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.

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