television and walk away. If you cannot do this yourself then you need professional help. Sad but true.

  4. If you are a typical television owner then that unholy contraption is probably located in the most important spot in the room. Rearrange the room so that the television is just something on the side. Always keep it in a place where you have to sit uncomfortably to watch it. The more uncomfortable you are the shorter your viewing session will become. If you end up with backache because your addiction forced you sit uncomfortably then you need professional help. Also sad but true.

  5. The most critical part - never have a meal with the television on. Always use the time at hand to do anything except watch television. The TV-time should be time that you had rather spend at your own funeral. Focus on your food and nutrition, talk to your family, have healthy conversations and share your feelings and thoughts instead of watching the television.

  6. If possible, hide the television but putting it behind some piece of furniture or covering it with a sheet or blanket. Allow it to become part of the background scenery and not something important.

  7. Make a list of things to do during the day whenever you feel like watching television. Honest to goodness there is a whole universe out there waiting for you so do not waste it mutating into an idiot. Go ride a bike, take a walk, learn music or painting, check up with friends, read books, do crosswords puzzles, buy a telescope and check out the stars, or just do something that improves your mind and body. Involve your children and grandchildren and help them get rid of their addiction too.

  8. Further to the above rule is taking money away from the television and becoming a library member or buying books and setting a strict rule to finish at least 50-100 pages in a week.
If you have more than one television then give away all except one. Giving away your extra televisions to charity also entitles you to a tax rebate. Check your local laws.

Get Active
  1. Make a list of things that need to be done around the house. Cleaning, organizing, rearranging, cooking special recipes, painting, kitchen work, family albums, there is really no shortage of chores. Then prepare a strict timetable as suits your work routine and stick to it. The television will pull you like a magnet and you have tell it to kiss your ass and keep calling because you are busy. Remember that the television is calling all idiots and you are out to prove you are not one.

  2. Pick a sport or game that you enjoy and involve your family or friends. From cards to tennis, basketball, pool, anything that gets you out of the chair and moving on your feet is any time better than vegetating in front of the television.

  3. News junkies should switch to newspapers. Honestly, there was a time when there were only newspapers around and no one died from lack of up-to-the-second information. Weather prediction is good enough once a day, you do not have to see it changing every hour. If someone halfway across the world or even 30 miles away did something what can you do about it? Just know that it was done? Wow! That's thrilling. Why don't you start working in the stock market and actually watch something that can make you money? Bottom line: Watch news only once a day and for only 15 minutes. Pick the news channel that keeps things short. The newspaper is good enough for everything else.

  4. Do not watch anything that is repeated. I love Star Wars and I have seen it 30 times and it hasn't brought me any benefits. Repetition is very comforting and that is why people like it. Every junkie and dope fiend knows the joy of repetition. Strictly avoid all reruns of anything on television.

  5. Make a habit of stepping out of your home at least once after dinner. That flab around your waist is because you eat in front of the idiot-maker and then sit digesting what you eat in front of the same idiot-maker. Go for a walk to improve your digestion and keep your abs flat. You will sleep better too.

  6. Do not use comfortable lounge chairs in front of the television. Use hard and straight-backed chairs that feel like a punishment. Use comfy chairs in the reading room or games room.

  7. I love Scarlett Johansson too and I too drool over Kate Beckinsale but I do not haunt celebrity shows. Oprah Winfrey sucks because she is talking to you to make money and does not really give a damn if you are turning into a vegetable because of your addiction.

    Studies show that there are no shows that actually inform or entertain viewers; most of them are just counting on your numb-minded state to make money. First they dope you then they dupe you and you, you poor idiot fish, you actually think they are some sort of god.

    Avoid the following types of television programs.

    • Entire games. I too like sports I am a health nut. But it is healthier to go out and play rather than sit for so many hours watching for a result that comes out in 5 minutes. Watch the highlights if you must but never the entire game.

    • Avoid shows with background laughter. If a program thinks you are so dumb that you cannot recognize funny unless you hear other people laughing then you are better off without it. Unless of course you really are that dumb in which case you are the ideal television viewer, already a damn vegetable.

    • Avoid reality shows that torment or ridicule the participants. Most reality shows are based on some form of subtle cruelty. Just cut out the reality shows. You want reality that shakes your insides then just visit the ER in the hospital closest to you. You will be shaken for life.

    • Avoid shows that do not match your inner values and life principles. If you are against guns and violence then do not watch shows that make heavy use of such.
This is not easy. You will be a very unhappy puppy or like a child that has lost its all-day-sucker. You will wail, gnash your teeth, curse me a lot, and generally be like a junkie that forgot to refill his quota of drugs and is now suffering mortally.

Unfortunately, that is the price every addict pays for not having had enough sense to stay away from addictive substances.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fighting television addiction - Part 2

Flip, Flip, Flip.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, will at one point of time say that there is nothing worthwhile watching on television but - no one will switch if off and go read a book or exercise.

Most viewers are aware that they are not being entertained at all but they are simply unable to switch off the damned thing and do something productive that will be better for their mental, physical, and emotional well being.

What is truly bad about this situation is the realization in the viewer that this is wrong and should not be happening but a complete inability to stop it from happening.

I can again relate to this from my alcoholic days. I used to stare at my drink and say to myself, "You should not drink man, this is not right, seek help of some sort, just do not drink."

Then I would gulp it all down. And I would do so everyday.

I wasted a good portion of my youth, my leisure, and of course my life because I wrongfully assumed that I could not quit.

Television addiction is the same. Whether it is your love for your children that serves as an excuse to get one or it is your dedication to the ball games or some females fascination with disgusting soaps, the addiction is dragging you into a mess that you do not need and can certainly do without.

Except that your friends, family, relatives, acquaintances, colleagues, barber, doctor, store clerk, and all the rest will pressure you to watch television.

"Did you see that last touchdown? Wow!"

"This toy is based on that cartoon character. What? Your parents do not allow you to watch television?"

"I really wish you had get a television just so you could keep up with fashion changes."

The Brain
When you tell your kids to turn off the television when they are watching a cartoon rerun for the 10th time and they do not, what do you think?

They are not defying you. Their brains are scrambled by the television. They are unable to think. And they actively resist your attempt to deprive them of their addictive substance.

Our body and mind is sharply tuned to threats. Thousands of years of evolution have made it so in order to help us survive. The play of light and shadow on television that makes images is interpreted as a threat.

The television produces the same results. Your mind goes into overdrive and the body becomes passive as all attention is focused on the source of the threat. Except that the threat is forced under the guise of entertainment.

The relaxation felt while watching television is due to physical lethargy as the mind intensely focuses on what the eyes see. All this happens extremely fast and after a few minutes of watching the mind is in the same state as it would be in a semi-hypnotic trance.

You actually start believing all the nonsense that you see. That is why there are so many commercials.

The television numbs you, hypnotizes you, then tells you to buy something, and you do not even realize this is being done to you.

However, the really disgusting part, as with any addiction, is that though it is easy to get into the habit of seeking pleasure through a television you cannot break out of it easily.

Even people who show tremendous will power in other aspects of life are unable to decrease their viewing time no matter how hard they try.

This is the reason why so many people eventually end up watching crap. They know nothing good is coming on any channel but they will just sit there like fools flipping through the network in the hope that something might show up.

They will do this for more than 2 hours and then complain that modern life is so busy they do not have time for anything else.


Sensory Overload
There is an even more dangerous aspect to watching television. The danger is two fold.

The second part of the danger is that unlike most other substance abuse the effects will not be seen or if seen will not be recognized as such. In addition to the dangers of addiction is the fact that the symptoms and fallout of addiction is so subtle that quite often people seek the wrong treatment. If a child you know suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) then the last thing you would suspect is a television. Unfortunately, the child will most likely be hopelessly addicted. Combine that with the fact that a majority of ADHD patients are adults who wish they had been treated as children (80% in the United States alone) and you are just about beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.

The human brain was simple not constructed to cope with television. Television, and I do not mean modern programming, I mean right from when public broadcasts became popular entertainment, has always bombarded the viewer with a rapid succession of images and sounds.

Though the human brain (and mind) are remarkable and we have invented some wonderful things there is a limited amount of information that it can process at a time.

Television, in short, is information overload for your mind and forces the same attention flipping as witnessed in an ADHD victim.

The brain cannot choose what it will process. When it begins choosing we end up with disorders like autism. Television is the ultimate scourge when it comes to sensory data.

The brain simply cannot cope and goes numb. And the viewer feels strangely relaxed.

Another bad aspect of this is that you are using up memory unconsciously storing away names, images, sounds, soap plots, fictional characters that become family members, advertisements, faces, and who knows what totally needless garbage.

The second biggest complain after "There is not enough time" is that there is not enough money.

What if you took all the time and more importantly all the brain power you waste on television and directed it to learning some skills or focusing on your family and business.

What will lead you to more prosperity, family happiness, and leisure time? An effort in that direction or flipping channels like a zombie?

It is impossible to describe or to relate to the volume of intellectual garbage that the mind of a television viewer is loaded with.

Television watching leads to depression because the mind continues processing this meaningless barrage of information that eventually turns into damaging material. You start collecting memories that are not real and emotions that are not your own.

Recent studies have also shown a strong link between Alzheimer's and television viewing. The jury is still out on whether Alzheimer's patients like watching TV or watching TV causes Alzheimer's but one thing is certain, they are connected.

You would not want your father, mother, husband, wife, child, uncle, aunt, friend, colleague, or anyone else dying from lung cancer because of smoking and you would probably do something to prevent that.

But such is the power of television that despite having shown all the evidence of the harms of television you will neither stop yourself or those you care about.

If your take is that there is no conclusive evidence that television causes any mental or physical damage (TV addicts are more obese than others and obesity brings with it a long list of diseases) then you are like tobacco lobbyists busy screaming that there is no conclusive evidence that smoking causes lung cancer.

Giving up on television is as dreadful a thought for most people as going cold turkey is for junkies. Numerous medical studies show that when it comes to quitting television everyone suffers from the same symptoms that a full blown dope fiend would suffer if deprived of his drug of choice.

Among people who were forced to quit television under a medical study the first four days were the worst.

Some people were even paid not to watch television but they switched to watching and staying broke rather than not watching and making money.

Even if you do manage to quit you are in trouble because eventually someone will ask you if you saw something or another and when you say you do not own a television they will think you are crazy.

It has happened to me several times. I say I do not watch television and I get a funny look from people.

The good news is that the funny looks cannot turn my brain into mush and I know that I am smarter than other people. I have plenty of free time. I work out twice a day. I am healthy, smart, and successful. And I never complain that I do not have time.

It is not possible for a television viewer to understand how anyone can live without one.

The most annoying and unrecognized aspect of television is that people do not make it part of their plan but start planning around it. Things like reaching home by some hour or finishing chores by a certain time.

We all complain of falling health levels without realizing that dinner is now a television event. In my family all meals, breakfast, lunch, evening tea, and supper are all in front of the television. There is more to eating than chewing and swallowing. As a nutrition expert I know the important role an active mind plays in the whole eat and benefit routine. A mind numbed by television ruins the food.

In conclusion I ask you to consider the case of Bhutan. Televisions were legalized in Bhutan only 4 years ago. Drug use, crime, and violence have soared like crazy since that happened.

I am not going to join the band of people who think violence on television causes violence in the streets but I will say that a human brain that is not working will cause the human to do things a thinking and sane human being would not.

Throw out your television today because it is destroying you and your children.

Fighting television addiction - Part 1

The television haunts me. Sometimes I feel I suffer from some disorder that creates an unpleasant sensation from the sounds coming from the television.

Escaping the television is impossible. It is at home, at the barbershop, at the superstore, in the gym, in the waiting room of my doctor, and the pantry in my last office had one.

When I visit other people's homes the television is placed as if it were a shrine. The entire living room is so arranged that you cannot ignore the television.

So what does one do to cope with this electronic drug?

The solution is not pleasant and neither are the arguments.

For those who would argue that no one is forcing anyone to watch television and that it is a personal choice I can only say that no one is forcing you to smoke, or drink, or do drugs (prescription or otherwise).

The whole point of addiction is that no one need force anyone into addiction. It
need only be condoned.

In a free society this creates problems.

Who decides to ban smoking?

Who decides to ban alcohol?

If we abolish psychiatric drugs then what do we do with our depressed and mentally malfunctioning brethren?

I am a former alcoholic but I would never call for a ban on alcohol. I would only suggest moderation and self-control.

Unfortunately, such an approach does not work when 99% of the population is addicted and only 1% of the same population is willing to acknowledge that this free choice is nothing of the sort.

We program every new generation to watch television and the human race does not have enough foresight or strength to simply cut out something as addictive as the television.

Once you permit television the next problem is what is permissible to be shown on it? In the US some people had problems with cartoons that they believed prodded the violent tendencies in children. In India a corpse was not cremated because the family believed it was doing the spiritual thing by watching the serial Ramayan on the telly. Despite a ton of foreign channels showing naked (almost) female flesh from every conceivable angle the Indian channels are still shy of sex and violence but sex and violence are there for those who would seek it.

Anyway, I am digressing into some sort of social commentary, which was not my intention.

Availability of Time
We are constantly complaining that we do not have enough time. Whether we are students or we are working professionals, no one has enough time. Life is too busy, too hectic. We went from diaries to PDAs to all kinds of electronic devices to help us plan our day.

The average person spends 3 hours per day in front of the television. This means if you sleep for 8, spend 1 hour commuting, 8 hours in the office, 3 hours watching television, then you have 4 hours for cooking, bathing, laundry, house cleaning, eating, and everything else that also includes spending time relaxing, with the family, and socializing.

And the above is for moderate viewers. The heavy viewers, which unfortunately account for a lot of children during holidays, watch around 8 hours of television per day.

Addiction equals dependence, more usage than was intended combined with an inability to cut down or quit, and withdrawal symptoms upon deprivation of the required stimulant.

Television has some entertainment value, I will not argue against that, but the problem is that most of the time viewers are not watching for entertainment or for information but merely for the sake of watching, or time pass as we call it in India. I certainly do not see anything entertaining or informative in any of the female-oriented soaps in India that feature the world's leading worst actors but then I am not a typical Indian.

There have been experiments to determine the affect of television on the human brain. Electroencephalograph (EEG) was used to monitor the brain function in viewers.

The EEG showed that TV produces a relaxed state in the viewer. The alpha brain-wave production goes down and the brain becomes lethargic. When the television is shut down this state persists and viewers experience a lack of energy.

This in effect means that watching television numbs the human brain. I do not know what it does to animals. The human body reacts to a television the same way it would react to a tranquilizer. The first symptom is drowsiness with a majority of the cases leading into depression after continued viewing.

The viewer gets so sucked into what is being shown that this automatically results in excessive viewing and consequently addiction.

The state of pseudo-hypnosis produced during watching television is the reason why there are so many commercials and why politicians flock to the tube during election time.

Every human being goes into a suggestive state and is open to everything that is said without any critical thought processes going on. You can put away a newspaper or turn off the radio but no one really turns of the television. At best the channel is flipped only to the see the same nonsense in a different packaging.

The television is the ultimate tool to manipulate human beings.

Tips to curing television addiction
Things are not completely hopeless. TV addiction can be cured but you will need to show some guts. Like any other addiction, getting rid of this will not be easy. What makes it more difficult is that your own family and friends will oppose you instead of supporting you.

Here are some things you can do whenever you think of watching television.

  • If you stay alone then try putting the TV into storage for a few days. Unplugging it will not work. It must be packed and out of reach. Try to spend time with people. Go out for a walk and make new friends.
  • Why watch 3 hours of television and ruin yours and your children's health? Why not join an exercise program? Why not learn to dance? Why not do anything that will make you healthy instead of a brainless slug with a remote control?
  • Make a list of all that you enjoy to do. Reading, running, listening to music, cooking, painting, photography - it could be anything, and then divide your former TV-time into those activities.
  • Visit your friends, close family, other relatives, and visit any place that you wanted to visit but kept putting off because you did not have time.
  • Make note of how much time you spend watching television everyday and reduce it little by little.
When you go into rehab or detox they dry you out slowly to keep withdrawal at minimum.

Cut down on your daily viewing until you have it firmly established in your mind that watching television will automatically freeze your brain and turn you into a zombie.

Once you are free of the television yourself you can then work on your children.

Remember that you will be tempted with the thoughts of just watching the headlines, just to stay informed, just to stay up to date, just to watch the world cup finals, just to watch the Academy Awards, just this, just that, and just the other.

The world was spinning and human beings led happy and well informed lives before the television was invented.

If you wish to stay informed then go to the library and read some books.

The only one being informed by the current shows on television are the zombies that love colluding with other zombies.

That is information a healthy human being can do without.

The fight for television addiction begins with you, your children, and your family.

Start today.