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29 years
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TV Turnoff Week
April 23-29, 2007
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Updated November 20, 2007

Click Here to Find Out More About The TV Pedaler™.

Quotes: TOP

I really didn't like TV-Turnoff Week except I did notice that my grades went up and I was in a good mood all week.
-Drew Henderson, 2nd grader, Donora, Pennsylvania

The one function TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.
-David Brinkley

I find television very educational. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
-Groucho Marx

Study: TV-free families have more time, are happy and active TOP

WASHINGTON, DC-- Families who watch little or no TV have more time to talk than most Americans, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives, and are active in their communities. These are among the findings of a new study released by Professor Barbara Brock of Eastern Washington University entitled "TV Free Families in America" and featured in Time on October 16, 2000.

Brock surveyed 280 families, including 500 children, who spend less than six hours per week watching TV. Ninety-six percent reported watching less than one hour per week.

Professor Brock's Study is on the Web
Click on the links below to see a summary of her Results

Respondent's answers to these questions:
1. Who are these people?
2. What do they do with all that extra free time?
3. How can they possibly keep up with news and sports?
4. Do they substitute computer and Internet use for TV watching?
5. Are their children any different academically, physically, or socially?
6. Do they feel they are "missing out" on anything by not watching TV?
7. Who are the children's heroes?
8. How satisfied with life are these families?
9. Why did they decide to turn it off?
10. How do they keep it off?

My TRUE story: Why I stopped watching TV TOP

1978: I was 24 years old, married (to my first wife, no kids at the time but my daughter Liana was on the way), living in my own home in Glendale Heights, IL and advancing my career as an elevator technician by working on prestigious downtown Chicago buildings. I built elevators in the 114 story Sears Tower for a year and a half and also in the 86 story Amoco building for 3 years, commuting from the suburbs on a 45 minute train ride each way. I used that train time to read about mechanics and electricity and was also going to school at night for technical skills. I always liked books, technical books, and frequently surfed bookstores. While shopping, I spied a new book release called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. The title intrigued me. I bought it.

I was a TV addict as a kid. My family will quickly recall that whoever possessed the TV channel knob controlled the TV. The knob could be pulled off, ending the discussion but starting an argument about what to watch. There was no remote control back then. I, being the oldest, biggest, strongest kid in the family, was expert and relentless at tuning to my favorite station, removing the knob, and defending my possession until my program was over. By age 24, I had my own TV so I didn't have to battle for control (except maybe with my young wife although I believe that was more of a compromise than a battle).

Four Arguments challenged MANY concepts and perceptions which I had never considered before. It exposed topics that no one I knew was talking about. The author, Jerry Mander, was a former advertising executive. He was an insider, who had credible experience with the inner workings of TV. He asked good questions.

The book's arguments were very logical, if you ever asked yourself the questions. Even the science (brain wave studies, effects of light, etc.) was verifiable. The observations in the book were observable in life. The "34 inherent limitations of TV" listed in the book seemed realistic. It was the first book I read 4 times in a row! I was very impressed. People on the train (more than once) would see the book cover and ask, "Why would anyone want to eliminate television?" My awareness was increasing. I never gave TV much thought before. The process was starting. I started thinking...

I observed the kinds of TV that people watched, talked about TV to family and friends, complained about TV, critiqued the programs watched and introduced the concept of passivity, consumerism and standard setting of TV programming. I was starting conversations that I was never involved in before. I was learning by thinking of questions and learning even more from the answers I got. Almost everyone TOLD me they only watched "good" programs, like educational TV. They had a hard time defining "good". According to the Nielsen Ratings (click this link for today's ratings) the "good" TV that people ACTUALLY watched was sitcoms. I learned to be skeptical about what people claimed about their TV viewing.

After a while, my then mother in law finally got tired of my challenges and said to me "If you give up TV for a month, I will!" So, being a challenge, I quit. I went home, unplugged my TV and kept busy with other things, work, reading and projects. I did NOT watch TV for a month. Not once.

At the end of the month, I went to my mother in law and said "OK, now it's your turn to stop watching TV for a month." She turned to me and I'll never forget this, she replied "I never said that."

She DID say it, but for whatever reason, she would not do it. That is when a comment in Four Arguments rang absolutely true, he said "The fact that eliminating television seems unthinkable is, in itself, proof of its power." Hundreds of generations before us lived without TV, but in the course of a few years, TV had become indispensable, almost like money, food and shelter. You can go a few days without it, but we are no longer sure we know how to live without it. We had grown dependent on the TV to the point that alternatives were forgotten.

Since I had already gone TVless for a month, when I looked at it again, the sitcoms looked stupid, not funny. The news seemed shallow and biased. I just couldn't get myself to start watching it again. I threw the TV set out. That is when some people thought I was getting nuts. I thought I was getting sane. I never went back.

What parents are saying about TV today (2002) TOP

In the summer of 2002, Public Agenda conducted a study of more than 1,600 American parents with children between the ages of 5 and 17.

The 2003 report is titled What Parents Are Saying about TV Today based on Public Agenda’s broader research on families published last fall, 2002. The new analysis outlines parents’ concerns about sex, violence, and profanity on TV and profiles some of the important differences among various groups of parents ­ those with young children vs. those with teens, for example. It chronicles parents’ sometimes frustrating efforts to regulate their own children’s viewing and suggests why many of them are not as successful in this area as they hope to be.

Parents say that television is an inescapable presence in society today, even as they worry about what their children learn from it. The 10 page report is fascinating. Click here to read it. (If you want to download the file to your computer, just right-click the link and choose "Save Target As...")

The research was sponsored by State Farm Insurance and the Family Friendly Programming.

How I feel about TV after 25 years without it TOP

I've tried to summarize and explain my experiences below. Enjoy.

The time sucker Menu

When I first started telling people that I didn’t watch TV, I often heard “Then, what do you do with your time?”

I wasn’t initially expecting that question. I was used to hearing people complain how they were so very busy and had so little time. But then, the national average is 4 hours of TV per day. You may think that is more than you personally watch, but if you logged virtually ALL your TV watching, I think you will be surprised by your TV hours. Don’t forget to add Letterman and Leno, the news, award shows and fruitless surfing. A couple ball games or movies on the weekend often makes up for a busy weeknight where you remember not watching anything. Binges bring up your average.

When I quit, I initially found myself with the often sought after abundance of time. I have since learned that the terrifying word “boredom” has an important function. You MUST actually reach a certain level of boredom before you will motivate yourself to get off your duff and go do something. After a while, you realize you must do SOMETHING! So you do.

That is the problem with TV. It is so accessible, it is so easy to turn it on, it is so easy to avoid that certain level of boredom, that you rarely reach the “get off your duff” point. TV encourages you to stay on your duff. Have a spare moment? Turn on the TV. Boredom vanishes. You now have something to do.

That keeps you locked in a routine: Do what you are obligated to do (work or school), then watch TV until you are required to return to work or school. TV too easily occupies the free time you say you don’t have (4 hours per day on average) and keeps you parked on your duff so that the advertisers can push their products. It occupies your brain with audio and visual images in the name of entertainment so that you don’t have to worry about occupying your brain with your own ideas or entertainment. What a deal! All this, and free advertisements, for only $75 per month! (almost $1,000 per year.) Your cost may vary locally. CALL NOW for special prices!

When I quit, I had the time to learn to keep myself from being bored for long. That in itself was a new skill. I got off my duff, expanded my interests and tried new things. Now, I’m back to having little free time, even without TV, but I’m accomplishing many more interesting things than watching the tube. I’m actively shaping my life the way I want it through education and activities. It feels right.

Social conditioning Menu

Way up here in the backwoods “boonies” I sometimes see local kids walking down the street in “ghetto clothes”. Baggy pants belted just above their knees, tattoos, piercings, you know the look. They walk and talk like a ghetto rapper but they live in a pure white neighborhood hundreds of miles from the nearest ghetto. They feel that they are making a statement. They are. They are stating that they watch lots of TV. The look is not local, it’s from the tube, nowhere else. Radio might play the music, but it can’t show you how to dress and walk.

TV conditioning is not limited to youth. Most people define almost all national, political, sports, historical, and successful figures from TV. Research supports this statement. How did you get your impressions of George Bush, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Desert Storm, Sister Theresa, Donald Trump, the latest news? You MIGHT get your impressions from other sources but you PROBABLY got them from TV, selected by some nameless editor to fit in the allowed time slot.

TV defines “reality” and “normal” for us by regularly pumping images (4 hours per day) into our homes regardless of whether the sources of the images actually deserve national exposure or not. If any source can afford to buy airtime, regardless of our local values or interests, they can send their nationally syndicated images, their message, their values, their interests directly into our homes, directly into our eyes, the shortest possible route to our brains. We sit there and let them do it.

We don’t really know exactly what is coming or when, but we hold our eyelid doorways open till the wee hours of the night and let them in. If they can put their incidental message into entertainment, we’ll watch, we’ll get the message. So will our kids. All at the expense of the “other reality” we would have created for ourselves by doing local things instead of watching those 4 TV hours each day.

Objectives of TV Menu

What if there were no advertisements allowed on TV. How many shows would be canceled? How could they survive? How would anyone get paid?

TV has essentially one objective; to keep your attention long enough to show you a commercial. Whatever it takes to get market share will be done, MUST be done, or the advertisers take their operating revenue elsewhere. If it takes fantasy, sex, violence, music, shock, cartoons, comedy, controversy, deviate behavior, gross images, or sports they’ll do it. It makes no difference what the content is. What makes virtually all the difference is what the market share is.

Whatever people will watch, regardless of the morals, is what MUST be broadcast. You might think that people just won’t watch “offensive” shows, they, the broadcasters, should just take them off the air. But get real, obviously people watch those shows otherwise the shows would already be off the air. Whatever gets you to watch, even if you are watching only because you are shocked or outraged, is “good” TV to an advertiser. Whatever still sells products is what is still on TV today.

Slipping us the package Menu

How can a new movie break attendance records (synonym for dollars spent) the first week it is in the theaters? Does the first viewer’s experience travel THAT fast? Nationwide in only a few days so that all time records can be broken by the first weekend? Wow, whatever network works that well should be used for education. Just think how smart we could all be if we could circulate educational information that fast.

What REALLY drove the movie attendance record? It was the hype from TV (and the action figures from McDonalds). You don’t have to see the movie to know that it is good. You don’t have to know anyone who has recommended the movie. TV already told you it was great, way better than average, and that you NEED to see it the first week it appears. Never mind that it will be available on VHS and DVD for the rest of your life. Never mind that NO ONE you know has actually seen the movie yet. TV said that it is way better than average so it probably is. Let’s go!

Hype is what TV sells best. Whether it is for cars, beer, Coke, feminine hygiene products, or antidepressants, TV will be sure to let you know what is the latest and greatest. To insure that you see the commercials, they will even hype the programs that bring you the commercials, like TV “special programs” award shows and the ultimate hype opportunity: sports championships.

My lack of TV has caused me to lose interest in professional sports. I still like sports, but I can’t bring myself to be loyal to a team from Chicago or Detroit or wherever when the team players aren’t from the city they play for. Increasingly, pro players come from anywhere in the world and jump from team to team. To say Chicago is playing Detroit is mere stadium geography, not competition between city teams. It is just as accurate to say that team 12 is playing team 7. Chicago gets to cheer for team 7 because that is the team they bought (with tax dollars for the new stadium).

High school teams are still local. What if high school teams were like professional teams? What if my local Marquette high school team was going to play our long time rivals from Negaunee. To ensure the highest level of competition between the two schools, Marquette contracts with downstate Lansing to bring up 5 of their best players to play for Marquette. The local Marquette players sit on the bench and watch. They will not get to play. Actually, they might as well sit in the stands with the rest of the audience, with the parents and neighbors who regularly come to the games to show support for the local team.

Negaunee hears that Marquette is getting players from Lansing so they recruit a few players from California and a few more from Texas. There are a few positions still open at the last minute so Negaunee promises a college scholarship to the best Marquette players to suit up for Negaunee instead. They accept. So Marquette makes some calls and fills their void with players from Japan.

The game starts. Is Marquette REALLY playing Negaunee? Do we really care who wins this game? Does it really matter? Are we suppose to riot after we win, riot after we lose, or both? I forget. Weren’t those championship game commercials great!

That is how I feel about pro sports and most televised college sports… mostly hype. If our best Chicago player signs up to play with Detroit, is he still one of us, like a neighbor kid, or is he now one of them? Are we cheering for the players or are the players just tools for ego dividends on our stadium investment. What is gained by winning the game? The value of the game has been converted to something TV can handle, market value ($50-$75 per pro game seat, plus pay-per-view, plus merchandising), and we all get the privilege to pay to play. I’ll stick with the local high school games and neighborhood players, at least until the schools and other amateur sports get “smarter” about recruiting. Then I’ll stop watching.

By living without TV I think I’m better able now to view the hype packages more objectively, more critically, better able to separate hyperbole (exaggeration and overstatement, the source of the word “hype”) from reality.

What are the alternatives?

Actually, there are more alternatives to TV today than ever before. Libraries are bigger. Bookstores are mammoth. Radio offers an alternative. But by far the best alternative is the Internet. You can order nearly any informational resources, watch video, listen to radio from around the world, log in to government documents, search compiled laws, read newspapers, alternative news, mainstream news, magazines, locate research, surf private sites and sites of almost any organization you can think of. The possibilities are endless. You can chat with like minds or argue with people who are out of their minds. Every perspective is available with just a click or two. In most cases, when you find an interesting site it links to other related sites. You can keep going until there is nothing more to know. It's fast. It's easy. And it is essentially free (thus far). There are consequences to the Internet too, but I'll save that for another paper.

So Steve, is there ANYTHING good on TV? TOP

Surprisingly yes, a very few things, within limits, but I’m not sure the value justifies having a TV in your house. It’s kind of like a credit card, it can be useful within limits, but woe are those who can’t control it. TV is harder to control than a credit card. It seems so innocent, just sitting there flashing entertainment at you when you are tired and want a break from reality.

What TV can offer that is valuable is documentaries and raw news images of important events. Most “educational programs” are in the form of documentaries. “Educational TV” is an extended series of documentaries. But both documentaries and news have to be viewed with the full realization of TV’s inherent limitations described in Four Arguments. Below I consider the obvious challenges. Read Four Arguments for the less obvious.

Documentaries? Menu

Over the years many brilliant and dedicated people have spent months if not years creating excellent documentaries. Millions and millions of dollars were spent. In most cases, the documentaries were broadcast once or twice, then they disappeared. Consider how many documentaries have been created since TV became popular in the 1950s. It has to be thousands, maybe tens of thousands over that 50 year period. Where are they all? They are not at Blockbuster, I checked.

Yes, TV documentaries have value, they can offer images, interviews and actions recorded with the intent of helping people understand things better. They often achieve that purpose, often at great expense to either an individual or an organization, but then they disappear. It is as though TV just uses them up! They are gone.

So, is keeping the TV justifiable for watching these once in a lifetime documentaries? Well, no. You can still watch the occasional documentary without having commercial TV in your house. The BEST solution is to have someone tape it for you (before it disappears forever) or if you are feeling guilty about copyright, buy an official copy (if you can find it for sale… good luck). Then you can watch it on YOUR schedule, as often as you like, pause, rewind or fast forward as necessary.

You might even share the tape with someone else or offer it as an educational opportunity to another generation. We are talking real value here, without the danger of having a commercial TV in your house. All you need is a VCR setup.

I called it a TV documentary, but it is really just a documentary, the TV descriptor is optional.

But then, there ARE alternatives to even the documentary. A documentary is not the end of information seeking, it is not all the answers, it is merely the beginning, or maybe a mid step. There will be other perspectives to explore and those will come in other forms of media or conversation. Documentaries don’t replace the others, they are merely one of many alternatives. They are nice but not necessary.

Educational TV? Menu

Here is where we start to get very “gray”. Documentaries are created to achieve a specific purpose, to discuss a topic that was important to someone, and hopefully to you. A series, like educational TV, suggests a valuable continuum of educational documentaries but in reality this idealism is short lived. The value of the series decreases over time.

The important topics that prompted the series in the first place (a popular genre of documentary that suggested high viewership for advertisers or fundraisers) soon covers what is truly important, then struggles to fill its regular time slot.

In other words, an educational program on Lincoln would be interesting at first, but 50 weeks of Lincoln would be just too much. The series could be expanded to “The Presidents” but then much is already available and not ALL the presidents were so interesting. So the series could be expanded to include “The President’s Scandals”, then “The Scandals in the President’s Extended Family”, and finally “What the Presidents knew about Scandals in Other People’s Families”. Pretty soon it is more junk than education.

If the producers can’t think of a grabber to keep viewers hooked on the educational series, if they can’t compete with the non-educational fantasy entertainment TV, market share falls and funds might be better invested elsewhere.

What is better than an educational TV series? Answer: Make every documentary that would have been on the TV series available (without the commercials) on VHS or DVD for private viewing when the need arises. But, as I’ve said before, good luck finding them.

Every educational program should be in Blockbuster for the next 20 years, available for rent at any time for $2.50. With only very minor exceptions, they aren’t. Movie producers have figured out that they can keep making money on movie rentals long after the theater release. Why haven’t TV documentary producers figured it out? If the documentary producers were noble and generous enough to produce these things in the first place you would think they would be noble and generous enough to keep them available. I mean, they made these educational programs for our benefit, right? Or was it for the benefit of the sponsors and producers?

If documentaries were available at Blockbuster, would producers have to keep producing them over and over again, same topic with a different box cover? (Answer: Only if they can improve what already exists.) Hmmm, I wonder if there is a hidden explanation here?

TV news? Menu

This is probably the most difficult challenge to discuss. TV news, the fast breaking up to the minute report of what is happening as it happens, without time for in-depth analysis, is both important and risky.

Once again, TV news suffers form TV’s inherent limitations as described in Four Arguments. These limitations actually define what TV calls “news”. Beyond that, TV is unequaled in bringing you close to the action as it happens. The only thing better is being there yourself.

The challenge is decoding the information TV news offers.

Is the news station conservative or liberal? The answer influences what is offered for viewing and how it is presented. This is normal bias, but you must be aware of it. Some bias messages are sent by choosing what to broadcast. Some bias messages are sent by choosing what NOT to broadcast! Bias is not just what you see but also what you don’t get to see.

Do an experiment, go to a celebration with a video camera. Observe what is happening when the camera is off, then turn the camera on and try to notice if other people’s behavior changes.

In most cases, specifically in the cases we would call news, people who were maybe just milling around with the camera off start performing for the camera when it is on. Angry or attention seeking people in the news get more visual, more animated and vocal when they know the camera is pointed at them. The chants get louder. The emotions run higher. The news gets more extreme when the camera is recording. The event becomes more interesting than it would have been if the camera is recording. The editor has to fit the story in a 30 second slot. The most extreme footage is broadcast, the less extreme footage is edited out. The producers are happy because the news is exciting.

What the viewers at home see is the camera inspired version of what was going on. Not necessarily what was REALLY going on before the camera arrived. So, in many cases the news camera created its own version of the news. So was it the truth? Good question.

There was a springtime storm in Chicago. The news reported that the DesPlaines River was flooding. It showed handheld and helicopter images of homes with water flowing in the doors and windows, cars half submerged, people floating in boats and looking stranded in an upstairs window. Tears were rolling down the cheeks of a woman who explained how she lost everything. The water ruined everything.

My daughter Liana went to school the next day. The teacher was discussing the flood. The class watched more TV news flood reports. The students participated in activities of compassion for the flood victims. They wrote letters and started rounding up canned goods, bottles of water and other necessities.

That evening, I offered to take Liana to the flood site. She didn’t want to go. Her anxiety was understandable. After all, it was a disaster scene. Houses were flooded. Barricades blocked off the streets. People were warned to stay away. We went anyway.

We parked at the barricades and walked. Within a few minutes we were there. Instead of overwhelming disaster, we saw that the flood was confined to about two and a half city blocks. Only a small portion of one block was under fairly deep water. It was justification for a call to the insurance company, but not the red cross. Humanitarian relief wasn’t any more distant than the 7-11 store about 2 blocks away. Were some people strongly impacted by the flood? Yes. Was the degree of disaster consistent with what was reported on the news? No.

Had the news camera panned a few more degrees to the left, viewers would have seen dry ground. Anything grassy was edited out of the helicopter shot. When you’ve only got 30 seconds to tell the story, you use the “best” footage and stories you’ve got. Did the news deliberately lie? No. The story just got distorted because of TV’s inherent limitations. It had to show water everywhere, even rolling down the cheeks of a resident. That is what floods should look like. That is what the viewers expected to see. So that is what was shown.

The news is on at a regular time every day for, lets say 30 minutes. If there is lots of news it must all be squeezed into 30 minutes. If there isn’t much news that day, what little there is must be stretched to fill 30 minutes. It is as simple as that.

So, in many cases and in many ways the news camera creates its own version of the news. So was it the real truth? Good question. Is news justification for keeping a TV in your house? I still think that argument is weak.

If the news is really important it will be available from many other sources. If it isn’t important enough to be widely available, is it really news worthy of your attention? Do we watch the news because there is news to watch or because we want to know if there is news to watch? I suggest only watching the news if there is news to watch, then be cautious about what you see or don’t see on the tube and compare other sources.

Radio is often on the scene too, right next to the TV camera. It is easy to listen to news happen on the radio (while you are busy doing something else) then catch the images in print later. If you are REALLY curious and impatient, watch the TV news at a friend’s house. Just don’t make a habit of it. You’ll quickly run out of friends. They’ll justifiably tell you to go buy your own damn TV service.

Don’t. The nightly news is not worth the extra baggage that comes with TV. Use the alternatives.


The books below can often be found in your local library.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
by Jerry Mander

This is the book that got me started. It was the first to get me to question TV and the catalyst for MANY conversations. While slightly dated (it came out in 1978 before cable and VCRs) the technical information about the medium's inherent limitations and the science behind spending 4 hours a day staring at a box of light is still as valid today as it was then. The medium, the message, and your brain reacts today the same as it did in 1978.

This book is STILL available and STILL awesome. Just read the reviews on Amazon (click the title above).

Television in the Lives of Our Children
by Wilbur Lang Schramm

I bumped into this book only recently at my local library and just finished reading it last month. I bought it immediately (used, because it is out of print) and added it to my collection. It is an invaluable recognized authority on how television affects people, especially kids. The research (6,000 people) cannot be duplicated today because of the omnipresence of TV, but the conclusions, the explanations, are still extremely valid.

No matter how old this book gets (published in 1960), the information in it is current. The reason is that it deals with how people, especially kids INTERACT with TV. That is constant, regardless of what the TV current programs are. If you wonder if TV kids are more prone to violence, lazier, read less, stay up later, or have a worse attitude, this gives the detailed answers. It clearly explains that the real question is not what does TV do to kids, the real question is how do different kids react to TV. Thanks Mr. Schramm for answering that question.

The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid
by Ellen Currey-Wilson

This is the first modern (2007) book I've found that describes today's issues and experiences of controlling TV watching. This is a very readable book.

People seem to easily relate to the mom's experiences of trying to raise a young child well without TV and also relate to her true life interactions with relatives and friends. The challenges described here are real and makes you think about how the TV has dominated and influenced today's culture.

Read it.

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