Television, The Great Life-Waster

More quotations from recent reading. This is from “Don’t Waste Your Life“, by John Piper. It’s the quotation he quotes which is the particularly interesting and telling point. It refers to America, but the same could also be said of the UK.

Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can
also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you’re watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels. Neil Postman shows why.

“What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk… Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational, and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world’s first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death.”

The entire book is available free online.

12 thoughts on “Television, The Great Life-Waster

  1. American perspective: While I agree that certain tv channels (network news, reality tv etc.) are stupid and contribute nothing except cheap calories of fun. There are tv channels created specifically to enlighten, inform and entertain at the same time (PBS, CSPAN etc.). So just like any technology its upto the user whether to consume the nutrient packed channels, or to glob down on the junk food that is most network tv.

  2. I was a total TV junkie for all my life, but I’m TV free for 8 months now and I only regret, that I didn’t do it sooner.

    poningru, you can get most of the documentaries on DVD pretty cheap and once the BBC opens it’s archives their “horzion” series will be enough for years and years of the best documentary you can get.

  3. One thing I’ve noticed with TV is that the amount of good programmes remains more or less constant while the number of channels keeps increasing.

  4. As a non-believer, I find the statements about God and my lack of morals offensive. Although, the question could be posed as to why I’m even reading this, but I’m going to ignore that.

    The medium of television is by comparsion of that of written material. The point a lot of people express is that all anyone is doing is watching pictures that fry the brain. I agree that watching to much reality TV can lower your IQ a few points, other shows like CSI are quite informative. Not in the textbook kind of way, but in the hidden message kind of way. It is mostly what you take out of it.

    If you see a man driving to fast and get hit by a Semi, then I’m sure the next time someone else is going to look both ways and stop when the light is red.

    Most of the time it isn’t what you see by the lesson behind it. Reading as well as watching has a lasting effect on a person’s perspective. Not everyone is going to watch The Lord of the Rings for the hidden meaning of Good vs Evil, and the defeat of satan. They’ll probably just see a bunch of fights and CGI. Same with TV.

    I haven’t read the book, but I have heard similar dialogue and I believe the fear is that the more someone knows and expands their mind the more they will doubt (or perhaps solidify) the word of God. Such people would condemn the reading of Harry Potter, even if there is nothing but good fun and sorcery. Anyone that really thinks that you can shoot fire from a wand is crazy. I on the other can, actually CAN shoot fire from my wand. Oh yes.

    I’m sure things would be easier if the Church still had power over what was published and who could read.

  5. “…the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers,”

    It was my understanding that we are not worthy. “It is by Grace we have been saved, through faith, so no one can boast.”

    Yes, some thoughts are worse than others – but to think we can achieve ‘though heaven’ is simply naive.

  6. Well, at the risk of looking kinda spammy, here’s the counter-argument. I don’t watch *any* TV except DVDs I rent from Amazon, BTW.

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    In his fourth book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, iconoclastic science writer Steven Johnson (who used himself as a test subject for the latest neurological technology in his last book, Mind Wide Open) takes on one of the most widely held preconceptions of the postmodern world–the belief that video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment are detrimental to Americans’ cognitive and moral development. Everything Good builds a case to the contrary that is engaging, thorough, and ultimately convincing.

    The heart of Johnson’s argument is something called the Sleeper Curve–a universe of popular entertainment that trends, intellectually speaking, ever upward, so that today’s pop-culture consumer has to do more “cognitive work”–making snap decisions and coming up with long-term strategies in role-playing video games, for example, or mastering new virtual environments on the Internet– than ever before. Johnson makes a compelling case that even today’s least nutritional TV junk food�the Joe Millionaires and Survivors so commonly derided as evidence of America’s cultural decline–is more complex and stimulating, in terms of plot complexity and the amount of external information viewers need to understand them, than the Love Boats and I Love Lucys that preceded it. When it comes to television, even (perhaps especially) crappy television, Johnson argues, “the content is less interesting than the cognitive work the show elicits from your mind.”

  7. I don’t agree with this at all. While there’s certainly a large majority of drivel on television, there are thought-provoking programs — even among the entertainment shows — that I don’t think warrant this kind of mindless criticism. One of the clearest signs of a fool is a person who issues blanket statements like “a mind fed daily on TV diminishes.” That’s clearly absurd, as the brain actually learns from anything that makes it process information. A good mystery story or documentary is going to actually make your brain work a little.

    Is it as good as reading a good book? No. But it’s not the end of human civilization, either. It just depends on what you choose to watch, and how much of it.

  8. “As a non-believer, I find the statements about God and my lack of morals offensive.”

    How could the statements about God be offensive? I don’t understand.

    Re TV: I watch very little tv, because the factual programmes are not rigorous enough and the entertaining stuff is not entertaining enough for me. I must admit though that I used to watch Mexican and South-American soaps until I moved to Britain (5 years ago). They are very different from Western soaps, because the good always wins in the end and prayers are involved, too.

  9. How could the statements about God be offensive? I don’t understand.

    Because it implies that we, the non-believers, are not using our minds for what they were “made” for.

  10. I’ll take my Video iPod and Bit Torrent over cable any day. It’s like having Internet based TiVo. You choose what you watch and when.

    And I have to apologize ahead of time because when I watch my iPod it is purely for entertainment purposes. If I want to be enlightened I LISTEN to Rob Bell�s Velvet Elvis on my iPod (which causes me to search scripture for answers).

  11. Of course it had to be John Piper who put into words the conclusion my wife and I had reached in the last few months. I watch too much TV, no doubt. She watches a lot as well, but not nearly as much as me. We watch TV every day, but for devotions, dinners or breakfasts together, there doesn’t seem enough time. Work on the house falls by the wayside, time in the Word is too short.

    So we took inventory — on dishnetwork’s basic plan, we watch no more than 8 channels out of over 60. No sports, no news (considering CNN is the only newschannel we have). We watch some “reality TV” like American Idol, but that seemed quite manipulated this year — more so than last year. Some series on ABC, some shows on FOX. Stopped watching Comedy Central because of the bias. Still enjoy TLC and Discovery, although many of the Discovery “documentaries” misrepresent pourly constructed “scientific” theories as fact, or ridicule the beliefs of the Christian majority in this country. Using a PVR, we record a couple of movies each week to watch when we have time. But even those are aggravating, with constant commercial interruptions and on-screen cross-promotions.

    Our decision was to simply not renew our satellite contract when it expires in three months. We’ll put an antenna in the attic to get the occasional local news, and subscribe to Netflix to get our weekend movies. Going cold-turkey won’t be easy, but it IS possible. Our kids (both under two years) haven’t watched any TV yet (we’ve been very determined about that) — instead we want them to see Mom and Dad spend time together in the Word, or even around a table playing interactive games.

    On the same note, the only video console in this house is an ATARI 2600 I bought from ebay a few years ago. I’ve briefly owned an XBOX when they first came out, but after spending more than 12 hours playing it between Friday evening and Sunday night, I returned it to the store.

    There are formidable time-wasters available — not all are this obvious. But think of what I could accomplish if I freed five hours of my day! That’s 35 hours a week — maybe two more hours of sleep each night, and still an extra 20+ hours to meet with God, work on software projects or around the house.

    Think of what this nation as a whole could accomplish if everyone watched half the TV or played half as many games as we currently do!

  12. Yep, you are right. Television is time wasting. Nothing but virtual reality,
    not much is real in television. Since many years i do not watch television
    any longer and if i look what is in the TV – forget about it, most stuff is
    stupid stuff and much of terror propaganda, also in new movies.
    TV is not my reality after years of not watching TV i cant go back to TV
    “universe” , my brain will not accept this mostly stupid unreal stuff.
    And yes, it is right, you will see not much about God in your television,
    but many many stuff against God. TV is time and life wasting, this is
    absolutely correct. People should turn it off for a while as an experiment
    for themself, they would be surprised what they will see – a new world
    made by their own brain, not made by mass media and propaganda. For me life
    is better while beeing away from TV and i dont wanna miss this freedom.

    God bless you. Hacking for Christ is just *great*. Good job. Lots of success
    for you.