Second Short Essay From My Unpublished Anti-Television Writings


When you are absorbed in a television program, you are essentially a captive of that television station for that block of time. Television shows have commercial breaks fairly often -- Wikipedia claims that each half-hour program has eight minutes of commercials. Let's say, then, that there are two four-minute commercial breaks per half-hour program. This means that you'll be watching the show in segments that are a little more than seven minutes long. Then you go to a commercial break that has nothing to do with the program you were watching, except maybe that it is geared toward a demographic that the advertisers think is likely to be watching the program.

Your attention span over that half-hour block is broken up into, at best, 3 seven-minute blocks of one thing separated by one four-minute set of commercials unrelated to each other and another totally different four-minute set of commercials unrelated to each other. At worst, you're watching some show, maybe a situation comedy that isn't particularly cohesive and you end up with three totally different jokes that each last a little more than seven minutes, separated by the commercial blocks. What does this do to your attention span?

In essence, I see it as a bad thing that the television robs you of control. Unless you can pause it, there's no way you can pick up where you left off when you want to. You're stuck on "their" time. It gets even weirder when you compare it to other activities where you are kind of stuck doing them -- activities that you do with another person. If you're playing a sport with other people and you just stop playing abruptly to go do something else, it's rude: it breaks up the flow of the activity. With television, where's the other person? Television is a very rude and clingy medium.

It should be noted that radio is essentially the same in many regards. Radio, however, only occupies your ears. You are free to do other things with your eyes and the rest of your body.


Post a Comment