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.