Television, movies, and the work that goes into them is something that I think is very underappreciated. Actors do make a lot of money, yes, but it is a lot harder than it looks–that’s kinda the idea. At my university, the fine arts students are some of the most hardworking people. Their devotion to their craft explains why the field is so competitive. But you are probably curious as to why this is titled the way it is. Well in case you thought you read it wrong, it does say WHY I HATE TELEVISION. Thought I would put it in all caps for the case that anyone reading this doesn’t know their lowercase letters yet (gotta account for those edge cases!). Hopefully this doesn’t get too ranty because I am going to discuss some ideas that I think people should at least consider… even if they are exceedingly unpopular. Before we start though, I want to clarify that by ‘television’, I mean shows, movies, youtube, and pretty much any other sort of streaming based passive entertainment. Now that all of your brows are creased and your veins are popping out of your neck, let the tv trashing commence.
Starting off from a science perspective, watching television is just not a healthy habit to get into. As programmers, we tend to stare at screens all day, so extending that time obviously does not help our vision. Not to mention the negative effect that repeated use can have on posture and cardiovascular health. Many people do not watch television sitting on the couch staring straight ahead with their backs in a neutral position. They are curled up in a ball, lying on their sides, with their necks craned to to get the best view of the screen that they can. Not a very healthy picture, now is it? But obviously it isn’t all about health.
If you read the last post (which you probably didn’t) about how important I think time is, then you probably saw the next complaint coming. Watching television is a HUGE waste of time. “Woah woah woah”, you are probably saying to yourself, “did he just use a superlative AND all capital letters? How could he say that?”. Fine, fine, it is not always a waste of time–there are a few exceptions. To correct myself, watching television is almost always a HUGE waste of time (happy?). As programmers, we have the ability to work anywhere and any time. We all have laptops that we can lug around to the coffee shop, library (do those still exist?), and wherever else you want to show off in public that you are a programmer. There is literally no reason that you can’t be working all the time. Now before you yell at me in your head (or maybe aloud?), I am not saying that you should spend all day working. I am just saying that if you are going to be looking at a screen, then maybe it would be better to do something productive. Many of us are very ambitious. The CEOs of tech companies have shown us that nerds can rule supreme and many of us want that to a certain degree. I hate to break this to you, but if you want to be successful in life, then you have to put in the work. Consider your bubble burst. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, then Mark Zuckerberg did not create Facebook while being mesmerized by the television.
Watching television is a passive activity. All you have to do is sit there and comprehend what is happening. It isn’t that hard. It isn’t hard at all actually. Having a thought process is barely a prerequisite, nevermind doing any sort of critical thinking. One of my philosophies in life is to learn as much as you can whenever you can, about whatever you can. As humans, we can only really concentrate on one thing at once. You can think you are the best multitasker in the world, but you are still only really tricking yourself into doing two things at once by rapidly switching between the two (like multiprocessing!). When we watch television, it saps up all of our attention making us unable to focus on anything else. Combine this with the fact that it is a passive activity, and you get what I like to call a mental deadzone (basically time that your brain isn’t learning or thinking). This is pretty much the worst way you can spend your time. Not only does it make us feel like our time is wasted (in addition to actually wasting time), when we stop watching after long periods, it feels like (at least for me) my brain is melting. Okay sorry about that. It did get a little ranty there for a second. Gonna take a deep breath………………………… Okay, I think I am ready to continue now.
I just spent the entire last paragraph explaining the reasons why I think watching television is bad. But are there exceptions? Well you doofus, of course there are exceptions! I literally said in the last paragraph that there were. Let’s start with what I believe to be the most obvious one. My big problem with television is the mental deadzone that it creates in our timeline of thoughts. But what about educational television, something that will make you think and, dare I say it, learn? I think it is pretty obvious that this type of video consumption is warranted (according to me?). I should probably prefix television with ‘bad’ in the title, but it doesn’t really have the same ring. I define bad television as “a stream of images and sound that was not made with the objective of teaching”. This may seem like a weird definition, but it holds for several notable categories. Things like news channels, youtube tutorials, and howtos are completely acceptable. They help us to learn new things, were created with education as a primary intention, and therefore, make us think. On the other side of the spectrum, ‘binge worthy’ shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or (<crying face>) The Office are obviously not educational. For the skeptics out there that are saying “But Greg <pushes glasses back in place>, I learned about chemistry from Breaking Bad”, that may be true (and if so I am sorry you never took a chemistry course). But it was not made with any objective of teaching. The learning that you may have done from these shows is only there because of plot coincidences that you only remember because you never paid attention in class.
There are a couple of other exceptions to the rule of “never watching tv” besides that it depends on the content itself. Firstly, if you occupy your time while watching television with something other than television at the same time, then you don’t lose any time to a mental deadzone. Keep in mind, this is a slippery slope. Just because you have your notes on your lap and were “studying” while watching television doesn’t mean you actually didn’t waste any time. If you are going to use this excuse to justify watching anything, then make sure have strong enough willpower to stay focused on whatever you are working on in parallel.
Television is often used as a social activity (especially among my generation and younger) which kinda falls under the umbrella category as “something in parallel” like I talked about above, but I think it deserves special mention. Now as programmers we get a bad reputation for being at the bottom of the social food chain. Oftentimes the stereotypes are true, but I don’t want to use pity to justify watching TV for social interaction. Spending time with others (humans, not computers) is necessary for us to keep our sanity (for lack of a better phrase). If watching television will afford you more time with other people, I am the biggest advocate for it.
Just because I would feel dishonest for not saying this: I am a huge hypocrite. I used to watch television all the time. Pretty much all the shows I have mentioned in this post are shows that I have watched. I think I have seen The Office like six or seven times all the way through so I really don’t deserve to be talking. When this anti-television opinion was brought to my attention, I started to think about how much time I spent streaming media. Youtube tracks how much time you spend watching per week and you may be surprised to see how much time it is. After awareness, comes planning. Make a plan and set some goals for how you want to limit your streaming. I know it sounds stupid but WRITE THEM DOWN. Goals always have more of a chance at success if you write them down. A couple ideas to get you started: 1) Try to watch less than you did that last week, 2) every time you go to watch something on habit, turn on something educational, or 3) try experimenting with hobbies. Once you make the goals, the last step is the stick to them. Hold yourself accountable and effect change. You are the only one with the power to do so (duh, it’s your life). I have been sticking to all three of those goals for a while now and I have had a lot more time to make a positive impact on my life. So as wobbly as my advice usually is, if it worked for me, it can (probably) work for you.
Now before you just dismiss this post as the rantings of a madman (like everything I write), take a look back to the last time you watched television. Now think about how much time you spent watching television in the last week. Now think about how often you got up off of the couch after watching and felt accomplished, rejuvenated, or motivated. If you were surprised by the answers to those questions, then maybe it’s time to make a change. I think you will be motivated to make the same changes as me.