Does Television Have a Choke Hold on Our Brains?

Between Netflix, torrent sites and the vast number of channels available with most television plans, we have easier access to TV than ever before – and we make use of it. Studies show that Americans watch an average of 2.8 hours or more of TV per day (Hidden addiction: Television). That’s equivalent to 85 hours a month, 1,022 hours a year, 12% of a lifetime.  Why are we so bound to the TV?  Could it be an issue of addiction?

There’s not yet enough scientific research on the topic to answer that question for sure, but the idea has become popular in the media, resulting in articles about TV addiction in the Reader’s Digest and the New York Times.  The concept of television addiction focuses on dependency symptoms displayed by TV users which are characteristic of addiction, such as using TV as a sedative; indiscriminate viewing; feeling loss of control while viewing; feeling angry with oneself for watching too much; inability to stop watching; and feeling miserable when kept from watching (Television and Health).

I can relate to this list. When my mind is racing, when I’m feeling low, scared, angry, hurt, anytime I can’t deal with my emotions, I open up Netflix, click on a show and let it play, episode after episode.  Netflix’s auto-play means it takes more effort to stop than to keep going. I doubt I’d stop anyway. I can’t remember the last time I watched only one episode of a show, though every time I turn one on I promise myself that’s what I’ll do.  See, while I’m watching, all the other thoughts get pushed to the outskirts of my brain but as soon as I turn it off they come rushing back in, carrying with them the guilt of my recent binge.  TV numbs me and it’s become my short-term coping strategy.  However, it only ends up making me feel worse in the long run, which in turn leads to more TV.

The amount of TV I watch scares me, but what scares me more is that other people do it too.  My friends, my roommates, my sister: all culprits. They’ll mention how they wasted a weekend on Netflix, or stayed up way too late because they wanted to watch “just one more episode.” What’s the point? I don’t know about you, but I rarely find I get much out of TV. Not necessarily because the content isn’t there, but because I’m not looking for deep content in that medium and because TV is such easy watching it lets my mind get lazy.

I’m not an expert. I don’t know if TV is addictive or not. We’ll have to wait and see what science decides on that one. But I do know that TV has become a problem in my life, one that I’ve taken a while to see and understand and one which I know I need to deal with. What is TV to you?


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