Some years ago it was popular to say of television, “It’s not the medium, it’s the message.” This was in answer to critics who claimed that watching it “rotted the brain.” The retort was that there was nothing wrong with the medium (television) per se, but with the message (vapid sitcoms, etc.). Television could be used to great ends if the message was right.
While television can be used to broadcast good material, there is significant evidence that watching it is in fact deleterious, especially for more than an hour a day. The flickering screen, with the picture angle that changes every eight seconds or so (according to an industry guideline), is devastating to the attention span of the viewer. The fact that it is a purely passive medium, used more often to entertain than to teach, does not help either. At least with radio, the imagination is engaged. No so with television, which supplies just about everything to the passive viewer. None of this helps us or prepares us for true human interaction, in which changing the channel is not an option, entertainment is not always the goal, and the viewing angle isn’t constantly changing. Most teachers will tell you that the average attention span of today’s youth seems to be dismally short.
And now we have added to the mix our cell phone screens and earbuds. The tune-out from real relationships has deepened, attention spans are even shorter, and a kind of particularism has set in wherein I reject you or tune you out because you aren’t exactly what I want right now. Forget reality, bring on the virtual reality!