I read a really eye-opening statistic last night, courtesy of A.C. Nielsen: by the age of 65, the average American has spent nine years watching television.
Four hours per day adds up to two full months of TV-watching every year. Two months!
I don’t know if I can adequately describe how those numbers took my breath away.
At the risk of sounding extremely sanctimonious, I don’t watch television (not online and not on my regular TV). Very occasionally I will indulge in a few episodes of something, but that literally happens maybe twice a year. I also don’t let my children watch TV shows. This is not because I want to be a holier-than-thou mother who looks down her nose at the common folk who let their children rot their brains on cartoons, but because I don’t watch it myself. My oldest is almost five years old, and I’m glad that he doesn’t have any “regular shows” (they always ask this when we get his hair cut, so they can put one of his “regular shows” on to entertain him, like they do with all kids). It doesn’t even occur to me to turn on the TV or open up my laptop to let either the oldest or his 17-month-old baby brother watch something, except when I’m in a real bind and then it’s only the oldest who’s allowed to watch twenty minutes or so of some old Disney cartoons on Youtube. This happens maybe once a month, when I need to do something like shower for the first time in 5 days before I have a school conference.
I watched a lot more TV when I was younger. Definitely more when I was a kid, and also more when I was in my twenties. I watched the nightly news (sometimes both the 6:00 and the 11:00) and I watched a couple shows minimum in between. Back in the day, I loved Friends and Seinfeld and Law and Order. I was definitely watching at least a couple hours a night, probably more like three or four. But as the years passed, my interest in television dwindled. I can’t say why, except that I realized the news made me anxious and fearful and I stopped watching. And maybe also that I started getting interested in spending my time doing other things, like writing and showing dogs and running and many others.
Slowly, without really intending it, all of television fell away entirely.
When I went to a creativity conference in Florence in 2010, I met a vibrant woman at the conference whose husband had tagged along for the trip. She was staying at the conference hotel (I was staying in a pensione) and was complaining that their DVD player in their room didn’t work. She was mad that they couldn’t watch anything one night.
I was like, really? (not in a condescending way, more in a mystified way) How can a person come all the way to the magnificent city of Florence, Italy and…want to watch DVDs in their hotel room at night?
I don’t get it.
So when I read that statistic–two entire months wasted on TV every year, adding up to NINE years by the age of 65–it made me so glad once again that I don’t watch TV. This life we have–this one life–is so vibrant and awesome and full that I can’t imagine wasting it on television. I want to smell the loamy summer night air, I want to stick my hands in the soil in my garden and plant more coreopsis, I want to watch my kids run in the sprinklers, I want to push them on the swings, I want to fall into a good book after they’re asleep and practice my piano and paint and meditate. I don’t want to get to sixty-five with nine wasted years.