Ditch Your TV and Do Your Own Thinking

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 7: Creating Your Source Codesubscribe and buy here

I ditched TV, cold turkey, eight years ago. I never miss it in any way. It was one of the best decisions in my life. When I hang out with friends and they talk about  “current affairs” and “pop culture” it seems totally alien to me. I don’t watch the news, I don’t watch reality shows and no, I don’t watch commercials!

It’s become such anathema to me that I can’t even seem to grasp the concept; I am no longer, if I was ever, able to consume information passively. The era of “old school” media is diminishing and a new era of self-publishing and engaging content is emerging. Many people have asked me: how do you know what’s going on in the world? It’s true, I am less cognizant of wider world affairs than those people who consume an endless diet of information through the news and other forms of media broadcast through the TV. But is this lack of virtual omniscience a bad thing? I’m not so convinced. The issue with media consumption is that today  – more than ever – it is highly polarized: the information is either totally unfiltered (and therefore unverified and at worst, totally lacking in objectivity) or filtered to the most extreme prejudices of the controlling powers (usually corporations or governments). This results in an incredible level of toxicity in the information we consume. The television, the device over which we have the least control over what we choose to consume, represents the very worst of this toxicity.

The issue with media consumption is that today  – more than ever – it is highly polarized: the information is either totally unfiltered, or  filtered to the most extreme prejudices of the controlling powers.

Do Your Own Thinking

Try not listening to the news for a week and I guarantee you’ll feel better. You won’t be constantly exposed to the endless barrage of television violence and media brainwashing. You will survive without knowing the latest developments in Ukraine or Syria; You’ll certainly survive without the latest sporting updates. You’ll be less stressed, which is the most basic terms means you will live longer. I saw my father actually stressing and worrying about the nuclear meltdown crisis in Fukushima, Japan. That’s a lot of fear, but he would be have been way better off without thinking about it at all. Yes, it’s horrible that such a shameful tragedy happened in Japan, but to an extent worrying about something you are powerless to influence is the worst possible use of your energy. Focus on your personal productivity and happiness and you will know where to direct your energy and attention.

People who are watching television have similar thought patterns. They are served the same content over and over again, receiving imprints of billion-dollar advertising programming. Not only are we being reprogrammed by ads, but the television content itself is “an advertisement”. Product placement is rife, sponsorship deals are everywhere and programming the world over is influenced by corporate and government interests. The effect of this is insidious; this information onslaught will, over time, affect and influence your own Source Code. If you don’t define yourself, someone else will!

This is by far the biggest advantage of not watching TV: It is an act of preservation of one of your most valuable skills: the ability to think critically. Lots of information we gather from television is taken for granted. It’s easy to mass media manipulation, and the good news is: You can opt out.

Influence and Control

This is not about living in an information vacuum; nor is it about ceasing to care about the plight of your fellow human beings in times of crisis. It’s about being more selective in where and when you choose to receive information about the world and whether you choose to use your leisure time to consume information that’s pre-loaded with a subtextual agenda. It’s also about designing your areas of focus: The majority of your time and energy should be spent on those areas over which you can exert extensive, direct influence, such as your personal circumstances and your family. These are the things that you can make the most positive impact on, simply by taking action. The more peripheral the situation, the less it should consume your daily attention and energy.

This is not about living in an information vacuum; nor is it about  ceasing to care about the plight of your fellow human beings in times of crisis. It’s about being more selective in where and when you choose to receive information about the world .

I should pause for a moment to talk about activism. There are many individuals out in the world who feel so compelled to act against the myriad disparities of justice, wealth, wellbeing that exist in the world they will take direct action to change it. For these individuals, their chosen area of activism (for they can’t act on all the injustices in the world) become a more direct area of influence by the nature of their increased involvement.  This is laudable, admirable and breaks the mold of those more everyday citizens who are consumed fully with the more mundane tasks of doing the best for themselves and their families. I don’t seek to demean the activists, but their use case stands aside from those of the majority to whom this advice is addressed.

For most, happiness is directly related to the degree to which you feel in control over the events occurring in your life. TV is engineered specifically to make you feel less in control, from the constant stream of world tragedy to the more innocuous tribulations of the daily soaps, all these media serves to “take you away from it all” – to relieve you of your sense of personal accountability, simultaneously relieving and disempowering you. TV is a drug, less overt perhaps than drawing yourself in a bottle of whiskey but the effects over time can be startlingly similar: withdrawal, helplessness; dependence.

For those who seek to act, TV is never going to be the most valuable source of the data and resources required to take action. For those focused on leading lives whose purpose is more deeply rooted in their immediate environment (or those whose ambitions to wield greater influence are longer term) TV is simply a distraction, a sinkhole for enthusiasm and a robber of self-confidence and control.

Put a garbage sack over the TVs in your house for two weeks and see how differently you start to interact with the world around you; It might surprise you how positive the effects are and who knows – maybe you’ll be ditching your TV before you know it.