Sunday, February 8, 2009

Really, Really Scary Statistics

I saw the following in a recent article in the New York Times:

Consider that the average American household consists of 2.7 persons and contains 2.9 television sets, in front of which we sit for record-setting spells, according to Nielsen figures. In the quarter ended Sept. 30, the typical American watched 142 hours of television monthly, up about five hours from the same quarter the previous year. Internet use averaged more than 27 hours monthly, an increase of an hour and a half, according to Nielsen.

We are so smitten with screens that we often can’t bear to choose one over another: 31 percent of Internet use occurs while we’re in front of a TV set. We are also taking an interest in watching video on our phones: 100 million handsets are video-capable.
Adding those two numbers together means that the typical American spent 169 hours a month sitting passively in front of a screen. Take away the 31 percent of double-dippers, that still leaves us with an average of 160 hours a month screen-sitting. That's over 5 hours a day. I'm still trying to figure it out. Let's say you sleep 6 hours a day. Work, including travel should take something like 10 hours a day. That leaves 8 hours left - and five of them are in front of the television. Could these statistics in some way contribute to our economic malaise? Is it possible that America has stopped producing because it's more interested in relaxing than working? Other than debatably-good entertainment, what does America really produce all that well anymore? Cars? Clothes? Pots and pans? Not anymore.
Religious Jews have to ask a more probing question: how is all this TV making me a better person or a better Jew? How is it bringing me closer to God? How is it contributing to the education and spiritual and personal growth of my children?
In my home we do watch vidoes; we used to watch DVDs from Netflix, but they don't ship to Israel. So now we watch select shows over the web. The reason we got rid of broadcast TV is because we found that it began to control us. What started as a reasonable hour of relaxation at 10pm would somehow turn into a silly episode of whatever's on at midnight. Why? Because TV is designed to do one thing, and it does it really, really well: get you to keep watching. Just one more show. Just one more ad. Just another hour. And contrary to what we think, they choose what we watch, not us.
Is it so hard to get rid of? Perform an experiement. Leave the DVD player connected, but disconnect the antenna for a month. I guarantee that you're life won't be worse. You want to watch something: pop in a DVD. But measure the following during the month:
How much more time did you spend with your children?
How much more time did your kids spend reading, or playing outside, or building?
How many more real conversations did you have with your spouse?
How much more sleep did you get?
If you can't unplug for just a month - that's a sign of a far deeper problem.
I have an even more perplexing question: If Americans watch TV or surf the web for five of the eight non-work/sleep hours of the day, what do they do during the other three hours?