"Television is the cheapest and most immediately available escape imaginable."
Robery Kubey, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Television and the Quality of Life.
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For the average American, watching television accounts for over 40% of leisure time. Next to sleeping, it's the most time-consuming home activity (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Why do we watch and how does all this viewing affect our lives?
why we watch: Among the most common reasons for watching television are lonliness and emotional difficulties. By presenting an alternate, more exciting and glamorous life, television helps people avoid their own feelings of lonliness and solitude. It's "the cheapest and most immediately available escape imaginable." (Kubey, Csikzentmihalyi. 167.)
Other reasons for watching include youth, low income, lack of education, and greater availability of leisure time.
how it affects us:
Heavy television viewing results in lower moods, shorter attention spans and less self-restraint. It may also lead people to think that their lives are dull and boring compared with those of television characters.
According to media scholar George Gerbner, heavy viewing also gives people a distorted view of the world around them. He calls this "mean world syndrome." Because crime and violence (especially against minorities, women and poor people) is far more prevalent in television than it is in real life, people view the world as being more cruel and sinister than it actually is.
Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Television and the Quality of Life. How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience.
Scott Stossel. "The Man Who Counts the Killings." The Atlantic Unbound, May 97.