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Monday, April 24, 2006

A Big Turnoff

April 24-30 is national TV Turnoff Week, organised by Whitedot, an organisation dedicated to campaigning against television. Their website is here for more information. Whitedot points out that, on average, most adults spend about four hours per day staring at TV. As they say, "Television doesn't give you experiences--it takes them away from you!" (This quote from a book they've published, Get a Life!: The Little Red Book of the White Dot.)

Me, I'm not foursquare against television, but I am all for limiting its role in our lives, and finding more life-giving ways of recreating.

I grew up with television, and I know the ways that it has formed and shaped me, mostly not for the best. I'm not happy with that. And it has also shaped our society, moving us away from social groupings and interactions to aloneness. (I nearly wrote 'solitude', but there is nothing like solitude in watching TV -- solitude is a positive sense of being alone and recreating, and I take it to imply an engagement with God as well, in prayer. Our typical practices of watching telly is nothing like that solitude. It is just being alone, isolated.) This is part of the upshot of Robert Putnam's book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that television consumption correlates with the decline of "social capital" (according to an interview I heard this morning on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire). I think that television consumption not only works against developing social capital, but against developing wisdom as well.

The proliferation of television sets seems especially sad: one in the living room, one in the kitchen, one in the den, one in every bedroom -- is there one in the garage, even? More than 50% of children under the age of 16 in the UK have a television in their bedroom.

Television is a major part of our contemporary Western society, some would say an intractable, even necessary part. I say that one of the benefits of being human is the ability to think about one's life (or on a larger scale, one's society) and begin to make changes as needed. We are not automata; neither change nor stasis is inevitable. Rather, we need to be discerning as to what is the best for people -- or to put it in more explicitly Christian terms, discerning as to what best loves God (which will also imply a certain kind of human flourishing).

I would not suggest that all television is worthless and to be cast aside. Some might say so, and I respect that. But I do think that our practices surrounding television (and perhaps 'media' consumption generally) need to be rethought and reformed. Rather than passively accepting what we're given, we ought to be actively discerning, and expanding that range of things which re-create us. One such action that might extend that range would be to shut off the TV for one week, starting today.

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