Friday, August 14, 2015

4 hours of TV a day does not a democracy make

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of 2.8 hours a day watching TV in 2014:
Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for more than half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over. Socializing, such as visiting with friends or attending or hosting social events, was the next most common leisure activity, accounting for 43 minutes per day. 
Norman Herr, Ph.D, professor of Science Education at California State University, Northridge, has compiled a number of interesting statistics on American life, including this one:
According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
Perhaps Nielsen has an optimistic bias in favor of TV, but if they are right, 9 years is a long time to spend watching TV. Between the two of those sources, we're looking at 2.8-4 hours a day of just sitting and watching TV. That just boggles my mind. For the purpose of this blog post, let's assume that Nielsen is right since their sole purpose is to capture data on how we use TV and other devices as a business model.

4 hours a day is 28 hours a week. That's almost a part time job, just watching TV, keeping up with current events and tracking plots of the shows that people want to watch. For men, most of that is probably sports, given the way ESPN likes to get it's lineup tacked onto the basic cable package.

Watching TV, despite what we might think, takes a lot of effort. To watch TV, the viewer has to sit still long enough to get enjoyment from the programming. They have to time their potty breaks if they are not time-shifting. Time-shifting is recording programs for later viewing and it's a common practice. Then what happens on TV is committed to memory for discussion later with friends and family.

4 hours of TV a day would explain why some people who run for president are preparing to spend one billion and more on their campaigns for 2016. Air time is expensive. From production to the air, it all costs money. If we can reasonably expect most people to watch 4 hours a day, then we can expect that someone is going to see a commercial for a leading candidate for president.

The sad part is, many people make decisions based on what they see on TV. For example, it is plausible that many people make a decision to buy toilet paper based on the opinions expressed by two animated bears. Um, what exactly do they do in the woods again? If TV can sell toilet paper, it can sell a presidency.

That 4 hours of television time is time that could be spent pursuing a trade or formal education, raising a family, running a business or, God forbid...participating in civic life. If people would rather stay home and watch TV than to get off their but and vote, we have a problem.

Maybe that's the point of TV.

We now have the ability to educate and inform ourselves with the internet. We can watch just about anything we want to watch on YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and a plethora of other online video services. We can research every candidate for their funding, their statements and their votes. We can check to see if they are philosophically and ideologically consistent. We might even be able to determine if they work for us or not.

So even if we see it on TV, we can still fact-check our candidates. We can determine if their actions are consistent with our desires of how a government should be run. As more and more people cut the cord, we can have a reasonable expectation that Americans will become more literate, more capable of discerning the issues from the candidates, and whether or not the candidates are representing our interests. As Americans cut the cord, they will have to learn how to use the internet to get the information they want.

That might mean having to spend less time watching TV and more time learning to live in a connected society. That might mean we spend more time learning how to use other sources than major media to form our opinions about who should sit in the White House.
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