The Adult Literacy Survey recently concluded that watching more than two hours of TV a day is harmful and holds children back.
So what would happen if there were no televisions? No sport, no American Idol, no Days of Our Lives, no National Geographic, no BET, MTV or, (gulp) Spongebob?
To find out, three of our reporters volunteered to turn the box off for a week. How did they cope, what did they do instead and did one of them really end up sewing a hem on a pair of trousers like one of the Ingalls girls on Little House on the Prairie?
In our special feature, we also drop in on a family of two parents and six children who haven’t had a TV in the house for six months. The kids say it’s been torture but mom and dad say the children have “come alive” since it’s been gone.
We also took to the streets to find out how much time islanders spend in front of the TV.
Like most things, at the end of the day it’s a question of balance. Do you have it right?
I was in denial about TV?habit
By James Whittaker
The hip hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy once described television as the drug of the nation.
But I’d always considered myself as more of a casual user than an addict. Sure I was not immune to the hypnotic pull of the tube, but as far as I was concerned it was under control.
Asked how much I watched a week, I’d probably say five or six hours, if that. More, I suppose, if you count sports. Movies count too? Okay, maybe a few hours more. What about documentaries, surely that’s just interactive learning? No? A couple more hours then.
In the words of George W. Bush, I guess I mis-underestimated myself.
When I actually added up the number of hours I’d sat watching TV the previous week it was more than double what I thought it would be.
I was well inside the two-hours-a-night category that the Bermuda Adult Literacy Survey classifies as the danger zone.
A fair portion of that time was spent flicking between channels looking for something decent. Another chunk was spent criticizing the banality of what American mainstream channels consider comedy (somehow it never occurred to me to flick the ‘off’ switch).
And then the rest was spent on what I considered more worthy televisual pursuits like the English Premier League or David Attenborough’s Planet Earth.
I still stand by the belief that television and literacy are not mutually exclusive. But when asked to recall a useful lesson I’d learnt from TV, ‘Don’t mess with lions or sharks’ was about the best I could come up with.
Worse still was the realization that a possibly vital part of my brain’s storage system would forever be assigned details about a nasty little growth hormone called Relacor which means unsightly belly fat is not my fault. The subliminal power of advertising had its hooks firmly in.
Clearly, it was time for a change.
The best way I found to curb the cravings during my week of abstinence was to stay out of the house. I went to a jazz concert on the Monday night, played in a squash tournament on two separate nights, went for the odd run and genuinely didn’t miss television all that much.
When I was home I had the benefit of a couple of good books and an online chess game to satisfy my entertainment demands.
With no default selection, the question of ‘what shall we do tonight?’ was always a challenge, but the answer was invariably more interesting than MTV.
With the experiment over, I still watch my fair share of television. I’d probably have to remove it from the house to avoid it completely. But I’m at least a little more conscious not to watch, just because it is there.
Maybe next time someone asks how much I watch I’ll be able to say five or six hours a week and it might even be the truth.
I hand-wrote a letter and did some sewing!
By Sirkka Huish
Think about all those ‘important’ jobs you never get around to doing. Well, there’s a way to get them crossed off the list and even enjoy the process – give up TV for a week.
It’s a simple way to find more hours in the day, but you might find yourself doing some bizarre things.
Typically, I get home from work and chill out in front of the box for a couple of hours.
Now I faced going ‘cold turkey’ for seven days – 168 hours!
All of a sudden I had to fill my time with more meaningful activities; I was forced to get the creative juices flowing.
The key to getting through the week was staying busy and pretending I wasn’t really missing Wife Swap, Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty – or that I didn’t mind being clueless about the latest American Idol audition or Oprah special.
How did I spend my time? I read and went to the gym and spent a lot longer than normal slaving over a hot stove.
A friend in the U.K. will get the surprise of her life when my hand-scribbled letter arrives on her doormat.
I also came over all domesticated. I’m proud to say my bathroom is now spotless and my fridge was given a good clean out.
I even found time for a bit of sewing. Yes, I amazed even myself by sewing up the hem on a pair of trousers.
To avoid temptation I also arranged a few nights out, but I was limited to where I could go. There was no way my boyfriend would give up TV even for a day, let alone a week, so I had to avoid his house. And almost every pub now has a widescreen TV looking back at you.
Surprisingly, going without TV got easier as the week progressed.
I’m not a huge TV watcher anyway but I did miss my daily dose of news. I felt a bit lost without my ‘window into the world.’ It brought home the fact that I’m stuck on an island in the middle of the Atlantic.
However, breaking free of the grip of TV wasn’t a life-changing experience and I can’t say I felt liberated. Neither did I find myself indulging in a healthy dose of outdoor activity.
It was a valuable experience, though, as I was a lot more productive. I turned on life rather than the TV and stopped vegging-out in front of B-list celebrities, B-movies and bad plot lines.
But I won’t be throwing out the telly just yet. My TV isn’t evil, it doesn’t ruin my life, I just like it to have it around. I’m not an addict. I would like to catch up with American Idol after missing two episodes, though…
The bliss of longer soaks in the tub
By Don Burgess
Giving up a week of TV left me hiding out in the bathtub and spending less time with my wife.
It wasn’t a good week to go on the no-TV diet. My house was full of people and we had relatives sleeping on the pullout sofa in the living room. We have an open plan house so the dining room and living room are connected.
Also, my wife was sick for much of the week laid-up in bed with the TV on. And the weather was too bad for playing sports most days. I felt a little stranded.
I would normally watch two to four hours’ of TV a day, but there are only five ‘must-see’ programmes: Survivor, Battlestar Galactica, Bones, House and American Idol.
And I did watch some TV – couldn’t help it. With the TV on in the bedroom and in the living room, there was no way not to see and hear programmes as I walked through, or interacted with people.
But I didn’t sit down to watch a programme. Instead, I spent more time in the bathtub.
I could have stayed in the tub reading longer, but I after an hour, my skin had more wrinkles than a Shar Pei.
I decided to set up a chair, with its back to the TV, and read a baseball magazine.
I read a bad novel
So how did I spend the rest of my time otherwise? I went to church, managed to get in a softball game, spent more time on the computer and read Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ (very disappointing).
We did play a few board games together like Vegas Showdown, San Juan and St. Petersburg, but those would have been a normal part of life anyway.
Now that my week of abstinence is over, will I watch less TV? Probably not. As soon as the clock struck the witching hour, I had Comedy Central on.
In the three days since going back to TV, I’ve only watched six hours, which isn’t that much considering it was a weekend.
But of course, that’s what any addict would say.