March 3, 2009

Thoughts on TV

In general, people spend about 15 hours a week, or 38% of their free time watching TV. Children receive about 360,000 commercial messages by the time they graduate from high school. Only 3% of characters depicted on Saturday morning children’s fare are black, and only 1% are Hispanic. Only 13% of people surveyed said they prefer spending time with family over other activities, including watching TV. (from” Glued to the Tube: The Threat of Television Addiction to Today’s Family” by Cheryl Pawlowski, Ph.D.

I admit it. I'm one of those "kill your television" kinda people. I killed mine back in 1997, after realizing that TV was running my life. Literally, the day the new TV guide arrived in the mail, we would make a spreadsheet of the week's TV schedule: what we would watch, what would be taped, what my partner would watch when I wasn't home (in particular, cop shows). TV dictated when we when out, when we stayed in and when we went to bed. Remember, this was before the days of TiVo.

After getting divorced, I disconnected ye olde cable. I still had my hand dandy VCR, and expected to watch plenty of movies. To my surprise, I watched fewer and fewer, besides for the ones my kid chose. I attributed this partly to the lack of commercials - although indeed, suddenly previews had more meaning.

I live a pretty kooky, creative life, and often people ask me where I find the time for all my various and sundry projects. Well, imagine just the time saved in not making any more TV schedule spreadsheets...

Interestingly enough, it has affected my social life. Folks often talk about current shows at work, etc. and I feel left out of the loop. I just smile and nod politely, but inside I wonder if I'm this crazy reclusive hermit who is loosing touch with the "real" world.

But now I have discovered Netflix, and my life has changed. I love renting TV series - the lack of commercials, the ability to watch 3 hours and 35 minutes of Friends with no interruption, and the incredible backlog of TV shows after a twelve year hiatus...

I also noticed how central TV is for family bonding - last year my housemate would hole up in her room with the TV on all night for company. This year my new housemate & I deeply bonded over Battlestar Galactica, watching the entire series last fall. The ubiquitous drums still ring in my ears. We named the toaster oven "3/12ths" and when it bings we chime, "Cylon Says!"

In some ways, the TV is the new hearth to gather around, but I'll be curious to see what shifts and changes as TV evolves. Or to be more precise, how will projecting visions for entertainment change, just starting with the Internet - look at YouTube, the quality of streaming videos, the webcam technology improving constantly. Will we become more isolated, like the future folks of Wall-Es world, each with our private screen? Or will there be a return of the drive-in, the movie theater with balcony seats, as we gather together to experience the humanity found in being an audience sitting in the dark together?

Well, my little red envelopes of love and entertainment are beckoning to me. Sure wish I had some microwave popcorn. Oh, and a microwave, but that's another story...