Monday, July 16, 2007

Someone Please Explain ....

Al Gore’s book, “The Assault on Reason,” is something of a hymn to media literacy, even though he never says so in those words.

A core argument in his book is that television has utterly debased political discourse in America. Emotion, particularly raw fear, has utterly expelled reason in what the nation’s founders always assumed would be the free and open marketplace of ideas.

Now the marketplace has been decimated a societal suicide bomb of irrational shrapnel and mayhem. (Those are my overheated words, not Gore’s.)

Gore was defeated 5 votes to 4 — by a partisan Supreme Court. That he won the people’s vote may be the best counter-argument to his fears. But that was before 9/11 and the unraveling we have seen since.

Now for the strange parts in Gore’s media literacy riff.

Gore repeats the widely cited statistic that the average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of TV a day. That’s always been a frightening figure. I like to point out that it amounts to something like 17 solid years of the average person’s life.

But Gore puts it in a new context. “When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep, and couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat, and commute, [time devoted to TV] is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average America has. Younger Americans, on average, spend even more time watching TV.”

We are, in short, numbing ourselves in our “off-hours.” Aldous Huxley and “Brave New World” were closer to the truth than George Orwell and “1984.” Both are well worth rereading, and not just for their contrasting visions of the future.

Gore adds this bizarre and new (to me at least) finding, and the one I desperately need some help with:

“…the majority of Internet users report that they watch television — at least some of the time — while they use the Internet. Sixty percent of those who use both media simultaneously report that they regularly have the television on while they are using the internet. Studies show not only a continued increase in the average time Americans spend watching television each day but also an increase in the average time spent by Internet users watching the television while they use the Internet.”

I don’t get it.

Is this some weird multi-tasking, or multi-zoning out? Talk about a best-case scenario for attention-deficit disorder.

I’ve heard of folks who keep the TV on all the time to “keep them company” (whatever happened to the joys of solitude?) but why would you want the tube on while you are on the internet? Perhaps it’s a security blanket for the freedom offered by the internet’s welcoming invitation to inter-action. Even as we respond, we must be immersed in the babblings of an unquestionable source (TV), however questionable it might be.

I highly recommend Gore’s book, which serves as prima facie evidence that he still should be president. A Gandhi excepted, Gore is about as un-Bush-like a leader as one could hope for.

Let us count the ways….

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Blogger PDX Papa said...

Oh man!!!

I was reading this post while sneaking peeks at the video my daughters are watching, all the while thinking "people WASTING their time surfing the net AND watching tv" yet here I am guilty of both at the same time...

as for how it works, you kinda of let your attention drift back and forth without a lot of focus on either media... while you're on the net, reading, you're not really listening to the tv, so sometimes it helps to be online during commercials... it's also nice to hear something or have a thought provoked (rare, I know) by the tv, and then be able to research it online... all in all, i think while it is "happening" simultaneously, you could make a case that one is watching tv for 3 minutes, then online for 2, then tv 4, etc...

8:32 AM  
Blogger Breaking Point said...

I second your recommendation of the book. It's a really good read.

I rarely watch TV, but when I do I probably always take my laptop with me. TV is just not engaging enough to hold my attention. Also, what better to do during commercials than catch up on blogs?

10:28 AM  

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