“Watching too much TV can triple our hunger for more possessions while reducing our personal contentment by about 5 percent for every hour a day we watch.” ―David Niven
Television is a powerful medium to influence thought, behavior, and even society.
We know this to be true.
- Television is carefully choreographed. Settings, dialogue, and movement are meticulously planned by writers, directors, actors, and actresses.
- Television is a one-way conversation. There is no opportunity for viewers to push-back, debate, or ask questions.
- Television engages viewers’ minds and thoughts with action, sensory, and emotion.
- Television uses story to teach values and information—just like every good communicator (and civilization).
- Television speaks to us in the privacy of our own homes. As a result, our defenses are down.
- Television is chosen by us—we decide what we want to watch.
Years ago, I sat down to interview my grandfather for a still-upcoming project. He is 93 years old, one of the wisest men I’ve ever met, and has experienced 10 different decades of America. I asked him about wealth, poverty, and consumerism.
At one point, I asked if he thought America was more consumeristic today than it was years ago. He said, “Yes, absolutely.”
My next question was a follow-up, “Why do you think that is the case?”
His replied without hesitation, “I think one of the greatest reasons America is more consumeristic today is television. Television can glamorize anything it wants to promote. And yet we willingly invite it into our homes and lives.”
He is, of course, absolutely right. Television can and does glamorize anything it desires. It gets to share any side of the story without needing to reveal any of the consequences. And it does so willingly again and again for selfish gain.
As a result, it can make any situation seem attractive: broken families, sexual unfaithfulness, unemployment. Television can romanticize drug addiction, gang life, or mob culture. It can sensationalize war, crime, revenge. And it can promote wealth and consumerism as the answer to our problems.
Television will glamorize anything it desires. And even though we know this to be true, it is helpful to be reminded over and over again.
Thank you on so many levels. Much needed refreshing wisdom imparted from the story and from all of the encouraging comments.
I got rid of my TV and Satellite about 2 years ago. I don’t miss it. I am enjoying the savings from not having a Satellite bill :)
For entertainment I’ll watch something on Youtube occasionally.
TV is it. It’s the culprit. … for making us want to have everything. … and to feel bad when we don’t get it! Unfortunately, TV’s become an integral part of our lives.
nathalie brisebois says
I LOVE this post!!!! You’ve put down in exact and precise words what I think and am trying to express in many discussion with friends and family… I could not do it like you… so simple, clear and concise! Thank you for this post! For sure I will share this one everywhere I can!!!
I am not to the point where I have completely let go of my television yet.. working on it! But I no longer have a cable service on it… I have a subscription to Netflix and I can see that over the last month, I have really only watch a 2-3 movies over the week end on rainy evenings…. and a few documentaries! I think I would miss documentaries but anything else not really. I use to watch about 2h of television per day – which is well below the average- but was still too much for me (it was series like NCIS, Hawai 5-0 or the like – nothing ever significant)! Taking out cable TV was the best thing I did… and next will be getting rid of the television all together!
Jorge Navarro says
When our association cut cable as part of maintenance fee 8 years ago, we decided to go without television. In that time frame, with now 15 and 12 year old daughters, no one has complained about not being “connected”. We do watch occasional movies on our Amazon Prime account, but there is so much work to do internally that we average about 1 hour a month. I have enough ADHD without being force fed by the media. Short, but to the point. Thanks Joshua.
I like watching tv series and films from the mid-20th century just to what they have in their (albeit staged) homes. What I see in the staged homes of today’s tv series and film is an abundance of stuff. These days you see children’s rooms chocked full of toys, kitchens full of gadgets, and living rooms replete with excess furniture and general ‘things’ on every shelf. And this is considered “normal”. *shudder*
Bridgette Erdey says
I really enjoyed this post. I recently wrote about the TVs role in our home. We were burgled and the only thing stolen was our TV. You can read more on my bloghttps://berdeyblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/thanks-for-taking-my-tv/ Id love to hear your views!
I like this reminder. To be really simple is to live without too much distractions in life like TV. I agree with Kent Julian, if you are watching TV, use the “talk back” technique so that you’ll be able to communicate with TV not one-sided only. If I have a magic wand, TV will be on top of my list to get rid off our planet Earth.
David Y says
I quit watching the major networks years ago. Now it is mostly news, documentaries and classic movies.
I remember how supposedly average people on the shows usually were beautiful, had nice clothes and always drove new cars. It’s hard to measure up to that. We may think we are immune to those images, but they do have an effect.
My sister likes to watch some of those house hunter shows. It is amazing to watch childless couples looking for large, very expensive homes to match their extensive “can’t live without” list.
Kent Julian says
You’re grandfather is a wise man!
When it comes to the influence of TV, we’ve tried to teach our kids to “talk back” to all media. In other words, when they realize something isn’t true, to actually say, “That’s not true.” This habit has created some interesting conversations throughout the years.
(BTW…picked up this strategy from Rick Lawrence.)
Thanks for the “talk back” to media tip.
I will utilize this tool to filter my media consumption.
Nowadays we are careful about what our bodies consume (calories, carbs etc), but we do not really pay attention what our mind and soul consume thru the media.
It’s always good to talk to folks who grew up in radio area. They have so many great insights!.
Rachel N. Palicki says
Your words are so beautiful & true.
The way that I see television is this: it’s a mesmerizing portal in which we become sucked into, and it causes us to compare ourselves to the people we see on the screen & point out our own insecurities.
And we wonder why we always want more & more. We are desiring to fill the “gap” of the ultimate lifestyle, as portrayed on a majority of television channels.
Since joining the Minimalist movement, I have started turning off the tv and I am shocked to see how much I get done! It was becoming difficult to find something to watch. I was WASTING so much time watching it. I still watch the news & PBS sometimes, but I am loving the new TIME I have gained! More time to declutter!!
Thank you Joshua!
Marla Taviano says
We got rid of our TV last year and haven’t missed it for a minute.
Kité @ kiteinthecity.com says
I CAN certainly survive without television.
Or maybe because we cancelled our cable a couple of years ago that I only get to watch my 2 favorite tv series on the internet.
With that, I will say that I MAY NOT survive without internet at home. But that is another topic for another day. I know. ;)
TV can be an educational tool. I regularly watch informative programs like Bill Moyers, Bill Maher, 60 Minutes, PBS (Frontline, Nature, Nova, Downton Abbey, Your Inner Fish, etc.) and find it beneficial. Plus, TV can be an escape in a good way. Overall, I agree there is a lot of junk on TV especially programming that emphasizes you can be famous for being stupid.
Back then TV’s were something we constantly adjust. Now it’s adjusting us.
Gladys (The Pinay Mom) says
I don’t watch TV much and I’m lucky enough if i sit down on the couch and stay for half an hour. The only time I watch TV is (1) when my husband accidentally found good movies to watch and (2) really interesting shows like documentaries.
Making the decision to turn of the television in our house has completely changed the way we live our lives. It was the gateway to much larger changes that have had a profound effect the contentment and satisfaction we are now experiencing everyday. It was actually while watching a documentary on the Amish that was the tipping point. A little ironic….
“Television will glamorize anything it desires. And even though we know this to be true, it is helpful to be reminded over and over again.”
Love how you said that, Joshua. Like all things, television can be good if we learn how to watch it deliberately.
Don’t succumb to what’s hot and trendy. Only watch programs that you deliberately choose of its benefits and not just for empty entertainment.
I love hearing about the simple truths that come from older people. They just see things so much more clearly.
You don’t actually realize how much television affects your thoughts and beliefs until you stop watching it for a while.
My husband and I took a hiatus from watching TV and were amazed at what we learned. In short, our lives had become intertwined with the ‘lives’ of the characters we watched on TV. It was like we woke up and started to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings again.
TV can make you hate someone you loved and love someone you hate. It can also make you want something you would have never wanted in a million years. It is a powerful medium for sending the ‘perfect’ message, and viewers have to be completely aware of the manipulation going on.
I work in a nursing home. A very small percentage of residents don’t watch t.v.
My ex in laws, in their 80s in their own home, always have 1, if not 2, t.v.s going.
I don’t own a t.v. Use laptop to watch library DVDs. So nice to be without t.v. Or internet at home.
I got rid of my TV long ago and I am very happy for the right decision that I made. First I started to buy good DVDs, but I stopped it and now I borrow interesting DVDs from the local library and watch; it includes funny films and documentaries.
I have to say that having been without a TV for the best part of three years has been the single best thing we have done for our life, our relationship, our spiritual life, our minimalist aspirations and general enrichment of our lives.
We choose what we want to watch (on our computer) and we spend that hour or two we would have watched TV in to read, have dinner together or even sleep! Super!
Thenix and I live in a 550 square foot apartment. There is no space for a TV so we don’t have one. I haven’t watched TV in ages, but sometimes I’ll be in a store or restaurant where they are playing something and I look at the screen for a few minutes. Just those few minutes of TV watching cause me to feel desire for goods that I didn’t even know existed. TV is extremely powerful and it should be watched carefully and in moderation. Thanks for the reminder.
What a very important topic! I’m hearing of more and more people who are going without a TV entirely. I am thankful for Oprah’s OWN network which certainly seems to be using the power of television to spread empowering messages and offer a space for asking the deeper questions.
Robyn@ Living the Simple Life Now says
I completely agree. I no loner watch TV but choose to watch lectures and inspiring messages on YouTube because I would rather fill my mind with something that is going to deepen my knowledge or inspire me.
You would like the book I am reading now. It’s called “The Information Diet” and talks a lot about the points you brought up. I will be doing a vlog review on it next week….it is excellent!
I remember when I was 12 years old (back in the late 60’s) saying to my sibs that when I was an adult I would NOT allow my children to watch Tv until they were 18. Somehow I knew even then what Tv was trying to do..
I never did have children but even now I am aware of the insidious nature of Tv. I only watch my shows recorded so I can FF the commercials – it might be cheating but I think I’ve been doing myself a favour all my life. Even now it’s now only have 2 shows I watch each week in this way. Tv just doesn’t do it for me…I’d rather read a REALLY gripping book.
Thanx for this Joshua – more people need to be aware of the true nature of things we take for granted everyday…
I like to watch “Hoarders” —makes me feel extra clean and organized…and sometimes a shopping network—just to get fashion ideas…and think about how much money I am saving by NOT shopping! :)
I love “hoarders” too. It is a disease I can’t relate to, but I love to see the turnaround that people make! It always motivates me to throw more stuff away too….LOL
Guess what? In Italy we had a Prime Minister who owns 3 of the biggest national tv channels, and he was so good to glamorize himself that we had him as Prime Minister almost for 20 years, thugh he is severly connected with mafia, and with so many bad things such as prostitution, drugs and so on. And there’s still some people here, now that he was declared guilty for “a few things”, who still thinks he’s an amazing guy because… he owns televisions! (and a football team, book publishing, newspapers and who knows what else). My tv is almost always off, I just watch movies, docs and kitchen shows. I’m decluttering my life from the web too: I think that in some ways social networks have a similar influence on us, as many people pretend to be something else on Facebook, Twitter etc. glamorizing themselves as no-one can see what their real life is, and other people get depressed because they feel inadequate. My 2 cents. Have a nice day, going back to my wardrobe decluttering. :-)
Sandra Pawula says
This is such a crucial point, Joshua! In a certain way, our mind is not fully our own as long as we watch television. It is so influential. Dramatic programs can make your heart beat faster and give your other physiological signs of stress (like can’t sleep afterward) when you were just trying to relax watching t.v.!
I haven’t owned a t.v. for 4 years. When I happen to see a program now it seems so ridiculous, especially the commercials. I know there’s good programming too, but most of it isn’t worth it. It’s causing damage sometimes too subtle too see.
Thank you for this reminder.
Great reminders here. It’s easy to get caught up in a popular TV series and forget that it’s designed to seduce you while simultaneously making you crave things you don’t have. (Perfect hair, perfect wardrobe, perfect house, etc.) I don’t watch a ton of TV, but just enough to occasionally feel like I’m lacking in something. Thanks for bringing this up—it’s a good thing to hear (and remind ourselves of every now and then).
Yanic A. says
I’m very careful of what I watch. We watch only a few hours of TV a week : I am guilty of a few sitcoms that make me laugh after a long day, but I’m also a huge fan of documentaries. I set limits on myself and I’m very strict with them. If I watch a new show, it has 3 episodes to bring me in. After that I never look back. And believe me, I’m not that easy to please! :-) The thing that frightens me the most about TV is the desensitization that happens. If you watch all murder/mystery shows that make forensic work COOL and such, the news comes on and a murder is almost boring in comparison. People watch war on the news an it blends in with fiction and many become detached…
I’ve rambled long enough… not against it, but I’m a very careful viewer.
I agree. Many shows are well acted and written but I find that TV is turning really bad people (drug dealers, murderers) into folk heroes. I really don’t want to hang out with a bunch of thugs. Strangely, I love historical fiction and since there are not a lot of career opportunities for girls with no education, I find myself enjoying the company of working girls!
It is a delicate balance. Television as we think about it in modern terms is a movement (and dangerous). As a word, it is a noun referring to a tool. I have found curiosity, education, and knowledge – but only because I chose to use the tool carefully.
I’d love to see an even deeper dive into how modern tools can be repurposed to deliver on their promises. That could be powerful!
joshua becker says
Agreed. This is not a post arguing against the use of the medium, it is simply a reminder of its power, influence, and motivation.
Well said. Interesting.
I struggle with convincing the spouse. :) So I don’t try to “convince” anymore and just “am the change”…I do confess to snuggling with him once a week and watching an episode of a series. :) But comprise is part of my love!
Tracey Martin says
Not owning a television has been one of the most stimulating choices of my life