Can TV help improve your life?

Tanner | May 31, 2011

On any of the Saturday or Sunday mornings of my youth, you could find me sitting directly in front of the large screen television in my family’s living room for hours on end.

You probably weren’t much different though; back then most of us were like that. For many children of the 80s and 90s TV time wasn’t restricted to weekends alone. After school and occasionally before, you could find most children planted firmly in front of the colorful, steadily glowing box that has now become a staple of any American household.

Those cable TV watching habits are just as strong with the youth of today. As the children from the golden age of television grow up and become adults they’re continuing to spend more and more time watching television than ever before, and they’re passing their watching habits onto their children.

With a television in nearly 99% of all American households[1], perhaps now would be an ideal time to step back and ask ourselves whether it’s healthy for us to be spending so much time in front of a screen. In addition to new technology like Netflix and Boxee allowing us to watch movies and shows from literally anywhere in the world, and with huge media budgets being burned through by major television, maybe we should ask whether it’s good— in any sense of the word — for us to be screen fed this much entertainment?

So, can TV help to improve our lives in any way, even just a little?

The debate on whether TV is good or evil has been going on for some time now. To get right to the heart of the matter, we have to temporarily forget about what we may have heard before and start from scratch. Here are a few important points we’ve put together for you to consider before deciding whether TV can improve our lives or not.

Powerful motivator.

Television has arguably become one of the most powerful motivational tools available today.

Watching characters on TV experience something profound, struggle to overcome obstacles, or just do something downright interesting is often enough to get even the laziest of television viewers feel motivated or get their blood pumping.

Films like “Rocky” and “Braveheart” or “Million Dollar Baby” and “Boiler Room” feature people doing extraordinary — or sometimes just plain ordinary —things in order to achieve their goals, turn their lives around, make a million dollars, or catch the eye of the someone special.

Being able to see the results of a character’s actions on screen makes it easier for us to imagine ourselves doing similar feats. If you’ve ever felt your heart race even a little while watching an action flick, or if you’ve ever felt connected with a character on TV, then you know exactly what I’m talking about here. Whether it’s going for a run, visiting the gym, starting a project, or becoming a world champion boxer,your TV can be a surprising source of motivation to get it done.

Educational tool.

More and more classrooms and homes around the world are using television as an effective and powerfultool for education.

Not only can students learn a lot through television programs, but everyone else can as well. Shows featuring characters who live in other parts of the world helpshow us how different cultures work or help us explore topics and ideas that we may not have considered before.

Shows that surround real-world situations, such as hospitals or crime scene investigations, often explore health and scientific issues that are backed by real-life research, educating the viewing audience without them entirely realizing it.[2]

As an example, in 2007 a story was published in the UK news outlet “The Telegraph” demonstrating the role satellite television has played in helping wild animals, and more importantly, in saving the Indian tiger from utter extinction.

According to the story: “…the villagers have started taking an interest in animals.Instead of avoiding the rangers, [the villagers] are now approaching [rangers] to ask for help with sick animals – a bird with a broken wing, a spotted deer with a foot injury – that sort of thing.The reason? Well, no-one is quite sure but the likely source of inspiration is satellite television which is more and more widely available. Among the favorite channels for often-illiterate villagers, apparently, are National Geographic and Animal Planet which are always showing beautiful wildlife films.”[3]

Being educated on the true nature of their native, wild animals meant that more and more villagers in the country better understood the value of the animals they were killing.Without television the Indian tiger would surely be on the verge of absolute extinction today.

Source of creative inspiration.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you’re bound to find something on the TV. There’s so many options of what to watch that you would be hard-pressed to not find something inspirational, no matter your situation or predicament.

With more than 9,000 unique channels on television being broadcasted throughout the world, there’s a seemingly endless supply of creativity flowing through the “tubes” both night and day.

Whether you’re stuck solving a problem in a relationship, trying to think up a remarkable campaign for your job, or just looking for inspiration for something to do, television undoubtedly has you covered. Not sure what to wear tomorrow? Turn on the TV. Looking for some tasty dinner ideas but unsure what to cook up? There’s an entire TV station for that. Having trouble with a project at work? Try watching a made-for-TV movie.

Of course, taking notes on what you’re watching, thinking critically about the shows that are flashing before your eyes, and even conversing with friends during and after watching TV ensures that you’re using your watching time effectively, rather than simply letting your brain “go dark” as you watch. TV can be a great source of inspiration, all you really have to do is turn it on and pay attention.

Brings people together.

TV can easily become a solitary habit, but it also makes it easy and painless to socialize with friends or family.

When I was around nine or ten my family would get together every weekend to watch the Utah Jazz basketball team stomp their opponents (back when the team was good).

Never being a big fan of basketball, I still found myself looking forward to watching the Jazz play regularly. It was one of the few times during the week when my family could sit down and celebrate (or mourn) something together, passionately.

With so much going on in the lives of family members, television provides one activity that everyone can do together without investing much time or energy. Even if it’s a monthly movie night with friends, television is an easy way to get everyone together. It’s cheap compared to other activities too. Of course you can do a lot more than simply sit down and watch cable TV together. You can make a game out of it, talk about what you’re watching during commercials, and plan celebrations for big events such as the Super Bowl or for season finales.

Encourages change.

Back in 2005 an episode of the hit TV series “ER” was played for US legislators, stirring members of Congress to pass the once easily-ignored Patient Navigator Act.[4]

Members of US Congress aren’t the only ones who are influenced to take action by TV though. According to a 2008 Pew Research report, 72% of Americans learn about election and candidate information from television. That’s a lot of people who are learning about opportunities to change how their government is run through such seemingly passive means.[5]

Through unique ways of presenting data and general information, television has what it takes to not only influence change on individual levels, but it also has the audience necessary to create really powerful change. Consider this: millions of people tune-in every single day to watch their favorite shows, which is a lot of people that can be reached and educated about important issues. If you’re a politician, an activist, or someone with an idea, and you want to influence a change around the world, there’s no better audience to broadcast to then television viewers.

Of course, everything outlined here can be counteracted with negatives. Youth can easily be motivated to do bad just as easily as they can be motivated to do good by watching television. Education through shows or movies is only effective if the you decide to actively be involved in the viewing process rather than passively watching, and the same could be said for using TV as a social platform or as a source of inspiration or a force for change. Ultimately TV can be immensely helpful in improving your life, but it takes some level of active engagement on your part to make it effective.

If you think television can change your life merely by turning it on for half an hour every day, you’re doomed to suffer the widely touted negative effects. Still, it seems undeniable that television can play a positive role in our lives, if we chose to let it. What do you think, have we overlooked some of the finer points? Can television really make an impact in the average person’s life?

Sources: Cosby photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fuzzcat/56318935/ 1: http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/Factsheets/factvchip.html 2: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/nov/13/health/he-media13s 3: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peterfoster/3628041/Satellite_TV_could_save_the_tiger/ 4: http://journals.lww.com/oncology-times/Fulltext/2007/02250/How_an_ER_Storyline_Helped_Pass_the_Patient.14.aspx 5: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1017/internet-now-major-source-of-campaign-news


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