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 Texas : Features : Columns : Letters From North America :
Reading vs Television
by Peary Perry

Peary Perry
Last weekend there was an interesting article written by the novelist, Norman Mailer.

Mr. Mailer makes an interesting case for parents to stop using television as a baby sitter. This is something Iíve advocated for a long time. The article goes on to say that he (Mr. Mailer) believes the rise in the number of cases of ADD in our youngsters today is partially due to their constant interruption by television commercials. He states that children who are involved in any type of activity and then get constantly interrupted tend to become angry and irritable.

I could not agree more.

On a daily basis I am amazed at the number of ways our children amuse themselves. You hardly ever see a child just playing outside of their houses without having some type of electronic device strapped to their bodies. I wonder when kids get any time alone to just think. It seems they must be hooked up to a DVD, Walkman or radio of some sort. In addition once you factor in the time they spend in front of the boob tube, it doesnít seem as if they have any time left to think original thoughts for themselves, does it?

I donít have enough time or space to address what effects computer games and the Internet are probably having on our kids.

Now, we can always go back to what we refer to as simpler and gentler times. When I was growing up, we didnít have television twenty-four hours a day. It came on in the afternoon, with two or three channels, and went off after the ten oíclock news. We didnít watch that much of it, since there wasnít that much to watch. Most of the kids I grew up with played outside. We went barefooted from the first warm days of spring until after Labor Day. We improvised. We built forts, clubhouses and played ball until it got so dark we couldnít catch anything. Then weíd sit on someoneís porch and talk about anything and everything. We built crystal radios and tried to listen to far away stations all over the world. We dated girls. We read books and we enjoyed the simple things of just growing up.

Now, you might think this would be all well and good in some rural country town, but we did all of this in one of the countryís largest cities. We had opinions of our own, many of which we carried over to this day. We couldnít solve the problems of the world, but we sure could come up with solutions that made sense to us at the time.

At this time, in our house we have one television, with probably 300 channels on it. I would guess that we watch the thing a total of about one hour a week. The constant interruption of the programming material by the commercials is irritating to me and unless the program is something I am really interested in watching, I just donít bother.

When cable television first came out, most of us thought it would be commercial free since we were paying for it every month. Not so. There are probably only ten or so channels on ours that do not have a commercial cutting in every ten or twelve minutes. After a while you just get so frustrated, you tune it out and look for other things to do.

I can see why children could get their minds messed up having a constant interruption in their thought processes. Mr. Mailer states that we are very low in educational standards out of all of the industrialized countries of the world. He suggests that this is mainly due to our students have the ability to concentrate for any period of time longer than ten or twelve minutes.

I find his conclusions to be fascinating and certainly do point towards a correlation between commercial interruptions and attention spans for our children. We are living in a sound bite society in which nearly everything we do is reduced to what can be related on television in a very short period of time. Our children and yes, even ourselves are bombarded on a minute-by-minute basis with commercialism at every level. We cannot drive down the highway with seeing signs for business, our radios are spotted with commercial breaks, newspapers are sold based on advertising and yes, the largest culprit of all is our television. We tend to use it as a substitute for thought and logic by convincing ourselves that we are being entertained.

Think about this, you used to be able to go to a movie and basically sit in a dark place and escape the rigors of reality for a few hours without any commercial interruption. Have you been lately? If the start time is 2pm, then you get twenty minutes of commercial material before the movie begins. Is nothing sacred anymore?

While I believe we should be a well-informed society, I do believe we all suffer from too a sense of information overload. We read the paper and get the news, why rehash it on the tube? Our kids need to read, our kids need to play, and our kids need to think for themselves. This is the only way they can stretch their minds and get prepared to survive in the real world.

American Idol, Survivor, CSI and Law and Order are not the real world. Kick those kids outside, stick a book in front of their noses, sit down and talk to them. Youíll be surprised at what they might tell you.


© Peary Perry
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com

Letters From North America - January 25 , 2005 column
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