Wednesday, October 05, 2005
from Rory Donaldson, chief brain

This is a Brainsarefun Project: www.brainsarefun.com

Television encourages a lot of bad behavior and too little good.

NEARLY WITHOUT EXCEPTION, TELEVISION (INCLUDING VIDEO GAMES AND STARING INTO DEVICES) MAKE US STUPIDER. It rots our brains (Doubt my word? Just look around.) All these screens encourage habitual behavior and sedentary living; they attack all vestiges of decent behavior; they encourage emotions over the rational... When was the last time you learned something positive, hopeful, or even useful?

Oh, I know, my critics will immediately tell me about the Discovery and History Channels, but give me a break. Most of our t.v. watching is not spent logged in to these channels. When television into the classroom, what do you really think is going on?

I also know that there are a limited number of arguments to suggest that playing video games may make gamers smarter. I know that virtual reality can be used to teach a wide variety of skills, like surgical techniques to aspiring doctors. I know that there are always one or two exceptions to every rule. However, I shall continue to maintain that, while television and screens have many saving graces, these graces are not enough to overcome the imperative: it's time to disconnect our televisions and video games. Take them out in the back yard and bury them.

NOTE: when I use the word "television," what I'm really talking about is sitting in front of any screen: computer, video game, television. A great deal of what Marshall McLuhan said is correct, "The media is the message." The very act of watching (playing) is the ultimate message, "Rather than live, sit and be entertained." Entertain me.


  1. Human beings think in images. When our predominant images are those of sex, violence, degration, precosciousness and stupidity... then these are the images in which we think. Televsion rarely, if ever, provides us with images of beauty, bravery, intelligence, heroic effort… Mr. Rogers is an example of telelvsion that actually respects the viewer. Since Fred died nothing has taken his place. Even the revered Sesame Street is all shot using quick cuts that don't allow kids to focus before changing the scene.
  2. Watching television results is a sedentary activity, and most of us are sedentary enough. Sitting is the new smoking.
  3. What people eat in front of television is largely poison, making us fat and sick.
  4. Television provides so much visual and auditory information that information just received is instantly overwritten by new information. Imagination is not part of the process.
  5. Television provides so much visual and auditory data that it is difficult for the human brain to impose meaning. Very little is learned from watching television (other than permission for poor behavior and certain comic-book-like behaviors), because very little is remembered. Old information is immediately overwritten by new. When people believe they are learning something by watching television it is reasonable to ask, "What? What couldn't be better learned by using the same time to read or practice?
  6. The majority of what educated people learn they learn from reading, not from watching television.
  7. Commercials are, by their very nature, deigned to make us feel inadequate.
  8. Television models precocious children, unfaithful spouses, stupid behavior, racial stereotypes.
  9. It confuses fantasy with reality.
  10. It encourages normalizing behavior to the lowest common denominator.
  11. It's filled with gratuitous sex and violence.
  12. It encourages defeatism and apathy.
  13. It excuses poor behavior, especially on the part of men.
  14. It focuses on the negative.
  15. Television eliminates silence, and silence is essential for experience.
  16. It contributes to the premature sexualization of our children.
  17. It is run primarily by a bunch of very jaded and cynical men who will do anything to make a dollar.
  18. It pedals opinion as news.
  19. Time used watching television is not being used to read, practice, study, write, create or compose.
  20. Television encourages a "quick fix" view of the world.
  21. Watching television eats up valuable time that can be far more profitably used for civic, family and personal improvement.
  22. Television is one more piece of noise to prevent us from knowing who we are and what we really value.
  23. "Thinking," says R. M. Restak, "is continuous, a series of informed improvisations more like those of a jazz musician than the playing of a classical musician performing a set piece of music from a score." People more familiar with watching television, than thinking, simply aren't going to be able to keep up when the conversation turns difficult and there's no more score.
  24. The revolution will not be televised.
  25. Television is a selling medium. That is its purpose. It doesn't make money by educating or entertaining. It makes money by hypnotizing us to become better consumers. It's important to be consumers in America. It's what greases the economic wheels, but to sit hour after hour being sold is a dangerous use of time. It makes us stupid and dissatisfied and fat.
  26. Television is a medium of quick cuts. It doesn't allow one to focus, and therefore trains people to continually jump from one image to the next. This type of quick cut, from subject to subject, emulates and encourages hyperactivity, a condition that we then attempt to ameliorate with Ritalin. (The best of all television shows was Mr. Rogers. It used no quick cuts and was very slow.)
  27. Mr. Rogers is no longer on the air, and nothing has stepped in to replace its slow and humane pace.
  28. The more television one watches the stupider one becomes. What is one to do? Pick up a book, but not just any book. Throw in an occasional classic and some real literature. The bulk of what educated people have learned they learned from reading, not from watching television.
  29. Instead of reading aloud to their children through their teenage years, most parents stop reading aloud to their children about the time the child enters school, preferring to park the child in front of the telelvision.
  30. "Thinking" is a technical term. It refers to a mental process of organizing images. What and how we think depends on what's inside our brains, what we know, what we can relate to, on the contents of our memories, what we remember. If what we know is largely influenced by images on television, then largely what we know is rooted in violent, degrading images. We are not left with much with which to "think." It benefits me to turn off the television and fill my brain with "good" memories, not drek from the popular entertainment industry.
  31. Television distorts our perception of risk.
  32. Television's news reporting repeats information that is many times distorted and inaccurate. Quickly we come to believe that what we are seeing is true.
  33. Television provides the viewer with a media-made impression of existence rather than real experience. Real thinking requires real experience with life.
  34. Television is repetitious. The shows tend to follow very prescribed lines, over and over and over again. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, the average television show depicts one violent act approximately every two minutes.
  35. Television tends to stereotype women as whores and men as pimp-gangsters.
  36. Television encourages young people to emulate the behavior seen in cartoons. This behavior is too often disrespectful, hurtful, loud, obnoxious, precocious, sexist, racist and rude. The behavior is almost always stupid - encouraging stupidity on the part of the viewer.
  37. Television nearly always depicts the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, as being degrading, dismissive, quipping, antagonistic and hostile; providing tacit permission for the viewer to normalize against such behavior.
  38. As Alan Bloom has put it, "The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency -- the belief that the here and now is all there is."
  39. Television does nothing but encourage this fatal tendency.
  40. Why do you think it's called the "boob tube?"
  41. Some people are getting angrier and angrier as they intuitively understand that the control of their minds has been increasing.
  42. Many of the angry and disenfranchised around the globe understand that the day-to-day lives of the rest of the world are far more complex than is portrayed or seen on television.
  43. Television encourages us to believe in magic: the magic of television itself: instantaneous communication, images, analysis.
  44. Television tells us, "Don't worry if you don't understand, I'll make sure you understand by making everything as simple as possible. I'll even show you pictures and explain the pictures."
  45. Television has trained us to believe only that which we are able to see. The intellect doesn't really apply. If we can't see it, it doesn't exist.
  46. People actually believe that if it's on television it must be true. If it's not on television it can't be true.
  47. Television trains the eye and mind to believe that what looks true, is true.
  48. Television gives the impression that speaking is an easy art. After all, all the people on TV never have any trouble coming up with the right words, easily.
  49. Television encourages us to believe that real and worthwhile information is easy to get.
  50. "If we don't like it, turn it off." Viewers may find this approach difficult in real life, especially when young children are often encouraged to watch television while at school and in order to keep them out from under foot.
  51. Entertainment is escape, and television is nothing but entertainment.
  52. It actually makes people believe that they are doing something, when all they are really doing is watching the same show for the tenth time.
  53. Television exacerbates what is called "the mean world syndrome." People come to believe that life is as hopeless, mean and degrading as it appears on television. One thing leads to another.
  54. The Surgeon General, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychological Association, Congress, the Senate, the National Research Council, the Commission on Violence and Youth, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, and many others, all arrive at the same generally dismal conclusion: Watching television points to extensive, cumulative harmful behavior.
  55. Television degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, religious thought... into one stupid joke, repeated endlessly.
  56. More, coming soon (let me hear from you rory@brainsarefun.com). Right now, gotta go!

COMMENT: Create an island of human activities, away from television, video and entertainment. Time is all we have and it's a terrible mistake to waste as much as we do sitting in front of a television or computer, looking at other people's lives through a window, imagining other people having all the fun and adventure. We must get ourselves out the door. We must go on some real adventures.
There are at least one hundred good arguments that can be made for the total elimination of television, but this is not my advocacy.

My advocacy is to severely restrict the time in front of the Boob Tube. Wealth, media, power and control continue to concentrate into the hands of a few. We are all victims of cultural imperialism. We provide the money to the imperialists, they make us stupider in order to sell us more disposable crap.

Bury your televisions and devices, take off the headphones, engage, participate, go on an adventures, get some exercise, read, write... Life shall improve.

* There used to be a time (circa 2000) when a "television" was a discrete device. Now, there are no more "televisions." Today (circa 2014), when I use the word "television" I mean "all screens and personal devices that prevent us from directly experiencing enlightenment and courage." Now there's only one giant computer pumping out content to millions and millions of devices, all connected to the internet and our own brand of social network - whatever it may be.

The media still remains the message - and the message is, sit quietly, grow passive and consume. It seems to me there are better ways to live.

For more log on to http://www.ask.com/ and type in the questions "How does television viewing influence behavior?"