Friday, June 02, 2006

We Don't Have a TV

That’s right. We’re one of those people. Because we are pure. No, that’s not why we don’t have a tube. It’s because we can’t help but watch for hours when we do have one. It sucks us away. And the content is mostly terrible. Actually, we do have a tube. I’m looking at it right now and it’s hooked up to my computer. For all our TV chastity, we are enthralled to the computer. I think it would be easier for me to count how many hours I’m not looking at a computer screen than the other way around. Between work, using the web for plane reservations and such, DVD watching on the computer, etc. – it’s an all day thing for my wife and me. In terms of parenting, though, our daughter is only five months old so we really haven't had to deal with this issue head on yet, but I've been thinking about it. The Kaiser Foundation released a report on media and parenting that’s finally got me to the point where I have to express my thoughts on the subject.

But first, enjoy this picture of our cat watching TV (which predates our renunciation of the medium):

The Kaiser report documents in great detail just how much time children are watching TV, listening to music, or sitting at the computer. Here’s a pretty illustrative quote, “Kids who watch television and those who watch videos or DVDs spend an average of about one and a quarter hours on each (1:19 for TV and 1:18 for videos/DVDs), while those who play video games and use computers spend an average of just under an hour on each (0:55 for video games and 0:50 for computers). On the whole, the 83% of children who use screen media in a typical day spend an average of just under 2 hours (1:57) doing so.” The basic thrust of the document is that parents use media to help distract their kids so they can get chores done, cook, and have "me" time.

Yes, I am disturbed. Two hours of screen time per day…on average. When I was a kid, I played basketball, rode my bike, and did my homework. Well, I guess I did play video games too. But not that much. I am righteously appalled by today’s kids and their lazy parents who “can’t imagine how they’d get through the day without television, video, and DVDs” because they’re too busy to just sit with their kids. Actually, I’m just not surprised enough to be that upset. My main reaction to the study is that it didn’t ask the right the kind of questions for me to form a solid conclusion.

I'd like to suggest a distinction between different types of media. There's advertisement-saturated media that you passively receive. And there's media that you engage with or even create. For example, if I help my daughter (when she is older) to write a news report for the Houston Independent Media Center website, I hardly think that's equivalent to watching American Idol even though both activities would be counted as screen time. Even watching American Idol is different than just watching MTV. People talk about American Idol at work and school. It's a major, public event. It becomes social. It creates an imagined national community. I'd like my daughter to participate in that kind of thing occasionally.

I think it would be more interesting to ask questions like, “How much time do you spend creating media verses time spent consuming it?” “How much time do you spend discussing the meaning, rhetoric, and agenda of media?” “Do you spend so much time creating media like pictures and video that you can only experience your family through the hyper-reality of those images?” Basically, the Kaiser Foundation should hire me to set up their next study.


Diana said...

I'd love to see more detailed information in some of these so called studies! Unfortunately, the parents who plop their offspring in front of the "screen" for such massive amounts of time each day are probably spending ten times that amount consuming screentime themselves and their rotted brains wouldn't even begin to comprehend the questions they were being asked. ;)

Anonymous said...

well i think you are wrong and rude for ever even posting this junk about people you dont even know personally! You have no right to sit there and talk about werent there for anything in these peoples like and you sit there adn post junk like this you should be ashames of yourself!

Anonymous said... that, they should hire you. You brought about very intriguing points that I hadn't thought about, but are nonetheless important. My husband and I also do not have a tv hooked up. Like you, we found that it is far too hypnotizing (for lack of a better word) and before you know it 4 hours have passed. Furthermore we just had a son in January and although he is , obviously, too young to watch tv, we want him to do more exciting and healthy things with his play outside.