Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Television is the Enemy...

If you read this blog and still watch television, you won't get anything out of reading this blog.

It is hard to spend money carefully.   Today, I work maybe 20 hours a week, and it seems the rest of my time is occupied with taking care of the possessions I own, or shopping carefully for the things I need in life.  I look back at my old life and wonder, "how did I ever get anything done?"

And the answer is, I didn't.  Like most middle-class Americans convinced they were "making good money" I didn't bother to balance my checkbook every month, or keep track of my credit card bills.  I spend money on convenience items, convinced my time was more valuable than my money.  I hired people to do things I could easily do myself (wash my clothes, clean my bathroom, mow my lawn).

I made good money alright - and spend good money, too.

It was an easy trap to fall into.  At the end of a long day of work, it is easy to convince yourself that you are "bushed" and flop in front of the television and spend $20 on a delivery pizza (if you buy two, you get one free, and then there are cheesy sticks and a tip!).  Before long, you are mired in credit card debt and wondering why.

And you are staring the answer in the face - the television.

I harp on the television a lot in this blog and some folks read this and say, "Well, you have some good ideas here, I mean, besides the not watching television part."

But it IS the main idea of my blog and let me tell you why.

The average American watches 4.6 hours a day of television.   And yea, I was an Average American, at one time.   It takes up all of your non-waking, non-working, non-pooping, non-eating, non-showing hours of your life.  It dominates your life.   It consumes your life.   If you watch 4.6 hours a day, it is your life.

And not surprisingly, television tells us this is OK.   In an ad for "bathfitters" (a company that glues cheap plastic shells over your mildewed tiled bathtub) they show a guy laying on the couch watching television while the bathfitter man re-does the bathroom.   The message is clear: don't get up off the couch.   Why bother doing it yourself when the bathfitter man can just cover it all up?

(And incidental note on "bathfitters":  Like anything advertised on television, it is not a great bargain.   They put a plastic covering over your existing tub, and it looks better than mildewed tile and rusty tubs, to be sure.   But the underlying problems might still be there.  We've stayed in Motels which used such "renovations" and water got in-between the tub and the plastic lining, resulting in a waterbed-like feel to the bottom of the tub.   It is not a real remodeling, but a cosmetic one.  In many instances, a bathroom can be repaired rather than remodeled, for about the same amount of money, if not a lot less.   A rip-off?  No.  A good bargain?  Not in my opinion).

That 4.6 hours a day was the time - my time - that I should have been using to improve my own life.  I could have used it to do things I was paying other people to do - cook my food, clean my house, mow my lawn, fix my car.   I could also have used that time to better manage my finances by balancing my checkbook, keeping track of bills and debt.   And I could have used that time to shop smartly by carefully researching purchases and deciding whether I really needed something (as opposed to "going shopping" and just buying whatever caught my fancy).

In other words, television took up my life.  If you sleep 8 hours a night and work 8 hours a day, that's 16 hours out of 24 right there.  Throw in 2 hours for commuting, and maybe an hour to attend to personal things like bathroom and shower and you're up to 19 hours.   That leaves you five hours a day - and if you spend 4.6 hours of it watching television, well, your life is about 24 minutes a day - or about one minute for every hour to really think about things and make rational decisions.

And that is the second part of the problem.   While you watch television, you are bombarded with a lot of really bad ideas - that perpetual debt is normal, and sending out for pizza is a swell idea, and that the neighbors will be envious of you because you bought a new Acura.   If you watch this stuff long enough, you will start believing it, trust me.

We ridicule other folks for believing in nonsense or dangerous ideas.  How could the Russians embrace Communism when any 6-year-old could see the flaws in it?   How could the Germans think that Nazism was the answer to anything?   The reality is, if enough people start hammering the same ideas into your head long enough, you will start to believe it.   I tell you three times and it is true - that was the mantra of the propagandists.

And we fall for this in America all the time.   We are attacked by Saudi Citizens guided by a man living in Afghanistan, and are told that invading Iraq is the answer.   And people went along with it - all of us - either because we couldn't tell one middle-easterner from another, or we believed that "weapons of mass destruction" were present in Iraq, or whatever.  The television hammered the messages day after day and we all went for it.   Years later, few believe the Iraq war was a swell idea, and the new Iraq "government" is collapsing like a cheap tent.

You can't watch television and not be influenced by its normative cues.   You are not a superman or superwoman.  Your only choice is not to watch.

You can't just watch "a little bit" or "just my favorite shows" without being bombarded with ad after ad for credit card offers, payday loans, or new car sales.   And these ads will program your brain over time.   The only choice is to unplug from the programming entirely.

Was television always like this?   Perhaps, perhaps not.  The amount of advertising today, versus the 1960's is much higher.   On many cable channels, ads are nearly (or more than) 50% of airtime.   Much of the ads today are for more television - selling you the idea of watching more and more, so you watch the ads.   Back in the day, television shows would be "sponsored by" a company, and the ads were much less intrusive.   Today, you get snippets of programming followed by minutes of commercials.

Some programs, when viewed without the ads, are almost comical.  If you watch any History Channel program on Netflix (sans commercials), it seems repetitive and dull.  Why?  Because that cable channel cuts to five minutes of commercials after every five minutes of programming.  They have to "recap" what they said five minutes before, in order to keep their audience.   And then they constantly "tease" the audience with snippets of "great stuff coming up next!" which ends up being a 10-second video at the end of the show.   The entire program is devoid of content, other than the teasing and baiting used to keep you watching.

In other words, it is drivel.   The content is worse, in many ways, than the ads - it provides no coherent storyline or information.  It trains you to have a short attention span and to think in microsecond intervals.

But then again, this seems to be the wave of the future - with twittering and texting leading the way.   No longer do we think in book-length form, but instead in 140 characters (or emoticons) or less.  Television is just the largest of the Distractors.