Video Addiction

The sickness at the center of western culture, VideoAddiction dissolves the critical faculty, turning the few hours you cattle don't spend on the treadmill at work into passive acceptance of whatever the HypnoCrats? tell you. But don't worry, eventually you'll die of the arteriosclerosis caused by regular daily immobility. Then you'll go to your great reward in a heaven punctuated by commercial breaks every 5 minutes...

And now it's official:

It's bad for you in every possible way. It will make you very unhappy in your life. Turn it off and throw it out.

What's the difference between this page and GaveUpOnTelevision?

Something like the difference between alcoholism and teetotalism? A condition is not the same as one possible result.

I have heard -- perhaps I saw it on television, I don't remember -- that one's metabolism is lower while watching television than it is while sleeping. PeterMerel's long lost comment reminded me of that.

What I originally set out to mention, though, is that NealStephenson talks a bit about "Americans' preference for mediated experiences" in his essay InTheBeginningWasTheCommandLine. A quote:

"Contemporary culture is a two-tiered system, like the Morlocks and the Eloi in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, except that it's been turned upside down. In The Time Machine, the Eloi were an effete upper class, supported by lots of subterranean Morlocks who kept the technological wheels turning. But in our world it's the other way round. The Morlocks are in the minority, and they are running the show, because they understand how everything works. The much more numerous Eloi learn everything they know from being steeped from birth in electronic media directed and controlled by book-reading Morlocks. So many ignorant people could be dangerous if they got pointed in the wrong direction, and so we've evolved a popular culture that is (a) almost unbelievably infectious and (b) neuters every person who gets infected by it, by rendering them unwilling to make judgments and incapable of taking stands."

I think the essay is worth reading. Your mileage, as ever, may vary... -- BrettNeumeier

From a tee-shirt ...

 * Theater is Life
 * Film is Art
 * Television is Furniture

So what is Film on Television? Furniture as Art??

Actually, there are many examples of FurnitureAsArt?. Try searching google for the string "furniture as art". I would also think that the current trend of computer-case-modding is an excellent example, since what is a computer besides FunctionalFurniture??

Heroin is just like vitamin B, only more soothing ...

Why would anyone want to watch television, when they could be surfing the Web? At our home, my wife watches TV looking in one direction, while I sit at a desk looking in the other direction. There is no doubt in my mind who is busy more usefully. -- AndreSlabber

[please discuss at WebAddiction]

You don't have to have GaveUpOnTelevision completely to exercise TelevisionIntolerance?. I know of people at the sci-fi club who watch hours and hours of anime every weekend, and they say things like "I have never watched Survivor, and I'm very proud of that." That, of course, proves only that you're missing one television show that lots of people like, in favor of a bunch of shows that nobody has heard of and cost money to import. But it's just a subdued version of a boast that one doesn't watch television, only watches films or reads books. All that means is that they're consuming a different kind of media. Some people respect avid book-readers, but some people just want to shoot the breeze about last night's Survivor. TelevisionIntolerance? is like other forms of intolerance; it pulls people apart, and only brings people together who share that intolerance. -- NickBensema

Different TV is different. The disturbing part of mass TV watching, to me, is not that people are sitting at home watching a show. The worst is that everyone is watching the same two or three shows. These shows are inevitably pretty vacuous, just so that such a huge audience can all understand it. Watching videos is different, because you choose from a big library (hopefully). Even moreso for surfing the Internet. -- LexSpoon

Also, different media is different. Ten hours spent reading is pretty universally considered better-spent than ten hours watching television. While one can find excellent television programming that's arguably on-par with certain reading material, that seems to be an exception rather than a rule. And when this is combined with the statistics on the average number of hours people spend watching television per week, I have to wonder if that time couldn't be at least shifted a little. -- BrentNewhall

To (poorly) paraphrase DavidFosterWallace: Television is not mediocre because that's what people think is good. Television is mediocre because it's easier for everybody to agree on what is mediocre than for everybody to agree on what is good.

My own perspective: People don't watch TV because they think it's good, they watch TV because it's easy. It's always there, to relieve you of the burden of choosing what you will do with your free time. It's sad that people would consider this a burden, instead of the entire point of being alive, but there you have it.

Certainly my taxi-cab driver was waxing nostalgic. Yet the facts of the matter aren't really in dispute, are they? Television presents almost nothing but pablum and drivel, the very lowest quality information available in the world. What someone pays attention to influences what they can produce. So if you want to be a creative person, if you value the time you spend understanding and originating things and interacting with other creative people, then one of the very best things you can do to improve you life is to just don't watch TV.

I don't think I agree that television presents almost nothing but drivel (I don't know what pablum is, so I can't comment!). However, I do think the situation has worsened with the mass uptake of satellite television. Here in the UK, I have hundreds of channels, but I still only watch about half a dozen, three of which are the original terrestrial channels. These half dozen channels have some real high quality output (news, documentaries, well-made drama, great comedy). I used to watch a load of rubbish for the sake of it, but now I'm much more selective. There are probably about 7 or 8 programmes that I make a point of watching in a week. The rest of the time I do something else. -- MattStephenson?

Pablum is a brand of baby food sold in North America.

Just an attempt at a slightly different perspective. What is more addictive, the video part or the sound one? I have difficulties imagining anybody developing an addiction for mute videos. I have less of a trouble imagining people listening to radio all day. I think that we have a basic need to feel people around, to be part of a group, to be spoken to by others. If we are not, we can create the illusion we are: we listen to other people's voices on radio or on TV. The bad news -- it's just an illusion. We just get our daily dose of humanity surrogate, we get used to it, we feel safe and sure we'll find it there every day. The price? We've just lost humanity.

I think the difference between television (or video) and radio is that in order to watch television you have to park yourself in front of the box, and that's pretty much it... You're watching television. But to listen to radio, you don't have to be static... You can move around and do other things and still be listening. Maybe this contributes to radio's acceptability? -- MattStephenson?

I heard there was a CD of "sounds of living", like someone reading a newspaper or putting groceries away, to make people who live alone feel less lonely. Even sadder is that I think I'd like a CD like that.

Has anyone participating in this conversation really looked at what is available in print, at the theater, in music or to be had in conversation? Apparently not. Most of what people do is not of the highest water (even here). TV is no different. It only looks as if the past had better pass-times. The lousy ones have not been retained (much like Black Oak Arkansas). Check out the vast number of crappy novels available as opposed to the 'high intellect' books at B&N. When folks talked to each other on the porch last century (or earlier), it was about who diddled whom and what happened to Elmers pig, not lofty thoughts.

I disagree that TV is no different from other media. SturgeonsLaw ("Sure, 90% of science fiction is crap. 90% of everything is crap.") certainly applies to every medium, but no medium has exactly the same proportion of quality as the others. I argue that literature -- as well as other media -- has a much higher proportion of quality and utility than television, particularly in terms of denseness (watch an hour-long TV special about the weather, and spend an hour reading about the weather, and I'll bet you'll learn more from the latter exercise). I also disagree that we must create a gulf between bad novels and "high intellect books;" there are a whole lot of valuable works lying between those extremes. -- BrentNewhall

As I understand it, the term "addiction" has a very specific meaning. For example, in an addiction one starts requiring higher doses for the same effect. But by my example, I've been surviving on smaller doses of television for the last two years or so. And in addiction, one experiences withdrawals when one doesn't get a fix for a while. Well, when I'm on vacation, or have lots of plans, I just don't have time for television, and when I get back to my hotel room, I'm usually ready to hit the sack immediately. If television is anything, it's habit-forming. By that note, perhaps this page is a misnomer. -- NickBensema

Nick, maybe you're not a VideoAddict yourself. But that does nothing to prove that television isn't addictive, or that VideoAddiction isn't real.

This page has undergone some serious refactoring, not by me, and reading through the changes made me realize that I haven't watched more than a total of, like, three hours of TV in the last week. And most of that was just to drown out some noise from the neighbors. For the most part, I've been going out, and I have plans this coming weekend, and it's actually a little exhausting. But it's keeping me sane during tough times.

It also seems that I've been a bit more defensive and hostile about my TV-watching habits than I'd care to admit in the future. But at the same time, the meme "there is something wrong with watching moving images in general" that is at the heart of most arguments against VideoAddiction is quite a hostile one in and of itself, which is why I brought up TelevisionIntolerance?. But returning to the addiction metaphor, one wonders if this is what the junkie's argument with the social worker sounds like from the inside. -- NickBensema

"We have (lessee) four televisions in the house, but they're used almost entirely for playing back videotapes. I suppose once computers are better at that, we could get rid of the TVs, thus avoiding the temptation to use the tuners. Certainly there's nothing wrong with watching moving images in general?"

Yes, there is something wrong with watching moving images in general. The vast bulk of available moving images are designed explicitly to pacify and addict you. They pacify you so you won't switch shows. They addict you so that you'll watch the next show. That's how the producers make their money. It doesn't matter what the source of video is -- tuner or cassette or net -- it's the same addiction.

(Note that this argument seems focused on serial works, particularly ones that were originally televised. There is no "next show" when watching a movie, and I would argue that most people watching videos do so to watch films or direct-to-video works, compared to recorded television shows [though that does happen].) -- BrentNewhall

No next show? Writers, directors, actors et. al. never make another movie again? Consumers never decide what to watch based on past performances?

Think about it: 24 hours in a day. 8 hours asleep. 8 hours turning dollars. 2 hours eating. 2 hours buying and transporting goods. That leaves you just 4 hours a day to do something with your life. Now let's say you only watch 2 hours a day -- that's less than the average American -- you just halved the amount of value in your life. If you watch 4, your life has no value at all.

(Darn, and I thought that work had value. Well there goes my ProtestantWorkEthic! -- JeffGrigg)

The vast majority of all people in industrialized countries waste the vast majority of their productive lives on this VideoAddiction. Reclaim your life: stop watching moving images. Don't get silly about it -- if you really want to see the new star wars flick, go see it in the cinema. But sell, give away, or just throw out your 4 TVs today.

Once you get through the withdrawal symptoms, you'll be so glad you did.

I had a ride in a taxi-cab the other day. The cab driver was a very chatty old fellow. A WW2 veteran. He observed that, fifty years ago, our cities were completely different places. People went out every evening to clubs and bars. They spent time with each other. There was active social debate on all topics. After work, most people spent time with their communities.

Then Vladimir Zworykin's invention hit the stores. Within two years, the clubs and bars were wastelands. The streets cleared after 6 pm. The taxi-cab business changed forever, and my driver lamented that.

But he was sorrier still that the life -- the diversity, social flow and cultural vigor -- departed with the people. Many of his passengers became lonely and depressed. Their opinions were no longer worth debate, just series of broadcast quotations. They sat at home giggling, crying, shaking their fists, and mostly just drooling at the moving pictures. Terribly alone in this new illusion of community.

Sounds a lot like what firewater did to the indians, doesn't it? -- PeterMerel

My dad once mentioned to me that the two major reasons for the downfall of local communities where everybody knows everybody is the air conditioner and the TV. The air conditioner made it more comfortable to stay inside on hot days/evenings than to sit on the front porch and be accessible to neighbors. The TV gave us a form of entertainment while inside instead of conversation with neighbors, and became a year round pastime (instead of just summer for AC). It was difficult for me to accept when he first said it because I like both AC and TV, but I can find no reason to argue the point.

I do watch 2-4 hours of TV per evening, but I'm also generally doing something else simultaneously, which I believe makes it less of a time waster. Also, I tend to watch educational programs more than anything else.

-- GregVaughn

One of my college professors worked with Vladimir Zworykin. He related to us late one summer evening (I had that prof. for a summer class) that when Vladimir look at how his invention was being used in the '60s, and at the content being shown on it, he repented and wished he had never created the television.

Who is/was Vladimir Zworykin? I remember being told that television was invented by JohnLogieBaird see -- his device was demoed in 1926 and transmitted pictures (tele-vision). It didn't use a CRT (but then neither do plasma TVs :-) -- DaveGarbutt

And let us not forget Philo Farnsworth, another of the several inventors of television. He conceived the picture tube (CRT) in 1921 as a fourteen year old farm boy and demonstrated a complete working system six years later. Sept. 7, 1927: "There you are," said Phil, "electronic television." General Sarnoff, chief of the Radio Corporation of America and Zworykin's boss, tried to claim priority, but the U.S. Patent Office found for Farnsworth.

Interesting how several people seem to make the same invention at the same time. Check out the people who invented the telephone just before Bell did.

-- JoaquinMiller

For more on the relation between television and AttentionDeficitDisorder, see AttentionDeficitDisorder.

Let me suggest that firewater didn't do anything to the indians, and that television doesn't do anything to current people. People have always made choices about how engaged they will be, and most of them have always been largely disengaged. Our memories of how cool the past was are quite selective. Parts of the past were really cool, and parts weren't. I remember when those of us who really got it were out there killing mammoths with rocks and dragging them home, but the kids just sat around playing with bent sticks and catgut. -- RonJeffries

I don't know about the TV ... but history suggests you are wrong about the firewater. It is one thing to 'decide to disengage', quite another to be the target of a government initiated and subsidized program of 'disengagement'. Hmmm, now that I think of it, TV isn't so different...

I believe current consensus doesn't agree with you here Ron, and that alcoholic tendencies are now believed to have a strong genetic component, with the native-american population having a high incidence of that particular phenotype. Quite similar to a large percentage of people of asian descent who don't manufacture one of the enzymes required to effectively break-down alcohol.

Are habits choices? Okay,
 * TV: Just Say No.
But then again, perhaps habits aren't choices, especially when inculcated at a tender age. TV habits begin, these days, in the cradle. Are children competent to choose? Like firewater, and other addictive substances, TV is misrepresented as a social lubricant. Are disinformed people competent to choose?

Yes, of course they are, because being disinformed is also a choice. You are NeglectingFreeWill.

What about disinformed children, though? Not to raise the hysterical cry of "ThinkAboutTheChildren?!", but it's undeniably true that our society tends to entice children into frequent television watching, without addressing the effects of that, and that young children don't quite have free will the way most of us do. Perhaps this requires parental response, but surely it requires some response. -- BrentNewhall

Think of it as EvolutionInAction.

I know I do; those societies that regulate or suppress TV will flourish while those societies that put TV broadcast decisions in the hands of zombies will perish. Group competition, ain't it wonderful? And I'm defecting to a TV-free society ASAP. -- rk

I do watch 2-4 hours of TV per evening, but I'm also generally doing something else simultaneously, which I believe makes it less of a time waster. Also, I tend to watch educational programs more than anything else. -- GregVaughn

Still, educational programs don't compare with actually experiencing trips to Africa and scuba diving the great reefs and so on. Just like historical programs don't compare to actual books about history, just like TV news shows barely educate you about current politics ...

TV has an almost universal acceptance as a harmless recreation, and it's not something I can go along with. I see TV as a stealer of dreams, a reinforcer of status quos, a purveyor of misinformation, a discourager of cultural diversity, and a drag-line on intellectual resources. I think it disconnects people from each other and from the natural world. It makes me angry that the cause of all this is seen as harmless recreation instead of addictive evil.

I don't deny I'd like to spend time in front of the teev. I'm a glutton for entertainment, and channel surfing is quite a peculiar and interesting mental experience for me too. But where is the time to do this and all the other things I want to do? 34 weekends a year doing nothing is 34 weekends too many. Can you really say you don't regret this loss too?

I also wouldn't consider an hour reading Kernighan and Ritchie's The Practice of Programming while watching Scientific American Frontiers creation of a "mindless zombie" but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that point. -- GregVaughn

It's actually by Kernighan and (Rob) Pike, not K&R.

Stipulated, that hour was not too mindless. But what about all the other hours?

I just got back to this page after a long absence. While I certainly agree that people watch too much mindless television, I don't think that there is nothing worthwhile to watch. I respect people who decide to not watch TV much the same way as I respect people who decide to be vegetarians. Too much TV and too much meat are both bad for us. If someone decides to go to the extreme of not allowing any, then that's fine by me. But if they decide that choice makes them morally superior to me (someone who believes I can achieve moderation) then I have a problem with them and they tend to lose my respect.

On the issue of time, I'm not so sure it's fair to try to sum up a bunch of small intervals and compare it to one large interval. If I could trade 2 hours a day watching television during 2 of months for one whole week to go on a vacation and actually experience more of the world, I surely would, but due to needing a job to make ends meet, that's just not possible.

On the other hand, an hour a day could rapidly turn you into an accomplished artist, or otherwise teach you a new skill in a comparatively short period of time. I think that that's more the point.

Once more we see PersonalChoiceElevatedToMoralImperative...

There's hundreds of channels, 24 hours a day, telling you to do nothing but sit and watch. There's your imperative. What's wrong with dissent? What am I going to do, adobe-wall the TV watchers? Burn the TVs? Censor advertisers? I sure don't expect you to change your habits just because I'm miffed by the whole thing. Do what you like, I don't have to like it. -- PeterMerel

My personal observation is that TV (well, mostly sitcoms and movies) generally serve to convince you that everything in life should be (a) hysterically funny, (b) painfully dramatic or (c) a blockbuster sensation. It skews your expectations.

It can make you miserable and depressed because your life isn't that funny, dramatic or sensational.

Then there's advertising. The most effective advertising is based on the following principle: Your life sucks...but don't worry! If you buy this, then you will (choose one):

 1. Get a pretty girlfriend (e.g. car ad)
 2. Go to great parties (beer ad)
 3. Attract beautiful men (wrinkle cream)
 4. Experience True Love(tm) (diamonds)
 5. Enjoy life (milk)

TV can also make you lethargic because it's easier to fill your life with TV than to get off your butt and do something. It's appealing because there's no fear of failure associated with watching TV. Compare this with other activities, such as rock climbing or learning an instrument or having a relationship with another person.

And don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever watch TV -- I'm just saying that you should be aware of what you're getting yourself into, and that you are making a choice. Most people don't realize they even have a choice. -- AnthonyLander

Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of this device. -- CP Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian. [1]

If the only argument Scott could come up with against television is the etymology of the word, I'd say his critical thinking skills are already pretty shot. BTW, see for a very contrarian rant about popular culture.

The latin word 'video' comes from a greek root: in classical (Attic) greek, the word is 'idew' (w standing for an omega), but in older greek, it probably had a leading digamma, 'Fidew' (the letter digamma was lost from the language altogether in the evolution of Attic greek). Digamma is pronounced like the english 'w', as is the latin 'v', and thus the latin and ur-greek words are both pronounced 'wideo', which comes into english as 'video'; thus, 'television' is actually an entirely greek-derived word after all, even if its coiners didn't know it! Well, that's what I always tell 'em. -- TomAnderson

This sounds doubtful. Certainly video and idew are related, but that doesn't mean the latter is the parent. I mean, the Italic tribes couldn't have gone very far without a word for seeing, and common words like that are rarely eradicated completely. Or do you mean it's entirely Greek in the same sense all Indo-european words are entirely Greek?

What does this say about "Pent-ium"? --

'Pent' is from a Sumerian word 'pwhenta' meaning "we should have switched to a RISC architecture but that would make us look like slow-witted beasts of burden", and -ium is an intensive ending. -- TomAnderson

Hexadecimal? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of this.

Hey, I'm pretty lethargic (when not at work), and I don't watch TV at all! Instead I surf the Internet and visit places like this Wiki. How about you? Also, I read a lot. I have friends who "waste" vast quantities of time playing role-playing games or video games or going to clubs or bars or doing drugs or puttering in the garden or playing sports or keeping the house spotless... Say, what counts as a "waste" of time anyway?

I'm very skeptical that lethargy or anti-social activity comes from TV. If not TV, it will be something else.

-- BrianSlesinsky

But a bunch of those (role-playing games, clubs, bars, drugs (depending on how you do them), puttering in the garden, and playing sports) either bring you together with other people, or at least put you in a position where conversation about experience is possible.

And that is what brings about real society.

I don't recommend fighting against TV. It puts you on the same side of a fence with a class of elitist snobs that will spend eternity eating tofu in a tastefully decorated corner of purgatory.

What do I recommend? Go out and have beer with the old guy next door. Go to some cheesy local theater performance. Get into a role-playing game -- my preference is the kind where you might hear "The DM's mug is empty, you hear an ominous roll of dice". Whatever.

I have several TVs around the house. I rarely watch any -- I don't have time. If I gave up TV, I'd find the time to cheat on my resolution.

-- MikeHuber

One of my professors in college related knowing Vladimir Zworykin in the 60's. He said that Vladimir believed that inventing the thing had been a mistake based on the quality of 1960s television. How much better is today's programming?

I'm living in residence right now and there's a guy who spends a lot of time at the TV. Always up to date on all the local and global news events, including a lot of background details that aren't necessarily presented in the current news story. I'm not really sure what that means yet but I don't currently sense evil. In any case, to say that there is no quality content on television is equivalent to saying that the Internet is all about porn and hate sites. -- JasonYip If this guy is only watching north american programming, he isn't up on global events. Probably missing a lot on local events too. If he's watching a bunch of international content, it is possible -- but you have to work pretty hard. Much, if not most of the hard news never hits TV; you can do a bit better with print media if you look around (hard).

I'm living in residence right now and there's a guy who spends a lot of time at the TV. Always up to date on all the local and global news events, including a lot of background details that aren't necessarily presented in the current news story. I'm not really sure what that means yet but I don't currently sense evil. In any case, to say that there is no quality content on television is equivalent to saying that the Internet is all about porn and hate sites. -- JasonYip If this guy is only watching north american programming, he isn't up on global events. Probably missing a lot on local events too. If he's watching a bunch of international content, it is possible -- but you have to work pretty hard. Much, if not most of the hard news never hits TV; you can do a bit better with print media if you look around (hard).

A friend of mine could be called VideoAddict too. Since kindergarten he has been watching TV very much. He said TV was AlwaysOn? and he developed the ability to cope with it somehow. In school during a lesson about media he was the one with the most hours a week (much more than 20 hours a week I think). But he chooses programs very selectively and filters the interesting part out (with >30 stations that is possible). "up to date on all the local and global news events, including a lot of background details that aren't necessarily presented in the current news story" matches him quite well. He has a broad general knowledge and can look multiple programs at once or alternatively program at the same time. He has written a program, that wgets the TV programs of all stations, that he can get the program of and filters out all junk (90%) and highlights the programs that match criteria (quite like a spam filter really). He always has a printout, that tells, what he might be missing right now. But I have to concede, that he has a WorldView, that is somewhat pessimistic.

Then of course you could always go all out and preach the evils of TV. What happens to a child who has been raised more by television shows and advertising than by his own parents?

Why has there been such an upsurge in psychopathic behaviour since the introduction of TV into our society. Or does it just seem that way because it's so much easier to absorb the horror of something perverse on TV when it's just being directly injected into you. Regardless of whether or not TV is evil, it's almost impossible to deny the fact that the most intelligent thing on standard network television is the news. And that is the worst of it all. So much gets censored from TV, yet it's OK to bombard people with horrific stories. A typical half hour of news contains such stories as children being murdered by their parents, people being locked in closets forced to survive off dog kibble, abandoned elderly with bedsores, rape, murder, incest, brutality, and to lighten things up a bit, rollerskating monkeys. And it's all true and being delivered to us as valuable wisdom. Granted there are educational shows out there, and advanced entertainment as can be found in some movies can enrich your life but primarily television is sensationalistic drivel geared more towards the most base and primitive desires. I certainly hope that if aliens ever come to see if we are ready to be considered a member of an advanced group of species they don't derive their entire opinion on an episode or, worse yet, 2 episodes of Jerry Springer.

-- LeeNathan

Will television die? See WithinTwentyYears.

Yet more evidence that television is bad for you:

Could people's conditioning to suspend disbelief when watching disaster movies be a factor in their unwillingness to confront such oddities of 9-11 as: the unexplained collapses of WTC 1, 2, and 7; or the suspension of standard operating procedures, which would normally have protected New York City and Washington from such an attack? --

See GaveUpOnTelevision, VideoAddict, PhysicalEffectsOfVideoAddiction, MindControl, HiveMind,,

On addictions: CarAddiction, WebAddiction, NewsAddiction, WhatsAddiction?

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