I was recently having dinner with a friend, and the conversation drifted into the amount of time I allotted to television, movies, and YouTube videos each week. It is my firm belief that if a man wants to become an abbreviated version of his true self, then he will watch a lot of television. If he wants to realize his full potential, then he will slide the scale in favor of reading.
A 2011 report conducted by Nielsen found:
The average American watched 34 hours 39 minutes of TV per week in Q4 2010, a year-over-year increase of two minutes. The heaviest users of traditional TV are adults 65+ (47 hours 33 minutes per week), followed by adults 50-64 (43 hours per week). Trailing all other age groups, teens age 12-17 watch the least amount of TV (23 hours 41 minutes per week). …
143.9 million Americans viewed video online in January 2011, spending an average of 4 hours 39 minutes viewing video on PCs/laptops.
When it comes to statistics on books, organizations like Pew typically set the bar pretty low these days, asking people if they read at least one book — just one — per year. And even then, listening to audio books is lumped in with statistics on reading books. They are in fact not the same thing. Each decision affects the mind in different ways.
Pew reported in 2014:
As of January 2014, some 76% of American adults ages 18 and older said that they read at least one book in the past year. Almost seven in ten adults (69%) read a book in print in the past 12 months, while 28% read an e-book, and 14% listened to an audiobook.
Think of the best television programming out there. Say you watched Discovery or History most of the time. Even if you filled your mind with the highest quality products television has to offer, then you would still be getting a truncated version of the actual subject that the station is covering.
Now think about the television that you do watch. Think about what reality television, cable news, and typical daytime television beams into your brain. All of that affects you on a subconscious level, and the vast majority of it is more akin to sugary snacks and fatty foods than fruit and vegetables.
At least once a month someone says to me in person, in email, or via one of my social media pages that the movie ‘Idiocracy’ seems to have been prophetic. Why is that? The reason is because we’ve been trained to look into glowing screens geared towards providing us with intellectual opiates instead of boot camp calisthenics.
Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with watching movies, playing video games and and enjoying a good TV show, but like all other things it should be done in moderation. As a guy who reviews movies on a regular basis, it would be strange to tell people to cast off television completely. However, it seems as though fair-minded individuals can see how watching an average of 34 hours of television per week — in addition to however many hours are spent playing video games and watching silly videos on cellphones or laptops — is a recipe for brain atrophy.
Think of it this way: Would the average American be better served by reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or by watching “In The Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard? My guess is that Mr. Howard has made a terrific movie, but will it engage the mind like Melville?
“They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; though it was put together of all contrasting things — oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp — yet all these ran into each other in the one concrete hull, which shot its way, both balanced and directed by the long central keel; even so, all the individualities of the crew, this man’s valor, that man’s fear; guilt and guiltlessness, all varieties were wedded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to.”
I challenge you for one year to cut the amount of television viewing you currently engage in by half, and then to fill that time by reading books like Moby Dick. Then, after one year, look back at who you were and who you’ve become and let me know how your perceptions on media consumption have changed. My guess is that you will be a completely different person, with no intention of going back to your old habits.
And yes, I will be reviewing In The Heart of The Sea shortly after it comes out March 13, 2015. Between now and then I also plan on writing a review for Moby Dick.