Glued To The Tube
Is There Such Thing As Too Much TV?By Rachael Combe for ELLE
There was a volcano on the island. There were palm trees and fuchsia bougainvillea and tiny bright birds that flew into the giant open-air pavilion of our hotel room. At the foot of our bed there was a plunge pool paved with glittering blue glass tiles. The room came with a butler. In the warm, calm ocean, there were schools of tiny silver minnows, black-and-white angelfish, and on the evening we arrived, there was a flying fish that leaped out of the water, seeming to hover for a moment in front of a rainbow sunset. There were the most delicious mojitos I've ever had, the sweetest grapefruit imaginable, live music everywhere we turned and flowers strewn across our mosquito-netted bed at night.
It was the first vacation my husband and I had taken without our kids since they were born, and it was paradise, our every whim indulged instantaneously. And yet … there was something missing, an absence that made us antsy and agitated. We stared at each other, not quite knowing what to do or say. How had we let this happen? Yes, inadvertently we had checked into a hotel with no television (and, for that matter, no wireless Internet or cellular service — but we knew about that part).
After several listless forays onto the edge of the deck, waving an iPhone around fruitlessly, hoping to catch a signal from somewhere in the hilly jungle that would make the screen jump to life, we began to adjust. I read four books in three days. We talked to each other. We played tennis and swam and sometimes just sat. I discovered all this uninterrupted empty space in my mind in which to rove. I was my own content provider, my own show runner, my own head writer, my own lead actress, my own reality TV. It was like I had put away a coat for the summer and when I pulled it out again months later, found a million dollars in the pocket. This was my life — uncut and commercial-free — and it was fun! ...Read More
I resolved to watch less TV when I got home. Only 30 Rock and Mad Men, I told myself. Oh, and Parks and Recreation (love Amy Poehler). But I kept adding exceptions. Because there's also The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (that's like educational television, right?). And The Sarah Silverman Program. And then I caught an episode of Celebrity Rehab at the gym and had to put it on my DVR auto-record list (what can I say? Tom Sizemore broke my heart, sweating and weeping and struggling to get off meth and smiling that sad, embarrassed smile whenever Heidi Fleiss called him a loser).
And I realized that a television is like a cake. Once it's in your house, you have to have some. And then, once you have a piece, you still can't help but stick a finger in the frosting, and maybe cut a few slivers off, eat a rose. The only difference is that with a cake, at some point you finish it and you're released from its magnetic draw — but TV is never all gone. There is always more TV.
I'm not alone in my compulsion. Watching TV is the world's most popular pastime, and the latest Nielsen data shows that as of December 2009, Americans were watching more than ever before in history: 35 hours a week, to be precise. And, despite the economic downturn, we haven't stopped buying televisions. In fact, we reached a record high in January, with an average of 2.93 TVs per household.
It's gotten to the point where researchers are using a startling word to describe our TV habit: addiction — and not in the “Oh my God, I'm totally addicted to my new shampoo!” metaphoric way.
Robert Kubey, Ph.D., professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, made that clear in an article in Scientific American, “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,” which kicked off the whole debate about whether the boob tube should be treated like a controlled substance. “Psychologists and psychiatrists formally define substance dependence as a disorder characterized by criteria that include spending a great deal of time using the substance,” they write, “using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family or occupational activities to use it; and reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it.”
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Tuning in to your Tivo-ed shows is a great way to unwind ... but is it also addicting?Iconica/Getty Images