Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Simplify: Your Time by Limiting Media Consumption

How much of your precious time is spent or wasted on media consumption? That includes: reading books, magazines, and newspapers; watching TV and movies; listening to radio; and computer and internet time, whether spent playing games, following friends on Facebook, or checking out the latest sports scores. 

To be honest, as I write this, I am sitting at my desk with two computers, one for writing only that never goes online, and the other that is almost always online. I also have my cell phone handy, even though I don't use it much, because Terry can call me if he has problems while out in the boat. My digital camera is sittiing here because I've been using it to put photos on the quilt gallery blog I am preparing to start. I also have my mp3 player nearby - not for music but for the 40+ audiobooks I have on it. And finally, I have my iPod Touch for everything else: music; calendar, notes and reminders; Facetiming, Messaging, and Skypeing with family and friends; travel books for vacations I am planning; TED and Open Culture lectures. I don't use my Nook much anymore, because I found out that I could replace it with my Touch and now have my whole Barnes and Noble library available in both places.

How do You Compare?

According to Jupiter Research, the average American aged 55 and up spends twenty hours a week watching TV, fourteen hours on the internet, three hours listening to the radio, another hour listening to recorded music, three hours reading newspapers, one hour reading magazines, and one hour on the cellphone.

Actually, I watch no TV and don't listen to the radio. I rarely use my cellphone. But I spend a huge amount of time online. I work online, read my news online, communicate with friends and family online. I read and listen to my books offline, but I buy them online and download them to my devices, I guess I'm not one of our generation who is hesitant to use electronics, although I am often frustrated by what I do not know in that area.


Terry pays over $100 per month for Shaw Direct satellite, because it's the only one we can legally get down here in Mexico. I can't even imagine how many channels we have, but I somehow still cannot find anything worth watching. I don't even try anymore. Every once in a while, he'll tell me about a show I might like. As often as not, if I sit down with him to watch, it is more to spend the time together than for the show itself.

Okay, so I know that there are some interesting and educational shows on TV, but how many of us are watching them? I would guess that the steep rise in the number of fake "reality" shows demonstrates what people are spending their time watching. If that was all I had to look forward to, I'd be ready to end it all today.

Studies have shown that people who feel socially isolated tend to form faux relationships with the characters of their favorite TV shows. It helps to deflect feelings of loneliness. Watching TV can become an escape from life. A 2008 study from the University of Maryland showed that people who are unsatisfied with their lives tend to watch 30% more TV than people who are satisfied with their lives.

It has been shown that there is an association between obesity and the number of hours watching TV. More than 70% of American children have a TV in their bedroom. Two-thirds of households have a TV on during meals. Hmmmmm... I wonder how all these facts might be related.

And if that hasn't convinced you of anything - studies have also shown that people who have a TV in the bedroom have less sex than those who don't!

Junk Food News

While I was researching this post, I ran across an interesting article about a guy named Carl Jensen and his organization, Project Censored. They realized that we are getting less and less news on our TV news shows and did an analysis of what is now passed off as news.

Jensen's group says what we are watching is "sensationalized, personalized, and homogenized inconsequential trivia" that is replacing serious investigational journalism." What we are fed as news is really celebrity gossip, sex news, statistics that change daily, such as stock market quotes and box office takes, show business news, stories about fads, anniversaries of celebrity deaths or major events, and sports scores and rumors.

The Good Side of Media Consumption

As I said before, I actually work via the internet. What a wonderful development that is! I can sit in my home in Mexico - or anywhere in the world that has internet - and earn a living or augment a pension.
I recently had a student submit a paper in which he argued that technology is ruining us because we are forgetting how to do things on our own. Of course, he had no idea that he was submitting that paper to a tutor who would answer from another country far away from his little community college in New England. I wanted to argue with him - present the other side. I wanted to remind him of all the wonderful advantages of technology. But that's not my job. So I just gave him some advice for improving his paper and magically sent it back to him through the internet.

I cannot imagine leaving the country of my birth and all of my friends and family to settle in another place so far away without the internet. Letters and occasional phone calls could never replace almost-free Skype calls, Flicker photos, emails, and messaging. Without this wonderful technology, I would have surely moved back to Oregon by now to be near my kids.

I had to wait until I was almost 40 before I finally had an opportunity to go to college. I learned many wonderful things and loved every minute of it. But the most important thing I learned was a insatiable love of learning. I considered being a librarian so I could have a library of information at my fingertips, but the internet gives me all that and more. 

Is Your Media Taking Over Your Life?

The biggest problem with all this media is that it tends to take over our lives. Friends get together and then spend their time texting other friends on their cell phones. My younger daughter spends every minute of free time playing games online. I know lots of people who are wasting their retirements watching TV all day long. I've had to "unfollow" other writers on Twitter because they send out a non-stop string of tweets that bury the few I really want to receive.

I have to be careful that I don't get lost in the internet. I might be learning lots of wonderful new stuff, but when it starts to take over my writing time, I realize that I've lost control.

Taking Back the Control

And control is the key, so I've set some rules for myself:
  • Exercise first. I do yoga as soon as I get up so it doesn't get postponed.
  • I read the news first thing when I get online. No more news until the next morning.
  • I check and respond to emails right after the news and again at night before I get off the computer.
  • I start my "official" (paycheck-earning) work immediately after breakfast.
  • When the "official" work is done, I walk away from the computer. I take a walk to the market, work in my garden, cook some soup or bake some bread. Anything to get away from the computer.
  • Afternoons are writing time. I either work on this blog or some other writing project I've got going.
  • In the evening, I take a walk. I get out and see how the world is doing. I also listen to the book I am currently "reading" on my mp3. The better the book, the longer I walk.
TV, radio, or video games don't tempt me at all, but this is the way I keep from losing myself in the internet. I believe that most of my internet usage is healthy and good, but it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

Whatever your media vice, make an honest assessment. Is it taking over your life? Is it interfering with family time? Is it getting in the way of your health? Preventing exercise? Encouraging over-eating?

Try timing yourself. How much time do you really spend in front of the TV, or playing video games? How many hours are you sitting around reading books or magazines? Are you constantly checking for emails or text messages?

Try taking a break from whatever vice is interfering with living a healthy, happy life. Have a TV-free day once a week. Try it for a week-end. How about a whole week?

Spend Sunday morning breakfast time actually talking with your family rather than buried in the newspaper.

Instead of escaping to the internet, consider getting out and enjoying nature. Go for a walk or even a hike. Pack a picnic lunch and go to the park. Invite some friends to come along



  1. I totally agree with you about junk food news, which you find not only on TV but all over the Internet as well (can you say aol?). We don't watch a whole lot of TV, mostly b/c we can't find any good programs. We just got Netflix. But I don't think it's going to change our lives b/c so far we're finding the same problem -- more channels, but fewer good programs.

    Don't have a TV in the bedroom -- the very thought makes me shiver. We read in bed at night. It's guaranteed to put you to sleep; and reading a book is rarely a waste of time.

    Btw, you are so right about friends!

  2. Kathy,
    I am rarely on my cell phone, but I do spend a considerable amount of time on the internet. Naturally curious, I find it a great resource for learning. I use blog time to relax but have learned to "limit" time spent since that is an area that could easily get out of balance for me.

    TV watching is fairly limited - I enjoy a couple of dramas but rarely watch them real time, so I usually catch up next day by computer on the affiliate station. I agree completely with your comments about real news - hard to find a station that doesn't sensationalize or out-right misrepresent facts.

    Love Netflix and use "instant watch" about 3 x per week for movie watching.

    Not a fan of Twitter and see no need to follow any of my friends or family 24/7. Just one meaningful conversation weekly to "catch up" on life is sufficient in most cases - I do rely on Facebook posts for much of my family time (nieces, nephews, etc. who aren't near by)

    I, like you believe that my use of the internet is healthy, but have also realized that it can consume a lot of time quickly if not kept in check. Thankfully, I have a full life outside the house and am able to maintain balance.

    Enjoyed your thoughts.

  3. I watch more TV in the fall (its that football thing) and do enjoy a few shows-when TV is good, like HOmeland for example, it's very good. You just have to sift through the chaff. I'm at home most evenings and after dinner is tv and knitting time many days-at least for a few hours.

    I've recently begun doing no technology on Sunday unless my family wants to skype. I spend to much time on the internet but there are so many patterns, recipes, and travel articles that i get caught up.

    I do divide up my days. I walk every day, and I go outside every day the weather isnt poopy. I try and keep mornings for the internet and the afternoons for non, not that it always works.I have a smart phone and as someone who road trips cross country, I will never give it up. Besides it has credit card program and reader attachment for craft fairs-I can sell anything anywhere at any time, lol.

  4. Kathy, I totally agree that we should make a schedule and stick to it as far as media consumption goes. I do tai chi the first thing every morning because as the day goes on and I get busy, I don't get to it. We still take a newspaper but I read it over lunch.

    I work at home on my computer too so I have to focus on the work at hand before I do any answering emails or getting sidetracked.

    I do a lot online too as far as finding cheaper prices on items I use daily and ordering, rather than running around shopping for them.

    I do agree too that there isn't much to watch on TV. My husband and I DVR the shows we like and watch in the evening but I don't watch anything else all day.

    Lots of great thoughts in your article.

  5. Good post! I also have to limit my media time so it doesn't eat up my days. Like you, I work out first thing in the morning, then check email and news. I read blogs during my work breaks. I check email and news once again at night. But on the weekends, I spend 4-8 hours a day blogging! However, no TV or gaming. It's not really balanced, but it's working for now!