Television: the Internet Drug of the Nation

Newton Minow once called Television a “vast wasteland”. He would later revise his thought to describe Television as a “Toxic Dump”. I can’t say I really disagree. There is nothing worse than bad TV in terms of our cultural values. The majority of our watching habits revolve around thin plots, titillating scandals, and mostly vapid characters.

Unfortunately, with the ability to stream any show and binge watch programming through Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, bad programming hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it is not only getting worse it is becoming alarmingly more accessible.

I’m not saying all TV is bad. I’m a child of Sesame Street, Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers. However, that was a very specific kind of programming designed to educate, and nurture young creative minds. Sadly, those ideals have not stood the test of time. Not because they aren’t right, but because the ability to stream and binge watch these shows have made it far easier to mindlessly consume these programs instead of actively engage in what they are watching.

It used to be that you would watch a television program much like you would read a book. Absorbing the characters, the setting, the plot, all of the subtle nuances surrounding the story being played out even if it was about a bunch of puppets who were learning how to read. You would savor your daily dose knowing that tomorrow the cast of characters would be back  to give you the next part of their life. A life that you not only watched, but somehow shared in.

Now we just consume as much of it as we can as we race to the end to see what happened. It is only at the very end of the story that we realize that we missed 99% of what we were watching, but we don’t feel the need to go back.

I say this, because I see this affecting my children and I realize that I became that person that I absolutely Hated. The person who sits their child in front of the television instead of teaching them how to engage in the world around them. The person who has not taught his children to question the world around him or her, and to search for the answers.

Instead I have relied on the electronic baby sitter to do my work for me.

This has never been more apparent than when I tried to do a science project with my son. It was evident to me that he did not fully grasp the idea of what we were trying to do. He saw an end goal – to make a robot that draws. I saw something more, to see how a machine works, to see how a circuit is built, to test how changing a variable can affect an entire experiment. Even at an 8 year old level there should be the question of “Why” pervade the room as we attach markers and wires to a 16oz. red cup. Instead, his only question was “can we turn it on yet?”

In this, I have failed him. I have not taught him that the best things in life are not found at the stroke of a button, or from the aggregated stories that one can inhale sitting on a couch. Instead, I have taught him that dependence on a glowing tube outshines the sun that is right outside.

I have heard people say “I used to watch television all the time, and I turned out fine.” I am not so sure that is the same for today’s child. At some point, we turned off the TV, fought the monsters in the creek, rode our bikes to 7-11, or fed the devil under the porch. We have all done those things. Our kids on the other hand, aren’t. They are stagnating in a room and digesting processed food by the box. They are not learning. Yes, you may have turned out fine, but you didn’t have the vast flow of information at your finger tips.

We have created a world in which I look at my kids everyday and silently whisper “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry that I was so selfish that I failed to see what was important. I’m sorry that I let you think that watching TV was the only way to communicate. And, I’m sorry that I was unable to filter the immense evolution of technology before you were ready for it. At some point I lost my way in this parenting gig, and I have failed to do my job. I listened to others who said it was fine, when I knew damn well that it wasn’t.

I can’t make up for that, but I can promise you something. I can promise that I will make you my number one priority. I can promise you that I will not let you down again. It’ll be hard on both of us, but I promise you that many years from now we will all be better for it.

Television “A Vast Wasteland” (1961) 

From Captivated The Movie

Being Reminded That This is Water

Recently my wife did a lecture on the writing of David Foster Wallace. I have read one or two things by him, but mostly short stories. DFW is one of “Those Names” in our household. Much like Shakespeare, TMBG, Marvel, The Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Sophistitiki, DFW is one of those names in our house that is revered on high. Dr. Wyf is more well read on him than I am, but one piece floors me.

David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, is probably one of the most important speeches of our time.  In this speech, he asks students to look past their default settings to view the world as it is, and to realize that reality is more complex, deep, and important than whatever we can think. That if we stop and take in the vast myriad of possibilities, we will find the world to be a much more beautiful, rich, and heart wrenching place deserving our respect, our love, and most importantly our attention.

DFW calls on the class of 2005, and all those going into the “real” world to be open to the world around them, to pursue knowledge as a road to personal enlightenment and not just for job advancement, and to live in a state of sincerity regardless of ideology.

This has prompted me to look at how I do things. To step back and examine my own processes, and my own default settings – my failures to see past my own ignorance. For me it’s easy to pass my day staring at a screen, visiting the various social networks, and attempting to live vicariously through the 140 character sayings of others. However, that is not living with sincerity in the wold around me. It takes away from my work, my family, my friends. It forces me to view a very complex world through a very self selected set of filters that at the end of the day do not advance my work, my mental state, my relationships.

It’s illusory. It’s the illusion that in some way I have a connection with someone thousands of miles away – sometimes to people that I have never even met. This is the true danger of our society. The idea that I can access the worlds problems at the touch of the button, and sit in my own delusions of grandeur on how I would do something different perpetuates this false notion that we, as a society, are still growing. When in fact, it is quite the opposite. We have stopped growing. We are not innovating. And, we are not moving.

We have allowed ourselves to stick our heads in the sand with the idea that somehow we are more open for it. However, our reality is still that we must look past our own default settings, and to seek a greater awareness of the world around us.

I don’t mean to say that all of the Internet is bad. In fact, I do love it. It’s a great tool to communicate with others, but it is closer to a pager than a telephone. It can never give you the whole story. For that you need to leave the comfort of your chair, turn off your smart phone, and walk outside, go meet up at a diner, and take a walk. Social media can never be a substitute for actual communication. It can only be a handy assistant.

To all of my friends who are graduating, I ask you to remember to take part in the world around you, be fully immersed in the reality of your surroundings, and to remember that you have not even begun to understand the phrase “Day In/Day Out”. Don’t simply grab for the brass ring, but allow yourself to feel the centrifugal force of the ride spinning around as you attempt to stretch out your arm.

I wish you more than luck.

A 9-minute excerpt of “This is Water” commencement speech

List to the full speech here:


On Changing Habits and Moving Forward

IMG_0478To say we’ve had a rough couple of years would be an understatement. However, we have learned how strong we can be as a family. We are stronger when we act together than we do when apart. We are more engaged when we feel we both have our backs than we do when we feel isolated from each other. This doesn’t mean that it has gotten easier, but what it has done is show us that it will never get easier. We will always have to rely each other, and that’s good. We need to show each other that we can be tiny and helpless. It’s how we know the other is listening. Continue reading