Proyecto Visión 21

Why, with so many books to read, my television is still on?

Why, with so many books to read, we insist on watching TV, even if there is nothing on TV of our interest?

When I say “books,” I include not only books printed on paper, but all kinds of elements when the written word is used to communicate. When I say “television,” I include all other screens (computer, cell phones) where videos and movies are shown.

And when I say “nothing to watch,” I am not talking about the quality of the programs, but about the “anti-communication” created by a medium that keeps us captives even if we can’t find a single program of our interest among hundreds of channels.

Two days ago, after returning from a conference when they gave me ten free different books, I asked myself why I was watching TV instead of reading.

Why is so attractive to watch news on TV when the average length of a news segment is 18 seconds, three times shorter than 25 years ago? How can I watch something when the images are changing every five seconds or less?

What’s the point of passively accept commercial interruptions in the middle of the story I was watching? Why should I receive a series of unconnected stories and believe they are “news”? The lack of connection happens among the news, between news and the reporters, between the news and the audience, and between the reporters and the audience.

And why, in spite of my best efforts and wishes, and after several decades of reading as much as I can, now is so difficult for me to read as I used to do it before?

There are many good answers to that question, but one of the best I found is in book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman says the mental attitude for reading is different than the mental attitude for watching TV. He also says the “surrealistic frame” of TV impacts all our communications.

It should be obvious I am not promoting a return to pre-television times and I do not want all TV sets destroyed.

At the same time, there has to be a reason, other than getting older, to explain why is so difficult to read and so easy to watch TV, to the point that TV capture and control us.

Postman is right when he describes television as a “discourse that abandons logic, reason, sequence, and rules of contradiction.” Postman points out that such a discourse in arts is known as Dadaism, in psychology as schizophrenia, and in philosophy as nihilism.

In other words, the reason why I can tolerate the cacophony and cacography television and other screens throw at me is because my mind, my emotions, and my knowledge are already fragmented by the nihilism of our society.

My problem is not with television, but with the philosophy behind it, or, better said, with the uncritical acceptance of post-modern nihilism. But, why should I bother with this issue with so many programs and movies to watch?

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