Netflix, the streaming TV service, recently noted that many its users are binge-watching series and finishing them in a week. This got us at The Alternative Daily talking about all the ways that television is bad for one’s physical and emotional health, as well as for broader social awareness and habits.
Netflix says that “binge-watching is clearly the new normal” — 70% of users do it. In the United States, children aged two to 11 watch more 24 hours of television a week and adults watch more than 33 hours. Americans overall watching five hours a day, according to rating service Nielson. The Netflix numbers are lower, an average of 90 minutes of streaming a day, or 568 hours a year.
Here are 13 reasons why this is a problem and, consequently, why we hate TV:
It’s not very meaningful
Television won’t bring you any of the change you want in your life or in the world. The Alternative Daily CEO Jake Carney commented that when he started this website, he didn’t turn a TV on for two years.
It promotes lazy thought
Television shows and advertising are aimed at the lowest common denominator. They recycle tired plot formulas that oversimplify characters, problems and the big issues. They promote easy and quick happiness (just buy a thing, just propose in a really clichéd way in public) and they rarely challenge viewers to think, criticize or question. Alternative Daily writer Megan Winkler commented that “most series really love characters who are self-destructive in one sense or the other. That’s a bummer. I’d like to see people recycling aluminum and plastic the way some writers recycle the same tired tropes again and again.”
It makes you eat unhealthy food
People tend to snack on unhealthy food while watching television. A professor of health sociology, Steve Gortmaker, noted that the advertising also “tends to increase intake of a range of unhealthy food products.”
It creates a world for you
“I hate the fact that I am being fed something by some Hollywood producer that probably makes a ton of money off me sitting on my ass, mouth wide open. Create your own world, create your own adventure instead,” Carney adds. When people watch television, they aren’t being mindful of themselves and their surroundings. Instead, they are attached to the story, visuals and sounds of the screen in front of them, he points out.
It promotes a sedentary lifestyle
According to author Bonny Rockette-Wagner, research indicates that we move even less while watching TV compared with other sedentary activities, like sitting at work. People watching television may not stand up for several hours, but even standing up for a minute every 20 minutes can help your body regulate important substances such as glucose and the hormone insulin.
It causes unrealistic expectations in relationships (and in most aspects of life)
The way television shows portray emergency rooms, police, romances, friendships and even weight-loss is unrealistic and can lead people to have false expectations in their own lives. “The more you believe in popular portrayals of romance on television, the less committed you may be to your real relationship,” the Huffington Post noted, based on research from the journal Mass Communication and Society.
It literally makes you dumber
People who watch more than three hours of TV per day over a period of 25 years were found to be more likely to perform poorly on various cognitive tests, researchers of another study found. Further, children under the age of two who watch television are likely to have decreased language development, according to David Hill, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.
It promotes stereotypes and discrimination
From dating shows that objectify women to news shows with almost exclusively white male news anchors or young while blond female ones, to law and order shows where the criminals are destructive stereotypes of Latino and black criminals, television tends to reinforce racial and gender stereotypes, give voice to those who already have a disproportionate say in the world and ignore poverty and the working class altogether, instead of promoting human diversity. Even outside of the United States, American programming can dominate airtime, leaving little space for local identity, culture and issues.
A few hours watching a movie with a partner or friends can be really nice, and even a bit of alone time with one’s favorite characters can be relaxing. But binge-watching can be a harmful addiction, an avoidance and distraction technique that is socially isolating.
There isn’t a lot of choice
There may be a lot of channels to choose from, but apart from the occasional good documentary or engaging historical drama, most of what airs on television is low quality, under-researched, badly written rubbish, leaving viewers with a false choice of many slightly varied types of crap.
It leaves you with less time for life
Everyone at The Alternative Daily agreed that too much television is a waste of time. A writer for The New York Times wrote in 1939, “TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
How wrong they were! And I have to admit, I don’t understand how people who work one to two full-time jobs manage to squeeze in that average five hours a day of television. But they do, and while it makes sense that people who are exhausted find television an easier leisure activity than a trip to the park or cooking, moderation is key. Most of those five hours a day could be spent doing something much more rewarding, useful or truly relaxing.
Americans spend more than $6 billion per year just paying for the electricity alone to power their television sets, according to Becoming Minimalist. And around $73 billion is spent on advertising every year in the United States. That’s more than the whole economies of many countries, just spent on manipulating people into buying stuff they don’t need and often things that objectively are bad for them.
It sets the bar low for who we look up to
Rather than admiring teachers, firefighters or other people dedicating their lives to helping others and to justice, a lot of people look up to the actors and actresses on television — the “celeb” culture. Idolizing these overpaid people for the most superficial reasons (who really knows them?) can be harmful to one’s self-esteem, with teenage girls in particular aiming to look like someone whose hair was professionally styled every 30 minutes.
We all need down time, time to relax and recharge and to process our day and our troubles. But you’re not processing much when you watch television, and there are lots of alternatives, such as a walk in the park, listening to or playing music, having a daydream (something that’s actually very creative), dancing, taking a bath or shower, getting a massage or having a cuddle, reading a book, taking part in a sport, walking a pet, having a chat over a hot chocolate and simple playing (yep, adults should do it too — it promotes curiosity). Mucking around with your photos, doing some craft or adult coloring, even finger-painting can be both good for your mind and relaxing.