The first thing to keep in mind about this book is that it’s a 30 year old book. It was originally published in 1977. This fact is important because on the one hand, it makes some of the arguments questionable. For example, the way most Televisions worked in the late 70’s compared to how LCD’s work today is a bit different. This is important because one big argument in the book is about the physiological effects of Television, particularly the light they emit. However, being that the book was written three decades ago, the core arguments are surprisingly still relevant today.
A big issue that worries the author Jerry Mander is how much of our lives have been separated from nature. He spends a lot on this topic at the start of the book, and with the first argument, which he calls The Mediation of Experience. From the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep, everything that we experience is artificial. From the buildings that sourround us, the houses or apartments that we live in, the cities, the roads that we drive on, the cars we’re driving; all of this was created by humans and not by nature. He calls this the walling of awareness. Television just happens to be a “natural” extension of all that.
The second argument, The Colonization of Experience, deals with advertisement. This is one of the authors strongest arguments being that before writing the book he worked 15 years as an advertising executive. The cliched criticism of Television is that it’s just ads that has content sandwiched in between. But it’s so sadly true. For Mander, the medium wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the advertisement industry.
In the third argument, Effects of Television on the Human Being, Mander explores how Television affects us physiologically, psychologically, and culturally. It has one of the most alarmist points in the book.
When you watch Television all you do is sit down and stare at a screen that emits light. Your seeing images, but they’re just light. The light is transformed by your eye into an image, but you’re still, literally, ingesting light. They don’t just stop at your eyes after your brain decodes it into an image. This light goes into your body. Mander is surprised that there was very little research or studies done(at that time) on the effects of the light emitted by Tv’s. He even suggests, with no proof whatsoever, that Television light can cause cancer.
The psychological effects of Television are easy to see just by observation. In order for the medium to work, you have to be passive. You can’t be critical. You can’t go back and read the passage. You have to become a little bit stupid in order to enjoy it.
Another spooky point Mander makes is that the images that we see stay with us for a long time. And the images we get from Tv and the ones we get from the “natural” world get intertwined. The point is that we have a difficult time separating these because they are up to a certain point equally real.
The last argument deals with the biases of the medium. Mander’s point is that the medium is unreformable. Violence works better than peace. Complex issues like politics and wars will always be narrowed, thus knowledged will always get narrowed. Television has to be a certain and specific way in order for us to pay it any attention. There are simply things that are impossible to televise.
There’s so much more compelling stuff in the book that I’m leaving out and I don’t want to make this review too long. Taking aside the light causing cancer fumble, I still find it hard to completely disagree with the book. There is no question that Television, for better or worse, has changed our lives. I’m a strong advocate of watching it as little as possible, and that when you watch it, you watch it because you want to. I don’t think that the medium is completely un-reformable, but I do believe that network television as we’ve known it should die. My book would be titled Four Arguments for the Elimination of Broadcast Television. And I’m not so sure with the premise that society will be better off if we banish the technology. But like Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I do agree that media technologies are not neutral utilities that don’t affect us if we don’t let them. They do have their own agendas and we have to pay attention to them in order to not lose our humanity.