How television is damaging our lives – and what we can do about it
Aric Sigman, Vermilion Press, 2005
You need to read this book. Really. On average we spend four hours a day in front of the television – more than anything else we do except work and sleep. By the age of six, a child has already spent a whole year watching television. Sigman says that television
has unleashed a worldwide cultural force equalled in history only by religion. (Page ix)
Television affects our physical, psychological and social health in very damaging ways.
The television companies would like us to believe that the jury is still out, and that research showing the harmful effects of television is simplistic and one-dimensional. But the jury isn't still out. The verdict is in, and medical researchers are completely sure about the harmful effects of television:
Television causes obesity
A child burns fewer calories watching television than he does just sitting doing nothing. Television makes us overweight, prone to diabetes, heart attacks and cancer.
Britain is the fattest country in Europe. Two thirds of adult men, and more than half of adult women are overweight or clinically obese, and childhood obesity is rising twice as quickly as it is for adults. (See page 144)
… television is highly fattening and a great way to develop Type 2 diabetes. And all this can be achieved by watching as little as two hours a day, 50 percent less than the average person. (Page 154).
Television harms a child's development
Television harms the way a young child's brain develops, damages their learning abilities and hinders their educational progress; It has been directly linked to the possibility of a child developing ADHD.
Television causes half of all violent crime
Countries like Bhutan have seen a sudden rise in violent crime when television is first introduced. Quoting a major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Sigman says that:
If, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults. Violent crime would be half of what it is. (Page 120)
The effects are measurable, and long-lasting.
Television causes depression
Sigman says that:
If someone were to design an instrument specifically to work against the things that sustain and improve our society's happiness, nothing could be more effective than the television set. (Page 188)
Television lies to us
Sigman talks about how television stereotypes people. For example,in television dramas, children in divorced or separated families are happy and well adjusted. But, he says,
people who've been through a real divorce know differently. And studies on the long term effects of divorce on children paint a very different picture. (Page 231)
Television also portrays the stereotype of the slim young career woman as preferable to the mother who cares for her children. (See page 166):
Television has discriminated against the vast majority of mothers. And by eroding the status of the full-time mother, television is underplaying the importance of children in our society. Bringing up young children well is, in the scheme of things, rather important. (Page 167)
And television contributes to ageism:
Long-term daily exposure to television's unrepresentative, ever-present youthful points of comparison in such an unnaturally high concentration is damaging people. (Page 250)
Television tells us what to think
Sigman says that television is being used as an instrument of social control and engineering:
Advertising techniques are being used not only during commercial breaks and not only to sell you products – they are also employed to change the way we think and feel about issues in our society. Television provides the best means of persuading you to buy into the right values. (Page 209)
Today, we are enlightened by the most effective vehicle for social engineering ever envisaged. Our views and attitudes towards everything from domestic violence, drug abuse, divorce and single motherhood to immigration and racial groups are carefully manipulated by decisions taken behind the screen. (Page 210)
What can we do?
Sigman's basic message is clear: if you want to be healthier and happier, cut down the amount of television you watch:
The good news is that many of the ills and consequences attributed to television can be dramatically reduced or eliminated by simply controlling how much and what type of television programmes we watch. (Page 260)
This is especially important for young children.
How much is too much? The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two should not watch any television at all, and that no young child should ever have a television in their bedroom.
Sigman's conclusion should make all of us think:
There's nothing to be lost by watching less television but a great deal to be lost by continuing to watch as much as we do.