Monday, February 5, 2007

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?

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