Some days ago I read a blog post from The Story’s Story that inferred that one of the reasons the 99 per centers are 99 per centers is because they watch too much Television. I thought that to be an interesting premise and wondered how much truth there was to it. I did what every well meaning net citizen would do: I asked the internet about it.
I first thought about the Q and A website Quora since I’ve seen many great questions and answers there. It was the first question I have asked there, and perhaps that’s the reason, but I only got one answer and it was to tell me that there wasn’t any info on the General Society Survey website that linked the two things. I did search for a bit and found that the average amount watched was 2 to 3 hours. That survey though was up to 2006. The Nielsen numbers are more current, which is an average of 4 to 5 hours.
Since on Quora the question didn’t gain any traction, I went to Ask MetaFilter. Now that’s a rich Q and A community. I received a total of 11 answers and they were all useful and insightful. A lot of them pointed me to surveys and studies. Actual PDF documents like the American Time Use Survey and the Annenberg study.
Of note was the finding that low income families are more likely to have a Tv in their children’s bedroom than higher income families and that higher income people are more likely to go out to dinner and do more outdoor activities in their leisure time.
Of course, as a MetaFilter commenter pointed out, if we’re just talking about the US and not globally, it will be a completely different picture. There are places in the world were people can’t afford a Tv and there’s simply no infrastructure to transmit broadcast signals.
The reason this whole topic has resonated with me is because I’m struggling with it. I’ve been trying to cut down not just my Television viewing but all my media consumption. The motivation was by reading The Information Diet book, which is a book I highly recommend.
Correlation is not causation, and I mentioned this first as a warning, and because perhaps subconsciously I was wishing it to be a causation. People don’t get rich because they watch less Tv. They watch less Tv because they’re rich. The poor, (poorer than the upperclass) aren’t poor because they watch a lot of Tv. They just watch a lot Tv because they’re poor.
So what did I learn? It’s easy to infer that there is a strong correlation by looking at other studies, but until a study is done that links the two data points, we can only infer. Reason and logic will bring you to that conclusion. If you spend most of your time on some passive activity that distracts you from other activities you could be doing, you’re not going to accomplish many things in life. And you’re definitely not going to make any money while sitting on the couch flipping channels. You might be entertained, culturally enlightened by watching Mad Men, and even theoretically learning something by watching PBS, but you will still be not doing something. To reference and paraphrase Clay Shirky in a different context, the problem with Television is that it doesn’t have a mouse or a keyboard.