A speculation on the bigger picture
By Morgan Hannah, Life & Style Editor
How many hours do you spend watching TV a day? A week? C’mon, be honest! What with Netflix and endless channels to surf through on cable, the options really are endless, and watching television is an inexpensive, low-commitment activity that many people indulge in on a weekly if not daily basis. In fact, according to the New York Times, the average American watches more than five hours of TV per day—that’s a minimum of 35 hours per week, and there are only 168 hours in a week!
You may be thinking, “Well, what’s the big deal? That sounds like a lot of extra hours to me.” Take into consideration that you’re probably asleep anywhere from 35 to 56 of those hours, you’re at work or school—or both—likely for a whopping 40 of those hours, and you’re commuting somewhere around three and a half to 14 hours. That only leaves anywhere from 23 to 54 hours left per week, again going by the above-mentioned numbers, which are merely my ideas of what a typical individual’s week might look like. That doesn’t even take into account homework time, chores, household responsibilities, and any other obligations or activities you might have going on.
I guess you could be thinking about how you’re a student or you’re not making as much money as you’d like, and therefore you can’t really afford to do too much else—I mean, have you seen the prices of gas? So what’s the harm in spending so much time in front of the ol’ tube? As it turns out—and this is not fresh news—watching too much TV is kinda bad for your brain. According to the results of a 2015 study on the television-watching habits of 3,200 young adults, those who watched three hours or more television per day scored poorly on cognitive tests in comparison to those who watched very little. Healthy brains require physical activity, rather than just sitting around with your eyes trained on a screen, said study author Tina D. Hoang of the Northern California Institute for Research and Education at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco.
The study theorizes that the link between lots of television time and poor cognitive performance may be due to spending time in a non-cognitively engaging way. Another hypothesis is that the poor performance may be caused by the decline in physical activity that accompanies watching TV. One thing that is glaringly obvious and potentially overlooked is that what we watch influences who we are and what we believe, and that’s not always a good thing.
According to pioneering linguist and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky, our TV-watching instills in us the agenda of a totalitarian state. Ordinary working-class folks “ought to be sitting alone in front of the TV and having drilled into their heads the message, which says, the only value in life is to have more commodities or live like that rich middle-class family you’re watching and to have nice values like harmony and Americanism,” wrote Chomsky in his 2002 book Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. Chomsky stated that TV is largely used as a propaganda streaming service directly from our television sets to our brains in order to instill values in us that may not be our own, as well as subconsciously determining for us how we spend our money and live our lives. With so much time spent in front of the TV, it’s a fairly effective propaganda tool.
Chomsky’s words have darker implications as well. He suggests that the general public must have their attention turned elsewhere because if we were to wake up and have thoughts and opinions on what is going on in our world, rather than what we are selectively shown, that would be a problem for those whose goal it is to keep us distracted. Without distraction, we might then realize the bigger picture, which is that television is a cleverly adopted source of addictive entertainment-gone-advertisement meant to keep us docile and uninterested in those who have the real power, the “specialized class,” as Chomsky refers to them—those who shape our society as the real authority sees fit.
Consider the possibility that leaders, or the specialized class, are appointed to give us the illusion of control within our society, which is exactly what a higher power with their own interests in mind would want us to think, regardless of whether those interests align with the greater good of the people or not. This illusion of autonomy allows those in charge to do as they wish from behind the scenes, or screens—television screens that is, “mak[ing] sure that [the people] remain at most spectators of action, occasionally lending their weight to one or another of the real leaders,” wrote Chomsky.
But that’s just an opinion; it’s the opinion of a very smart and influential man, a view that is also shared by a number of people ranging from speculative theorists to experts alike. What is your opinion? Do you think that television is just an addictive source of entertainment that may have negative effects on an individual’s cognitive performance, or do you believe that there may be something darker, a distraction from the bigger picture, at work? Either way, it is important to find a healthy balance of activities, work, sleep, and entertainment in life, as well as to get involved and be more than just an observer or spectator.