Like all Baby Boomers, I grew up with television. I cut my teeth on “Captain Kangaroo” and “Sesame Street.” I graduated to sitcoms: “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bewitched,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “Happy Days,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Good Times.”
Saturday mornings I woke early and enjoyed the host of characters from Warner Brothers: Bugs Bunny,Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Pepé Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales, and the Tasmanian Devil. It’s amazing that one man, Mel Blanc, was the voice behind all of those voices.
As I moved into my pre-teen and teen years I began to show interest in “American Bandstand” and sometimes “Soul Train.” I watched family shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons.”
Occasionally, my sister and I would watch a movie together. I remember crying when Ole Yeller died and feeling sick as I watched the slave Kunta Kinte, in Alex Haley’s epic, “Roots,” being beaten for refusing to acknowledge the new name given to him by his slave owner.
I can remember several of the Apollo missions and seeing our astronauts being plucked from the ocean after splashdown. I remember the night Henry Aaron hit home run 715. Because I lived in his home county, I remember when George Wallace was shot in the 1972 Presidential race. I remember Watergate because it seemed like it was always being covered and it kept me from watching other shows.
Of course afternoons were dominated with soap operas like “All My Children” and “Days of our Lives.” Game shows like “The $20,000 Pyramid,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “Hollywood Squares,” and “Password” ran for years and “The Price is Right” is still showing.
Later, I learned that it wasn’t quite a full day until I heard Johnny Carson’s monologue.
For most Americans my age, television played an important role in our lives. Apart from it, we would have been disconnected from Americana. Not having television would have been like not having indoor plumbing.
When my wife and I moved to Jefferson, Georgia four years ago, it was a no brainer whether we would get cable television service. The question was, “which cable provider?”
So like I’ve done on so many other nights in my life, after a long day, I would watch two or three hours of television, channel surfing, flipping the stations dozens and dozens of times, trying to find something to hold my attention. Rarely did I have a date with a favorite show. Channel surfing was just a way to try to unwind and allow the stresses of the day to fall away.
About a year ago it occurred to me that television did little to relax me. Ironically, as cable TV has added to the number of stations we can watch, the quest for something good to watch has gotten harder, not easier. Remember the days when there were just three channels: ABC, NBC, and CBS?
Each time I have traveled to places like Liberia and Peru, I have had a television vacation and I’ve discovered that I didn’t miss it very much. After seeing places like these, where many people make less in a year than Americans spend on cable, I started to rethink whether I should even subscribe to cable.
A few months ago I began to look for cheaper alternatives to cable. I finally purchased Apple TV, mainly because I own an Apple computer. However, we aren’t subscribing to any of the monthly services offered through the streaming box. Since then my wife and I have cut out most of the television from our lives. When we do watch a show, we watch it free through the Internet.
Surprisingly, we have not missed the chatterbox that much. In addition to saving $600 a year, Tina and I read more. We enjoy quieter evenings. We can talk to each other without asking, “What did you say?” as the television vies for our attention. I confess, that was usually my line.
We have not been completely without boundaries with television in the past. When we had children in the house, they were not allowed to watch any television or play video games during the week as they went through school. 2010 University of Michigan Heath Care System report stated that television viewing among kids was at an an eight-year high. On average, children ages 2-5 spent 32 hours watching television, DVDs, DVR and videos, and using a game console each week. Kids ages 6-11 spent about 28 hours with these devices.
Our no TV/gaming rule helped our children focus on their homework and their athletics. Today we notice that television doesn’t play much of a role in their lives.
However, I wonder if this current generation will look back on their usage of the Internet and other social media in much the same way I look back at the television of my youth. For some people the use of mediums like Facebook, Internet gaming and chat rooms have replaced time spent watching television. The Internet is more addictive and has much more potential for harm and good than television ever did.
While much good will continue to be reaped from the Internet, I predict that addiction to social media and Internet usage in various forms will continue to grow and will become epidemic for two reasons. One, people are hungry for relationships and have a void of meaningful relationships in their lives. People are trying to fill those voids through online relationships. However, most of the time these relationships are pseudo relationships. They are superficial. Like a drug, once the high of connecting with people is over, they have to return to computer to get another fix.
Secondly, research has found that certain Internet usage actually releases dopamine in the brain, creating withdrawal type of symptoms when a person goes long periods without using it. To compound the problem, Internet usage that becomes addictive is usually not in constructive areas but is spent in fantasy worlds, viewing pornography, on gambling sites, or engaging in relationships that jeopardize a relationship with a spouse, other family members, or an employer.
The Internet and social media are shaping Americana like television did in my generation. While these mediums are neither good nor bad, they can become bad if they control us, consume us, and lead to make choices that are destructive and immoral.
A man named Paul was writing a letter to a church and discussing whether it was moral to eat anything they wanted to eat. He wrote: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say ‘but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything “but I will not be mastered by anything.” I Corinthians 6:12 (RSV).
This wisdom clearly applies to our television and Internet usage. The amount of usage each of us decides is good will differ. However, there are a lot of people who are being mastered by the electronics. Their lives are being controlled by a relationship built in a chat room, reaching the next level in an Internet game, online gambling, a fantasy life built online, the tens of thousands of texts messages they send and receive in a month, by a shopping network on cable, or by hour after hour of sports watched day after day.
Forty years ago my parents could leave me in front of the television and not worry too much about what I was going to see or hear. Even if I overdosed on Andy Griffith reruns, the content wasnâ€™t going to harm me.
Today, whether it’s cable television, the Internet, or other forms of social media, if we are not accountable to one another for what we are seeing or hearing, whether we are children, teenagers, or adults, we are likely setting ourselves up for a fall, or we are allowing our family members to think that we are above wandering off into an Internet or cable wilderness.
Even though I’ve discovered that there is life after cable, I realize I can easily substitute the time I spent in front of the television for time on the Internet. If not done in moderation, or with boundaries, the time I spend on the Internet can become a negative influence on my life. So in order to be accountable with my computer it is visible and open, both at home and at work for others to see, knowing that “an open rebuke is better than unspoken love” Proverbs. 27:5 (ISV).
While I see television playing a much smaller role in my life going forward, it’s difficult to see computers ever playing a small role, but even so, they must never dominate or control my life. If we are ever mastered or controlled by anything other than God’s Spirit, we can be sure that the results will not be good.