According to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes every day—90 minutes more than the world average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time the average American has.
It makes me wonder where I fall in relation to that average. (Does TV on DVD count?) And it makes me want to excise useless TV from my life. Becca and I were talking yesterday about how we like Heroes a lot, except we don't miss it when we aren't watching it. Whereas the Office, when it isn't on (like right now, sad), I feel a void in my life. I almost think that's the only show that makes me feel that way when it's not on, except for maybe Friday Night Lights. That's it! One half-hour show. And yet I still theoretically "watch" 24, Heroes, Grey's Anatomy (I'm definitely giving that up), and Ugly Betty, plus there's always the reality TV shows like Top Chef which is coming back in a few weeks. The thing about a TV show you kind of care about but don't deeply care about is that it's not just a 2 hour commitment like a movie - it's 20 hours a year, or a season at least, if it's an hour long show. That's a lot of time when you think about it.
I have been thinking a lot though, recently, about getting rid of things that aren't useful - I've been cutting back on my blog reading, trying to only stick to what I care about or am really interested in - I've noticed a lot more clothes in my closet that I just don't care to own anymore - this TV thing - the candy that's been sitting in my room for months - and so on. It's almost like I can feel the necessariness of all these things just slipping off of me like layers of clothing (like a towel falling off). I'm trying to embrace it and act on it - if I feel the need to toss something or if I suddenly have this gut feeling that I don't need something, I'm acting on it. Even if it's something small like deleting part of my Facebook profile.
Anyway, not to digress too far from my original point. I should learn to split up blog entries! There are a few more good bits in the piece of Gore's book that's posted online:
I vividly remember a turning point in that Senate campaign when my opponent, a fine public servant named Victor Ashe who has since become a close friend, was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent's campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: "If you run this ad at this many 'points' [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls."
I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.
As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of television on the balance of power among the three branches of government. In the study, I pointed out the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason. There are countless examples of this, but perhaps understandably, the first one that comes to mind is from the 2000 campaign, long before the Supreme Court decision and the hanging chads, when the controversy over my sighs in the first debate with George W. Bush created an impression on television that for many viewers outweighed whatever positive benefits I might have otherwise gained in the verbal combat of ideas and substance. A lot of good that senior thesis did me.I like Gore. I think he'd be kind of fun to hang out with.
And, the hitting home. This strikes me as a very Googley attitude:
Fortunately, the Internet has the potential to revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework. It has extremely low entry barriers for individuals. It is the most interactive medium in history and the one with the greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge. It's a platform for the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas, in the same way that markets are a decentralized mechanism for the creation and distribution of goods and services. It's a platform, in other words, for reason. But the Internet must be developed and protected, in the same way we develop and protect markets—through the establishment of fair rules of engagement and the exercise of the rule of law. The same ferocity that our Founders devoted to protect the freedom and independence of the press is now appropriate for our defense of the freedom of the Internet. The stakes are the same: the survival of our Republic. We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it, because of the threat of corporate consolidation and control over the Internet marketplace of ideas.
The danger arises because there is, in most markets, a very small number of broadband network operators. These operators have the structural capacity to determine the way in which information is transmitted over the Internet and the speed with which it is delivered. And the present Internet network operators—principally large telephone and cable companies—have an economic incentive to extend their control over the physical infrastructure of the network to leverage control of Internet content. If they went about it in the wrong way, these companies could institute changes that have the effect of limiting the free flow of information over the Internet in a number of troubling ways.
The democratization of knowledge by the print medium brought the Enlightenment. Now, broadband interconnection is supporting decentralized processes that reinvigorate democracy. We can see it happening before our eyes: As a society, we are getting smarter. Networked democracy is taking hold. You can feel it. We the people—as Lincoln put it, "even we here"—are collectively still the key to the survival of America's democracy.From the Time Magazine excerpt of "The Assault on Reason." Which I would read, if I read serious non-fiction.