Well, it’s finally been proven. Watching television makes you gain weight. The average viewer decreases their steps by 144 per one hour of television. A sample day sitting in front of the tube reduces your total steps by a whopping 520 steps. That’s what they know for sure. What they haven’t been able to prove, exactly, is WHY people want to sit for so long in front of the TV.
While these may not be able to be proven, here are some theories by your handy dandy armchair anthropologist. The study, done by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, focused on “lower income” residents in Boston. The amount of television watched ranged from zero to nearly 15 hours a day, with an average of 3.6 hours. What they found was that those extra steps would be more likely taken by those who didn’t watch TV than by those who did.
Why do some watch and some don’t? Let’s face it, it’s almost abnormal in our society NOT to watch some television every day, whether it’s the constant news cycle or the Food Network or sports or nightly dramas. But what it seems to do more than anything else is engage our brains so our bodies can rest.
You might say there are lots of other ways to engage your brain that are more useful – reading, solving complex algorithms, learning a new language. But in truth, that gives most of our brains way too much credit. After all, isn’t the brain allowed to indulge in pleasure once in a while?
The problem is that the brain loves to indulge all of the time and so it craves constant, unchallenging, semi-predictable and thus comforting entertainment. They don’t call it mind numbing for nothing. Could it be that watching TV is like giving the brain a massage?
Okay, so you don’t buy that theory? How about: it fills the room with simulated life. When real people are in short supply or when they give you grief about every little thing, you can always summon the TV people. They never let you down and always perform for your tired brain. What’s not to like? At the same time, you can temporarily assuage loneliness.
If you’re still searching for a better reason, how about: we work too hard in our culture. We work and work and work and work and we never really find time to relax in any real way. We can temporarily leave our lives and our problems behind when we flick on the box.
So maybe I’m shooting blanks here. Lucky for us, Al Gore invented the Internet because a couple of key words later, an article pops up that looks at a groundbreaking study that measured the viewing habits of different demographic groups. Apparently, there are about 14 basic types of viewers.
Here is one sample of a group:
News and Information: Most interested in keeping informed on a broad range of subjects and in being socially stimulating. Devote the most time to watching television: news, talk shows, variety shows, documentaries, movies and sports. Light users of non-print media.
And a not so surprising one:
Elderly: Whether retired, widowed or with grown children, they rely on television to satisfy their needs for a sense of belonging in the absence of interpersonal contact. Favorite programs include dramas, game shows, soap operas and religious broadcasts, with light to moderate use of most other media.
How could anyone begrudge the elderly? They’ve made it this far; why not let them have their TV? It’s the rest of us, and our young, who need to fix our lives so that TV doesn’t fix it for us.
The full article on “We Are What We Are: We Watch What We Are” is on the Center for Media Literacy, www.medialit.org /reading_room/article274.html