The fallout included (and still includes) obesity, social isolation and depression, lack of exercise, addictive behavior, poor school performance, an acceptance of violence, hyper-consumption, personal debt, eating disorders, and the erosion of family time.
The list went on and on, and new concerns were raised along the way. Pediatricians began telling parents that no child under the age of two should watch any TV — NONE.
Of course the TV/media industry wasn’t having any of that, and responded with “Baby Einstein” and “Baby Mozart.” The DVDs were marketed to suddenly Einstein-fixated parents of children in the very age group the doctors deemed most vulnerable.
Disney (whatever happened to Baby Dumbo?) now owns the “baby prodigy” programs.
TV-Turnoff’s way of fighting back was organizing a week without TV — once a year. The week’s events were arranged around the schools, often by parents. The hope was that families would enjoy their week without TV so much that they’d cut back on viewing once the week was over.
Of course, TV wasn’t the only concern. Other electronic media were working their way into our lives. To meet the new challenge, TV-Turnoff morphed into “The Screen-time Awareness Network.”
When TV-Turnoff began, the average American was putting in four hours a day in front of the tube. Put another way, if the average American lived 75 years, that’s works out to nearly 12.5 years in front of the TV.
Imagine yourself reaching 75 and wondering what you could have done with those 12.5 years of 24 hours days besides watch the tube?
So after 15 years of TV-Turnoff weeks and Screen-Time Awareness, how much time is the average American logging in front of the TV (to say nothing of computer screens).
The answer is: four hours and 49 minutes according to a recent Nielsen reports.
That’s more than a 20 percent increase and an all-time high.
So why have the numbers defied the efforts of TV-Turnoff?
According to one story, “researchers say the continued increase in television consumption can be attributed to several factors including: more television sets in the home; more channels and content to choose from; and greater use of personal video recorders.”
I’ll venture another reason. The message of TV-Turnoff isn’t being disseminated by the media, particularly by TV, the most influential media.
If it isn’t on TV it isn’t part of the culture. In short, we are what we watch, and — surprise, surprise — messages telling us about the harmful consequences of too much TV watching aren’t appearing on our screens.
The TV industry and the advertising industry, its Siamese Twin, rely on maximizing the number of eyeballs viewing ads. The ads propel the profits. The TV and advertising industries, so essential to the consumer economy, certainly don’t want those viewers camping in the mountains, hiking the back-country, reading a good book or visiting with family and friends.
So TV-Turnoff gets no traction. And the time Americans spend with TV goes up and up — even as it takes us down and down.
One organization that is using screens to good advantage to educate students and others is the Media Education Foundation. The organization produces and distributes excellent documentaries about media issues.
For more on the Nielsen audience study, go here. You can find out about TV-Turnoff here, but, sadly, the website seems to be unattended. You can’t even find the dates for the 2010 TV-Turnoff. In the past it has been the third week in April.