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.

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