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THE BOOB TUBE: America’s Teeming With Mindless, Television-Addicted Zombies – Here’s the Cure

Americans are totally and completely addicted to television, and a new report from Verizon shows just how much each state watches every day, on average.

From that report, the top 15 states for television by time, and what the “Favorite TV Genre” for each is, are as follows:

  1. West Virginia – 4 hours, 30 minutes per day – Soap Opera
  2. Delaware – 3 hours, 47 minutes per day – Reality TV
  3. Louisiana – 3 hours, 41 minutes per day – Soap Opera
  4. Oklahoma – 3 hours, 36 minutes per day – Animated Cartoon
  5. Nevada – 3 hours, 34 minutes per day – Reality TV
  6. North Dakota – 3 hours, 34 minutes per day – Sitcom
  7. Mississippi – 3 hours, 29 minutes per day – Soap Opera
  8. Alabama – 3 hours, 27 minutes per day – Sitcom
  9. Georgia – 3 hours, 26 minutes per day – Reality TV
  10. Arkansas – 3 hours, 24 minutes per day – Sitcom
  11. South Carolina – 3 hours, 22 minutes per day – Soap Opera
  12. Florida – 3 hours, 21 minutes per day – Telenovela
  13. Kentucky – 3 hours, 21 minutes per day – ESPN
  14. New Jersey – 3 hours, 19 minutes per day – Reality TV
  15. Ohio – 3 hours, 19 minutes per day – ESPN

West Virginia watches more TV than anyone else by close to an hour per day. Yikes.

And come on, is it really possible to watch over three hours of ESPN per day, Kentucky and Ohio?

States That Watch the Least TV

But even the states that watch the least television are still watching a lot of TV – though with some more unique programming choices (anyone who knows anything about the culture of Vermont laughs knowingly at Vermont being, literally, the only state in which “late-night talk show” is their favorite TV genre).

The bottom 10 states, in order from the least to the most:

  1. Utah – 2 hours, 13 minutes per day – Animated Cartoon
  2. Maine – 2 hours, 17 minutes per day – Cooking Show
  3. Vermont – 2 hours, 19 minutes per day – Late-Night Talk Show
  4. Alaska – 2 hours, 20 minutes per day – Soap Opera
  5. Colorado – 2 hours, 28 minutes per day – News
  6. Hawaii – 2 hours, 32 minutes per day – News
  7. Minnesota – 2 hours, 33 minutes per day – Sitcom
  8. Washington – 2 hours, 35 minutes per day – News
  9. Montana – 2 hours, 36 minutes per day – News
  10. California – 2 hours, 39 minutes per day – News

An interesting correlation appears here. The states that watch the least television also, on average, tend to be more active states. These states, on average, tend to participate more in outdoor recreation, enjoyment of nature, and physical fitness.

The Active States Versus TV

Most of us are familiar with the reputation of most of these states – Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, California – all states well known for being outdoor-activity-friendly.

But there’s actual research on this, too.

For example, here are the top ten “outdoorsy” states, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 National Recreation Economy Report (I have bolded the ones which are also in the bottom 10 for TV):

  1. Alaska – 81 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  2. Montana – 81 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  3. Idaho – 79 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation, ranked 18th for general well-being
  4. North Dakota – 76 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation, ranked 16th for general well-being
  5. Wyoming – 73 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  6. Utah – 72 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  7. Vermont – 72 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  8. Washington – 72 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  9. Colorado – 71 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation
  10. Maine – 70 percent of population involved in outdoor recreation

How about that? 7 out of the 10 states which are most involved in outdoor recreation also rank in the bottom 10 states for TV watching. Coincidence? I think not.

Of course, the outdoor recreation / TV matrix has a lot more of an effect on our lives than is immediately obvious. People who spend more time outdoors, numerous studies have proven, are happier, healthier, and tend to have higher levels of well-being.

Studies show that just 20 minutes in a park can improve well-being, for example.

Well-Being and the TV States

And to further prove that point, here are the top ten states from the most recent Gallup Well-Being Index, which uses a variety of metrics to measure the well-being of their citizens (I have bolded the states which also appear in the bottom 10 TV states list, as well):

  1. Hawaii
  2. Wyoming
  3. Alaska
  4. Montana
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
  7. Vermont
  8. Delaware
  9. South Dakota
  10. North Dakota

And here, 6 out of the 10 states with the highest well-being also have the lowest TV watching. And again, this is no coincidence.

Hasn’t TV Watching Subsided?

Some may think that TV watching is on a big decline due to smartphones and the internet. In fact, TV watching is not much lower than it was at its peak, only a few years ago. The average American household, taken as a whole household, watches much more television than cited in the aforementioned Verizon study. Much more.

According to Nielsen, the average American household watches nearly 8 hours of television per day. As the linked Atlantic story puts it:

The thing that Americans do most often with their free time is not cooking or exercising or hiking or any other seemingly salutary activity. No, Americans watch TV. That’s the default the current move to even tinier screens has to be measured against.

Why are we so mindlessly addicted to television? For that matter, why are we mindlessly addicted to distraction?

My Own Battle Against TV

I’ve always been a big reader, but even still, often kept the TV on in the house “just because.” Keeping the TV on can give a sense of being “plugged in” to the outside world. It also wards off the fear of being alone with one’s thoughts – something we are all, on some level, terrified of.

A few years ago, I started deliberately turning off the television most of the time because I felt it was taking up too much time. In fact, these days, I just keep it unplugged if I’m not using it.

Something incredible happened: I didn’t miss it. Whatever time the TV used to consume could now be used for other activities. Much of the entertainment I consume (which aren’t physical books) is now in the form of radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. That way, I can do other things and still listen to whatever is playing. The theater of the mind is far more engaging to me than the passive engagement of television.

Now, I have one television in my home and it’s rarely on – mostly, to watch movies with my children. When the season is running, I watch the new Grand Tour episode that comes out each week. I watch the Ryder Cup, the Masters, and the British Open. Most days, honestly, I leave it off.

When I walk into someone’s home and the television is on, I accept it and don’t make a fuss. Who am I to be uncharitable to others about such a thing? But it’s noticeable, and it seriously impedes the flow of conversation. Now I understand how the hum of an always-on television disturbs the natural state of silence we are all called to. It makes it almost impossible to live in the present.

But before, when I left the TV on all the time myself, I never understood this.

It’s a pain to go into a restaurant where TVs line the walls. A pain. I go to a restaurant not to watch television, but to be in the moment – enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes, as well as the conversation of the friends and family I meet there. I don’t go to a place like that to continue to be fed with distractions and mindless entertainment.

All of us know the feeling of sitting across from a person who is too engaged in their phone or television to pay attention to what we are saying. Isn’t that bothersome? Now look at the mirror, because you and I are guilty of the same thing.

If I’m honest, I haven’t given up distraction. TV may be out of my life, but I still spend plenty of time on my phone, iPad, and so forth. Keeping focused on the present moment is a constant battle. A battle to live in this very moment, because it’s truly all we have.

All of us can recognize – for ourselves and our families – that an endless, constant hum of distraction – whether from TV or a smartphone – is something we should be careful about.

A Few Ideas to Turn the TV Off…

So how can we avoid that? Here are a few common-sense ideas gleaned from reading myriad sources on this subject over the past few years – a few of which I’ve attempted, imperfectly, to implement in my own life:

  • Go outside for a walk every day, even if for a few minutes
  • Exercise as often as you can, preferably outside
  • Read a physical book
  • Journal every day in the morning to clear your head
  • Establish a regular prayer rule
  • Spend a period of time each day in stillness and quiet
  • Set a regular routine for your mornings and evenings
  • Go camping every now and then, in a real tent, under the stars
  • Spend time outside next to a campfire at night
  • Make TV time purposeful and limited, then turn it off when done

We are all distracted, and we all struggle to live in the now. As the iDevices and internet and virtual reality and waves of new content surround us more and more by the day, that struggle becomes more and more challenging.

May we perservere in the battles against distraction which we all must fight every day.

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