I hope you’re sitting comfortably. If you are an advocate of slow living, the following statistics will likely cause your legs to wobble.
The average American watches more than five (5) hours of television.
Every. Single. Day.
That’s more than 35 hours per week, which for many adults is a full-time job. It gets worse (or better, depending) after retirement. Those aged 65 and older watch an average of over seven (7) hours of television per day. Wow!
In Canada, we’re only slightly less addicted, watching an average of 30 hours of television per week. Statistically, Canadians have sex more frequently than Americans, which might explain what we’re doing with those other five hours each week. Go Canada! Heh.
The most popular bloggers of the minimalist movement eventually get around to discussing the costs and benefits of watching television. You can read their articles here and here. The arguments for reducing the amount of time one sits in front of the tube come down to costs, as follows:
Financial Cost. There are costs associated with the purchase of a television, the ancillary equipment, such as a DVD player, cable subscriptions, Netflix subscriptions, cable boxes, and extra channels. There are also costs associated with purchases that have been influenced by television advertising. Companies do not pay big bucks for advertising media that does not influence buying. It works, and virtually none of us is immune.
Time Cost. Television steals away our most precious asset. Imagine what you could do with an extra 35 hours per week. It could be put towards building a more meaningful life in some way.
Relationship Cost. Television can rob people of quality time with others; notwithstanding that the time spent watching television is one of the few opportunities that some couples actually snuggle together. And I mean snuggle, not have sex. Couples who have a television in their bedroom only have sex half as often as those without one. Think about what quality time with another person means to you. And ask yourself if sharing the same space with someone while being focussed on a television is the same as sitting facing one another and having a conversation. Which would be more memorable? The stories we share with one another are real and can connect us at a meaningful level. “I felt really connected to my friend while watching Duck Dynasty,” was said by, well, no one. And how many of us have used the television as a babysitter for our children? I know I have. And I’ll never get those hours with my daughter back again. And let’s face it, it always feels like our children grow up too fast. Why let television rob us of our time with them?
Satisfaction Cost. There is a correlation between excessive television viewing and lower life satisfaction, increased anxiety, and higher material aspirations (yup, advertising works).
Creative Cost. Watching television is consumption. And when one is consuming, one is not creating.
Health Cost. There is a direct correlation between excessive television viewing and obesity and unhealthy eating habits. After all, who doesn’t crave a snack while watching television? It’s been ingrained in us from the first time we went to a movie theatre and bought popcorn, pop, and Nibs. (Uh oh, I feel a licorice craving coming on…)
The most common argument by viewers in favour of television is that, in moderation, it can add value to a person’s life. Creative writers and actors can make us laugh, which is healthy. Another argument is that there are educational shows that can help with learning and understanding the world around us.
I agree with both points. It would take a considerable amount of discipline, however, to only be watching television programs that aid in mental wellness, especially considering the average number of hours people spend per day in front of the tube. As far as education is concerned, there isn’t a single educational program in the top 50 most-viewed television shows. Like I said, it would take a lot of discipline to use television solely as an educational tool.
And then there are those who vehemently defend the practice of television viewing. For example, one commentator in the Becoming Minimalist article wrote, “… a full days’ work often leaves us physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually spent. So a couple of hours watching Better call Saul is our sole indulgence and arguably therapeutic.”
I understand this argument. I lived a lifestyle like that myself for a while. I thought it was my only option to veg out after a stressful day at work. I also thought it was therapeutic. But I found over time that I hated my life – stressful and exhausting job, lethargic leisure time, and decreased life satisfaction.
My response was more radical than most; I got rid of the television completely. I knew with my addictive personality that I had to go cold turkey. And although I didn’t give up my stressful job at the time, switching my television habit for a low-impact exercise habit (i.e. walking) worked wonders. I got my energy back, which provided me with the tool I needed to readjust my attitude toward work.
You see, I was just in a rut at the time. And my television was the chain holding me there.
I got rid of the chain and found freedom again.
(Sorry, I didn’t really answer the question in the title of this post. You’ll have to decide for yourself.)