Stop Spending So Much Time Watching Stuff!

Today, I’m going to try to convince you to spend less time watching TV. And not just TV, but almost anything you are likely now watching on any screen – from an iPad to an iPhone to a PC to a TV set… Hell, even a big screen.

I don’t really care if I’m successful in this effort. Let’s face it: I don’t (think I) know you. Therefore, why would I give a crap what you do with your life?

What I’m hoping to do is simply reach people who, like me, understand the problem with spending hours every day watching media. It’s those people I want to reach. It’s them I want to help.

And if I can’t reach them, that’s okay too. I’m writing this because I want to convince numero uno: Me. I want to stop watching as much media as I’m watching!

So read on if you care to… if you, too, care to have a better life.

Let’s Talk TV

In the old days, it was easy to argue against watching too much TV. The number of channels was 13. The range of programming was severely limited. Counting everything – all the news reports and game shows and comedies and movies – there might have been a hundred things to watch every month.

And 95% of them were uninspired and/or redundant crap.

Watching too many of them indisputably reduced your experience of being human. We all understood that.

Then when cable TV arrived, the number of programs increased five- or six-fold. The percentage that was good was still 5%. But that 5% was now 25 or 30 shows a month – about one a day.

Cable and its ugly cousin satellite TV expanded. And eventually we had access – theoretically, at least – to a thousand channels. Again, the percentage was still low. Actually, I think it dropped. But there was still more than an hour of good TV watching every night.

An hour a day is fine. You can – and we did – live healthy and productive lives while keeping up on all our favorite shows.

The Internet and Its Offspring

That all began to change when the Internet became widely available in the early 2000s. Suddenly, there were more than just TV shows to attract your impulse to sit down and watch something entertaining.

There were video games and then there was Facebook and then there was YouTube and then there was Netflix and then there were other Internet channels and then there were blogs and video blogs as well as thousands of apps that offered watching fare.

Nowadays, the number of things you can watch on your iPad or iPhone or computer or TV screen is in the tens of thousands. And although the overall percentage of good ones is probably lower than ever, the absolute number of good-to-great programs is huge!

And this explosion of opportunities has had an effect. The vast increase of supply led to a vast increase in demand (or consumption).

In the early days (my early days), the average American watched about 5 or 6 hours of TV per week. By the 1980s, that number was more like 10 to 15. By the 1990s, it had risen to almost 20 hours. In 2002, according to a Nielsen report, the average American was spending 28 hours a week watching TV. Today, that number is 35 hours a week!

And that is only TV…

 If you count all media – the amount of time Americans spend watching TV, surfing the web on a computer, using an app on their phones, listening to the radio, and so forth – it is nearly 75 hours a week.

Seventy-five hours! That’s a lot more time than most people spending working, dining, and talking to friends and family put together!

The Facts Are Alarming

I get it.

After putting in a long, productive day, it’s easy to justify plopping yourself down in front of something and telling yourself that you deserve a few hours of doing nothing. Why not?

But guess what? You could make the same argument about eating a chocolate bar after a long day of dieting. Or about having a fix of heroin after a long bout of being clean and sober.

We are talking about addictive behavior.

“So what?” you say. “Watching stuff isn’t going to make me fat.”

But never mind.

Yes, there is the addictive factor to consider. But that’s not all…

Watching hours and hours of media every day is a passive activity that, for the most part, wastes your valuable time and depletes your equally valuable energy. Which means it is bad for both your body and your mind.

Some recent research is showing that all this time watching media may be taking a negative toll on our health.

One study found that for every hour spent watching TV, for example, our life expectancy decreases by 22 minutes. That could be because watching TV – and other media – is characteristic of an unhealthy lifestyle of insufficient physical activity and poor eating habits. (Another study found that kids who watched a lot of TV were more likely than others to eat junk food and less likely to eat fruit.)

Research also shows that people that spend 70+ hours a week watching media are less happy than people that watch much less. That could be because those people are, by definition, less productive and less active. It could also be because they are spending so much time immobile, which has been shown in countless studies to be associated with depression.

Admittedly, Mine Is Not a Popular View – but Hear Me Out

Most people like TV. They find it relaxing.

And I am the first to admit that there is a type of relaxation that restores your strength, energy, and imagination. Yoga does it. So does meditation. I can recharge my spiritual batteries simply by wading into the ocean and watching the horizon. I walk in feeling tense and tired and emerge feeling energetic and inspired.

But watching TV doesn’t do that. Spend a couple of hours staring at a wave-emitting light tube and you end up feeling more tired, less energized, more depressed, and less inspired.

You may not agree with me. You may be thinking about how much you laughed at a certain sitcom or about how remarkably moving you found a certain documentary to be.

I don’t deny that watching some programs can make you laugh and/or cry. I don’t deny that it can inform you. The problem is that while you are laughing, crying, and learning, you are also losing energy, losing mental acuity, and losing the natural inclination to be active.

Sure, we all need to relax. But you’d be better off – by far – by taking a walk and listening to an audiotape of a good book than you would be by watching any sort of media, even good programming.

What I’m saying is that watching tons of media is bad for you in countless ways, some of which are hard to measure. You may not even notice the slight mental depression, the loss of energy, and the diminishment of creative impulse. But it is there, bringing you down.

That’s the core of it. It gets you into the habit of dulling your senses and passing time with everything operating at half-mast. And that is not the way to enjoy a full life. Passivity is the enemy of progress and the undoer of success. To get where you want to go, to accomplish the dreams you have dreamed, you have to keep your body and mind moving.

So do yourself a favor. Get rid of the cable or satellite dish. Keep the set to watch videos. And when you decide to watch a video, select it with care.

Do this for a month and I guarantee you’ll never be tempted to go back to your couch potato days.