Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wickedness Never Was Happiness, Part 2

In Wickedness Never Was Happiness Part 1, I noted that Arthur C. Brooks has made a persuasive empirical case that acts of righteousness--charitable giving, marriage, labor, service, etc--cause an individual to experience happiness. For Part 2, it's time to look more closely at the other side of the coin: unhappiness.

Prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long warned that watching television can have a detrimental impact on our lives; in 1989, Elder M. Russell warned about the deleterious effects of watching inappropriate material on television, while also acknowledging that "Philo T. Farnsworth, back in 1927, must surely have been inspired of the Lord to develop this remarkable medium of communication" (Seriously--go check out the link; it's the most extensive General Conference talk ever given on the subject, and the picture is priceless.). So saying that "TV is bad for you" is less than revelatory.

But researchers at the University of Maryland have just released a new study that is a little more nuanced. According to the research of John Robinson and Steven Martin, watching television is an activity best compared to smoking cigarettes or other addictive behaviors. Television viewers almost always feel that the show they are currently watching--or that they just finished watching--provided significant pleasure, but when asked about their viewing habits at a chronological remove, they indicate that watching television is a waste of time and resources.

Robinson explains that "What viewers seem to be saying is that while TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, 'the shows I saw tonight were pretty good. . . . The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise." This fleeting burst of pleasure can be addictive. "Addictive activities produce momentary pleasure and long-term misery and regret," Martin says. "People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged. For this kind of person, TV can become a kind of opiate in a way. It's habitual, and tuning in can be an easy way of tuning out."

Watching TV, Robinson and Martin argue, does not provide the same satisfaction and happiness that social interactions--or good books--do. Their research shows that happy people spend more time in these two activities (socializing and reading) while unhappy people tend to spend more time watching television. I guess there's a reason that we're commanded to "seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom" (D&C 88:118) and that the commandment to "watch ye the best sitcoms" hasn't come yet.

Again, I acknowledge that many, many church leaders have expounded on the beneficial aspects of television--it can be used for educational purposes, enjoying the performing arts, and broadening our cultural horizons, among many other purposes. For these reasons, it seems something of a stretch to say that watching television is wicked. But after having been exposed to the research of Robinson and Martin, I feel perfectly comfortable making the assertiong that watching television never was happiness.


Becky said...

Zach...this was a great article. Thank you for writing. I haven't had tv in my home for over 10 years - closer to 17 years. Now that tv is available online I have found myself getting 'sucked' in. :( This was a great reminder of how I am spending my time.

Jo Jo said...

We don't have one either, although if we did, I fall easily.

Amazon Mama said...

When we first got married, we purchased a t.v. with wedding money. We quickly realized that it was sucking us in and wasting time that we could be spending together. So we sold the t.v.

We went without a t.v. for more than a year, after which we were cured. To this day, we don't spend time watching t.v. (except Survivor, which I watch while ironing.) And the kids do watch PBS while I teach piano.

When I think about the time people spend watching t.v., I'm actually saddened. Just think what even one hour a day added up could have become. It could have been a new skill. Service done to someone in need. Time spent with someone lonely. Talents developed. Family relationships strengthened. Exercise.

What do we really glean from t.v. or movies? Absolutely nothing.

Amazon Mama said...

Oh--I meant to say one more thing.

Nice blog post friend. Say hello to your wife and kids for me! :)

Anonymous said...

I always preferred TV to books. I never liked to read books; it never made me happy.