News and information from our partners

Crosstalk: Is watching TV harmful or helpful?

by RaeLynn Ricarte

I gotta confess, I zone out in front of the TV for a while every night because my brain is too tired to focus on what is happening between the pages of a book.

Although I used to feel guilty about not reading more (I own about 500 books), I have finally come to the reality that I will never be an intellectual giant and I’m okay with that.

I’m down to about one brain cell after raising children, one of whom went to war a few too many times for mom, so I have to keep it alive with lots of caffeine and plenty of down time.

Although we hear constantly about how harmful it is to watch too much TV, I agree with a 2009 report by Discover Magazine that zoning out can be a “crucial mental state.”

Researchers say that a wandering mind may be important to setting goals, coming up with new ideas and working on details on life plans.

Each of us has billions of neurons buzzing in our head, joined to each other by trillions of connections.

According to Discover, the regions of the brain that become active during mind wandering belong to two important networks. One is known as the executive control system, which is located mainly in the front of the brain and directs thoughts toward important goals.

The default network becomes more active when people are simply sitting idle than performing a particular task.

This network also becomes active during periods of personal self-referential thinking, such as reflecting on personal experiences or picturing him or herself in the future.

The fact that both of these important brain networks become active suggested that mind wandering helps us work through some important thinking. Researchers note that, by contemplating long-term objectives during periods of idleness, we come up with solutions to future challenges.

When we are no longer aware that our minds are wondering, we may be able to think most deeply about the big picture.

It is fascinating that our brains keep track of our near-term and long-term thinking to make sure that we are not missing something essential.

With that said, I do delve into books during the weekend and try to keep the TV off to eliminate white noise.

I am a firm believer that we all need peace and quiet now and then to calm the soul and allow true and complete relaxation.

I am the most content when curled up on the sofa under a warm blanket reading a crime novel or sci-fi thriller.

My mind is carried into the adventure and the stresses of the week are pushed into the back recesses of my brain.

I’m sure it is in those dark corners that ideas begin to sprout about how I can make Mark’s work life more interesting...

by Mark Gibson

Television has undoubtedly changed a great deal in the years I have avoided watching it: To be honest I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch a program.

My disinterest in television programming, and my avoidance of it, was not based on scientific studies of its impact, moral condemnation of its content or the predictable nature of its storytelling: I was simply too intent on exploring reality.

Television had little to offer in comparison to fishing for bass in the pond up the road, bird watching in the woods behind the family home or mastering the art of photography.

As I grew older and the world of “people” began to filter into my interests, I found television not just a waste of time but a social inhibiter.

Take Thanksgiving.

The joy of sharing a meal with an extended family — and my family was pretty extensive — was one of my favorite holidays.

As a boy, food played the leading role but later I learned to relish the conversation and family stories: “Do you remember when...?”

Stories I could have listened to throughout the day, but were stifled and sidetracked by the televised games, the holiday specials, the professional entertainers as presented on the square screen.

A house full of people all talking at the same time was an adventure: A houseful of people all staring at a television had no interest.

Some years ago I was walking past a row of televisions for sale, all tuned to various channels, and something caught my eye. That is, of course, what television does, it catches your eye.

I stopped for a moment and watched: And came away a little baffled.

Having missed so many years of program development, the “cut” from image to image, angle to angle, had gotten so fast I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it.

It was some sort of adventure, I could tell that, but my eye, or rather my mind, simply couldn’t make sense of the images being flashed on the screen.

The cuts were simply too fast and I didn’t have the years of conditioning I needed to make sense of it.

I had, it appeared, been left behind by the mainstream media.

I left the store and walked home through darkened streets, streetlight to streetlight.

It was winter, “prime time,” and there was little evidence of life in the city beyond the flickering lights of thousands of televisions, lighting up the curtains of home after home.

It was a short walk, but along the way I saw two boar raccoons fight a pitched battle for territory, listened to a garage band work out a song and glimpsed an owl flying up from an overgrown lot.

I didn’t miss the television in the least.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment


Information from The Chronicle and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)