Thursday, January 24, 2008

Screen time

I've spent the last couple of days on the topic of simplicity vs. environmentalism. So far I've hit on cars and cell phones. I've talked about how they can detract from our interpersonal relationships in addition to being bad for the environment. I think that this next point is taking it to the next level. Interpersonal relationships are important, but I don't think any are as important as those with our family. Televisions, video games, this blog that I'm writing and you're reading, they all take you away from your family (it would be the ultimate compliment to me if you stopped reading right here and went to spend time with your family). I suppose that you could argue that my bike commute also takes me away from my family, but if I didn't commute by bike I would still enjoy going for bike rides and I would still need to find time to exercise. Besides, my bike time is great alone time and I think that is important.

I want you to do an experiment. Go find a movie or TV show from the 60s or before and start watching it. Count the time between changes in camera angles. This is not just scene changes, but a different view of the same scene. Now I want you to find something on television today (besides sporting events, they seem to be an exception to this trend). If you want to maximize the effect, change the station to MTV. Again, count the time between changes in camera angles. Now I'm going to give the results of the study away. It used to be that there was a lot more time between changes of camera angle. Now you will often find that the camera angle changes almost every second (I believe i read somewhere that it averaged between 2-3 seconds).

So who cares, new technology has made it easier to edit footage, so now there are more changes, how is that bad? While the technological advances are part of the reason for change, it is also demand. People demand more stimulation (you can't tell me that the television industry wouldn't take the easy way out if they could). Shows have to be ever changing and exciting to attract viewers. The same is true for video games. You have probably found yourself bored reading my blog, that is because I don't use a lot of pictures or visual break-ups on the screen. I could do a lot more to hold the reader's attention, but that's the entire point. If you aren't here for content, I'm not trying to attract you... Except my family, they just want pictures of the boys, I doubt they enjoy my random rants.

I want to give an example. We don't own a television. We do, however, own a small portable DVD player that we occasionally use for movies (it's cute having the family of 4 gathered around a 8 inch screen). Last night I was watching the boys while my wife went to a friend's baby shower. I had some grading for one of my classes that needed to get done, so I suggested to my older son that we watch a movie. He refused and suggested that we draw something out of our activity jar. (It's a jar of ideas of things to do so that when you feel that you don't have anything to do you can be given an idea... our boys LOVE it!) So we chose a slip of paper that said the boys were supposed to draw something and then I was supposed to copy it the best I could. Then we would change roles. The Mugwump drew a dragon and I copied it the best I could (it was unsatisfactory to the original artist). I then drew a picture of a boat. The Mugwump could identify what it was, but was unwilling to try to copy it.

That was the end of the drawing game, it was then time to go learn about the dragon and the Mugwump taught an amazing lesson about dragons and what we should know about them. Six-Pence participated in that entire thing, but his artistic abilities are still developing, as are his communication abilities so it was a passive participation. I would have missed that opportunity to play with my kids had I watched a movie. I would have missed the opportunity to show my boys that I love them more than the light box. My older son would not have had the opportunity to teach a lesson on dragons. My younger son would not have had the opportunity to sit in a "class".

Are there good things on TV? Sure... whatever. Are the "good" things on TV better than spending time in reality interacting with your family? My answer would be, ABSOLUTELY NOT! Oh, but the TV is how I relax... Read, read to your kids, watch your kids play, learn to draw, learn to play an instrument.... Do you really depend on the TV to relax, or is it just an excuse?

I don't drive very often, but my family owns a car and we do use it to travel longer distances.

I don't own a cell phone, but I would if it would allow me to live off the grid.

I don't own a television and under no circumstances, not even if you offered me lots of money or a new bike, would I ever own a television. Of all the changes I have made toward simplicity, I think that not having a television is by far the best.


Phil said...

I agree with you a lot here. TV is definitely something we could all live without. Maybe if the writers strike goes on much longer, people will find better things to do.

One piece of irony here though is that it's much harder to have good interpersonal relationships today without a TV. It seems like at least 50% of what your coworkers talk about has something to do with the latest TV shows or the big game last night.

Christopher Johnson said...

Sadly, we didn't experience improved life without TV until my children were growing out of my household. It has been a great 18 months of real conversation with my wife, avoiding continuous insulting ads, a more peaceful home, and more productive activity. My brain enjoys being used for creative purposes again.

I'm sure there are those who can exercise proper discipline in the use of the TV, but it was a real problem for me. Now, I wonder if I can discipline my use of this keyboard...

Heather said...

FYI - I read your blog when my kid's taking a nap. :)
We had an activity jar when we were kids (we didn't have a TV growing-up). I loved it!