This is an excerpt. If you have kids, especially younger than 2 yrs, pay attention to the link in the last paragraph here. Then go to the site and read the rest of the post.
When I want to creep myself out, I walk around the neighborhood at 9 PM and count the number of houses in which I can see that blue glow. Television in the U.S. (and many other countries, but especially bad here) is so pervasive that it’s like that story of the boiling frog, where if you put the frog in water and then slowly turn up the heat, he won’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. But if you dropped him in boiling water, he’d instantly know it was BAD and jump out.
Imagine an alien from a planet with intelligent, thoughtful life. He has no idea what television is (ignoring the fact that our signals are “out there”) when he drops into the average U.S. neighborhood (city, rural, doesn’t matter) and discovers that at night (and often day), the vast majority of people are sitting in front of a flickering screen with that kind of glazed look watching…what? (No matter how many people claim they’re watching “educational” programs, the Neilson ratings don’t support that. My special favorite are the stats that show the hypocrisy of things like “red states” where folks left the voting booth claiming a vote for moral values, then proceeded to go home and make “Desperate Housewives” a hit). It all sounds very sci-fi to me, because I’m thinking it would look EXACTLY like the whole country is sitting down for a nightly brainwashing.
I’m definitely not trying to insult anyone here; I owned a television until about five years ago, and it was on a lot. And not everyone who watches TV has a problem with it (although virtually nobody, according to the brain research, is entirely immune). And I’m not putting mindfully-watched movies (including TV shows on DVD) in this category. I LOVE my Netflix subscription, and watch some television programs on my iMac (Curb your Enthusiasm, BBC’s “The Office” are two favorites). TiVo also seems to be a great solution for a lot of folks.
But two things happened that made me get rid of normal television (although I do have a monitor for DVD’s and to use my Playstation 2):
* I noticed that when I was in an environment with no television, my stress level went way down. Whenever I stayed at a mountain cabin or even a B-and-B that just didn’t put a TV in your room, I noticed how much better I felt mentally and physically.
* I kept learning more and more about the brain, and couldn’t avoid learning about the effects of television. One of my favorite brain scientists, Richard Restak, has become famous as “the brain guy” for television, writing the companion books for various PBS specials, etc. He is like the Carl Sagan of the brain, and I love his books. But even the guy who makes a lot of money from television has suddenly began to speak out about its dangers, especially in this post-9-11 book: The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind. (where he mentions studies including one suggesting that 9-11 survivors who watched a lot of television had a higher incidence of PTSD than those who watched less television).
(He also talks a little about TV in his newest book on how the brain is involved in fear and anxiety, “Poe’s Heart and the Mountain Climber.”)
TV isn’t good for your brain in a wide range of ways. Just one of the problems is that it can lead to a reduction in left-brain logical thinking unless you’re extremely careful (and capable) about making sure the news broadcasts are screened out. Because commercial news broadcasts are driven largely by the “if it bleeds it leads” approach, and those messages trigger the flight-or-fight response because your brain often can’t distinguish between experienced vs. visualized terror. MRI scans show that the same parts of your brain light up when you watch high resolution images as when you’re seeing it for real.
The issue of whether watching violence on TV is a problem is still hotly debated, but some–like the American Academy of Pediatrics–aren’t taking any chances, and have issued a recommendation that children under the age of two should not be exposed to television at all.