Bruce Levine has done an excellent job writing an overview of the problems with TV. I especially appreciate his points about TV being used as a pacifier for inmates and patients.
Parents also appreciate the pacifying effects of TV, which is why kids spend more time watching TV than they do in school. How TV effects viewers (cognitively, socially and physically) really is an important issue that is all too often neglected, so it was heartening to read his article in Alternet.org, Salon.com and brucelenine.net.
Here are a few highlights:
TV as Pacifier
“In 1992, Newsweek (“Hooking Up at the Big House”) reported, “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet.” Joe Corpier, a convicted murderer, was quoted, “If there’s a good movie, it’s usually pretty quiet through the whole institution.””
TV and the Orienting Response
“The “hold on us” of TV technical events, according to Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 2002 Scientific American article “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,” is due to our “orienting response” —our instinctive reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus. They report that:In 1986 Byron Reeves of Stanford University, Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri and their colleagues began to study whether the simple formal features of television—cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises—activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen. By watching how brain waves were affected by formal features, the researchers concluded that these stylistic tricks can indeed trigger involuntary responses and “derive their attentional value through the evolutionary significance of detecting movement. . . . It is the form, not the content, of television that is unique.””
TV and Passivity
“Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi’s survey also revealed that: The sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. Survey participants commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted. They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading.”
Dream Come True
“TV keeps us indoors, and it keeps us from mixing it up in real life. People who are watching TV are isolated from other people, from the natural world—even from their own thoughts and senses. TV creates isolation, and because it also reduces our awareness of our own feelings, when we start to feel lonely we are tempted to watch more so as to dull the ache of isolation. Television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society.”