I have virtually eliminated all television from my life. I barely noticed initially that I wasn’t watching so much television. Now, having made the conscious decision to avoid most television, I’m glad it is something I’ve cut from my life, and I’ll give you seven reasons why.
- TV is a time thief.
In his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander likens watching television to being hypnotized, among other things. It’s all too easy to lose track of time.
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
Life is precious. It is also short. Why do I want to waste mine watching actors live theirs out on the screen? Beyond that, why do I want to waste my life on a sedentary activity that neither serves to draw me closer to God nor enables me to serve others? I want my life to have purpose and meaning, and it isn’t staring blankly at a screen during my free hours.
- TV makes money off me.
People have known the power and persuasion behind the advertising industry for decades. Subliminal messages enter our subconscious on a daily, even hourly, basis. Mander states that “advertising exists only to purvey what people don’t need” (126). He goes on to point out that what we truly need for survival, we will seek out on our own.
We can’t entirely escape the advertising industry, but I have chosen not to subject myself unnecessarily to messages that purpose to make me discontent with what God has already given me. I do not want to be a slave to consumerism, as I feel it contradicts the tenets of Scripture.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Tim 6:6-8)
I can complain about consumerism all I want, but where and how I spend my money often sends another message. I have plenty of food, more clothes than I need, and a roof over my head, which is more than Jesus promised His disciples. Despite our national debt, we live in a country where we are accustomed to far more luxury than the average person. I want to be content with what I have, and exposing myself to advertising is a temptation to be discontent with myself, my possessions, and my surroundings.
- TV promotes ungodliness.
This should be apparent. For years we have been observing the gradual degradation of moral and ethical standards as portrayed on television.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Television promotes and even glorifies sinful behavior that is dishonorable for someone who wants to please God. Mander comments that “humans are hopeless emulators,” and sociology correlates this (234). The things we allow ourselves to dwell on will develop into patterns of thought, which will manifest themselves with action. This is why 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. (Proverbs 14:7)
Television sensationalizes outrageously exaggerated forms of inappropriate behavior. We can leave the presence of friends or acquaintances who have a negative influence on us, but we willingly offer television a central place in our homes. I have chosen not to invite such toxic, ungodly examples into my life.
- TV isolates us from each other.
Mander comments on the unique ability of television to isolate us while simulating the feeling of being united through a shared experience. Literally millions of people could watch the same program, and yet they are experiencing it alone, even when others are in the same room with them. By design, television requires us to cease interaction with one another and focus our attention entirely on the synthetic experience portrayed on the screen.
It saddens me that genuine interaction with other people is becoming a kind of lost art. Even when people gather, it seems their eyes are all glued to screens, whether it’s their phones, tablets, or a television. It seems we are losing our ability to communicate with any depth or feeling of mutual connectedness. Social interaction has come to revolve around past times involving technology. We no longer interact with one another; we simply interact with a lifeless, emotionless screen, and occasionally do so at the same place and time.
- TV distorts reality.
In his book, Mander cites a report by the National Institute of Mental Health that claims nearly the same percentage of adults as children look to television programs as their example for handling real life situations. Though consciously we recognize that television isn’t real, we subconsciously perceive information portrayed in television as valid and applicable. We act and react as though it portrayed real life realistically and authentically. Another study quoted in the book demonstrates how those who frequently watch television were inclined to overestimate several statistics, saying that in each case, “the overestimate matched a distortion that exists in television programming” (255).
Look at how controversial photoshop has become in recent years. We know the men and women we see on the covers of magazines and in advertisements are distorted and unrealistic, yet it’s undeniable that such images have become the new standard of what is considered a desirable physical appearance.
Aside from physical images, when we model our interactions after what we see on television, there is a serious disconnect. Television is meant to dramatize and sensationalize situations that are rare or unheard of in real life, yet this is done at such a frequency that we begin to think this is normal. Think of a horror movie starring a mad serial killer. After watching something that attempts to set itself in the context of reality, we tend to have that fear in the backs of our minds. If we research the statistics, the likelihood of that happening to us is very low, but it doesn’t stop us from checking the locks on our doors and windows and leaving the lights on.
Another alarming side-effect of television is our inability to verify whether the message it conveys is true or not. We gradually begin to place blind faith in the media who could easily feed us lies and misinformation (intentionally or otherwise). Our critical thought skills are effectively shut down.
- TV fuels depression and kills motivation.
This was something I noted whenever I spend exorbitant amounts of time watching television or heard other friends’ accounts of binge watching a particular show. Television seems to put its viewers in a mildly depressed – if not sedated – state. Mander notes that the continual suppression of our body’s natural desire to react to the images on the screen creates a state of both passivity and frustration. We train ourselves to be less reactive. This I believe in turn has the effect of inhibiting our own creativity and motivation which are piqued as we react to situations around us and allow ourselves to be inspired by our surroundings.
- TV stunts personal growth and individuality.
When we are sitting in front of a screen, we aren’t doing anything else. Most alarmingly, many parents rely on television for keeping their children occupied at a crucial stage of development in the child’s life. We may not fully understand the impact of replacing real life experience with distorted synthetic images for another generation or more, but it is already becoming clearer that the effect is not positive.
I found myself losing my own individuality to television. I want to strive to be a well-rounded person, yet I found that television confined my uniqueness to my personal taste in movies and TV shows. The more time I spent watching television, the more distant my own hobbies, passions and pursuits became, until I could hardly remember what I liked to do other than watch TV.
Would we know how to entertain ourselves without television or electronics? It seems even when people gather for face-to-face interaction, a large portion of that time is spent watching something on television or using the internet or social media. When was the last time we set aside our phones and simply enjoyed a conversation with friends? I want to be my own person apart from technology; that’s why I play an instrument, read, write, create, hike, and go camping. I want to experience life for myself, not live vicariously through an image on a screen.
I haven’t completely eliminated television from my life, and I don’t intend to be legalistic about it. I still go to the movies with my friends on occasion, and still find entertaining or informative videos on Youtube. Having not spent significant time watching television for months now, there has been a significant change in my tastes. When I am not feeding myself spiritual junk food, I begin to crave wholesome, uplifting entertainment and I find myself naturally being more active. I am more motivated without television to create and learn and grow.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor 10:23)
Television is a unique medium that can educate and inform, and I can appreciate these benefits. I don’t believe television or technology are inherently sinful, but I also feel convicted that the vast majority of the media’s contents are not personally edifying.
Could you identify with any of the items on my list? How do you feel about television, and what role do you think it should play in society? Do you think it’s okay for Christians to watch television? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below, and share with your friends and invite them to join the discussion!
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander. Published in the late 70s, Mander’s book contains a wealth of insight into the effects of television. Though some of the information may be outdated with the advent of newer technology, his message is still relevant – if not more so – today, especially considering the substantial role technology plays in our lives. Mander articulates with refreshing precision the effect of artificial stimuli on the mind intended to persuade and influence on the subconscious level.
Though my journey towards eliminating television from my life began long before reading this, it has served as a wonderful resource and inspiration for this article. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more on the subject.