Social engineers in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World had a simple plan for indoctrinating children with the values of their society. Recordings of cultural mantras were played again and again under the pillows of infants and toddlers until the messages became carved into their subconscious minds.
To a large extent, we do the same thing to ourselves. We do it through television.
Violence. Greed. Revenge. Exhibitionism. Sex. Vainglory. Materialism. Power. These are the values that form the steady diet our children and we ingest day after day, evening after evening, weekend after weekend.
At least that's how I grew up. Throughout junior high and high school, my parents strictly limited my viewing to two hours on weeknights and four hours on weekends -- a total of 18 hours per week (if I didn't cheat.)
True, that was less than two-thirds of the current national average, but it was over 5600 hours through six years of secondary education. Assuming that my consumption at least doubled in the summertime and during vacations, my total television consumption during those six years adds up to almost 7000 hours, or 290 days. That's four-fifths of a year, about 20% of my waking life between the ages of 12 and 17, spent with my head stuck in the boob tube.
The "boob tube" -- presumably so called because of its power to turn a thinking person into an imbecile. But the term suggests another, more sinister meaning. An infant sucking at its mother's breast cannot draw its sustenance until the nipple is placed squarely into its mouth. And we do the same, with remote controls in hand, allowing foreign thoughts, values, and attitudes to seep into our minds, without even the effort of having to suck.
Our brains are more active when we sleep than when we are watching TV.
According to at least one study, our brains are more active when we sleep than when we are watching TV. Indeed, perhaps television's greatest danger lies not in the corrosive influence of lust, avarice, and the 8000 murders witnessed by an average twelve year old, but in the way it makes us passive, dulling our minds as effectively as lobotomy.
Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children? Do we aspire toward becoming a nation of two hundred million brain stems deadened by thousands of injections of two-second images and five-second sound bytes, unable to follow a syllogism from beginning to end, unable to propose solutions because we don't recognize or understand the problems, unwilling to allow our minds to be stimulated by ideas instead of images?
My wife and I got rid of our TV years ago. Except for the 5-inch black and white that gets pulled out of the closet for such events as the World Series and the Olympics, our house is TV-free. We don't miss it. What's more, our kids don't miss it. They're also reading several years above their grade levels, playing sports, learning musical instruments and, perhaps most important, talking with their parents. You couldn't pay us to bring a big-screen TV into our home.
Turn off your TV for one week. Cold turkey.
Perhaps you're thinking: "I'm different; I don't let it control my life."
Okay, prove it. Turn off your TV for one week. Cold turkey. And if you do last the full 168 hours, you might just find that the joy of reading or conversing or whatever you do to occupy your mind is far more satisfying than the old electronic I.V. drip ever was, and that the sounds of your own real-life existence are far more engaging than the chatter of make-believe people.
Then see if you can keep yourself from going back.