Television's Effect on Society

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The introduction of television to society is one of the most significant social events in the twentieth century. The first advertisements for the television pictured a family gathered around the set with “Sis on Mom’s lap, Buddy perched on the arm of Dad’s chair, Dad with his arm around Mom’s shoulder” (Winn 352). Today, ninety percent of American households possess a television and the average American home has more television sets than people. The average daily viewing time per adult in the United States is 4.5 hours, making television the most important leisure activity among Americans (Bruni and Stanca). In the United States, most television viewing is done alone. People devote more time to watching television than they do talking with their spouse or playing with their children and one third to one half of viewing is done in isolation. American teenagers watch less than 5% in the company of their parents (McDonald 71). By grabbing our attention, television has caused a dramatic decline in civic participation. “From voting to visiting friends, from having neighbours to dinner to joining clubs and giving money to charity, Americans have, since the arrival of television in the late 1950s, demonstrated a dramatic withdrawal from collective participation in their communities’ lives” (McDonald 72). The television has also helped in creating a “community of consumption” in which possession of the same popular bands and styles is what binds us together as people (Belk and Pollay). Individuals want more and are in favor of what has been advertised as “new and improved”. We are defining ourselves by what brand of clothes we wear, to the music we listen to, to the kind of car we drive. The television portrays our ideal self image, presents detailed instruction on how to live, and strengthens the desirability of the material life depicted. Unfortunately, the consistent viewing of newer and better products has caused people to become unhappy because they compare themselves unfavorably with the beautiful world of advertising. Therefore, not only has television caused individuals to be less involved in civic engagement and desire more material possessions, it has also led to unhappiness. Television viewing removes individuals from active social interaction and weakens their ability to contribute to society. Healthy communities are those with high levels of social capital and regular mutual contribution. When individuals become lost to television, they fail to participate in the living culture around them. Dr. Ross McDonald, a professor at the University of Auckland, states: The decline in civic participation that comes with televisions arrival reflects an overwhelmingly inter-generational shift. Closer analysis of the downward trends observable across the developed world reveal that older generations (those who might be said to have come to maturity before television permeated the collective consciousness) have maintained very high levels of community contribution. The overall trend to withdrawal comes from those raised, at least in part, by commercial television. These televised-to generations exhibit an ever greater reluctance to identify with, and commit to, active community life (74). According to Robert Putnam of Harvard University, in the early years, television watching was concentrated among the less educated sectors of the population, but during the 1970s the viewing time of the more educated sectors of the population began to rise. Television viewing increases with age, particularly upon retirement, but each generation since the introduction of television has begun its life cycle at a higher starting point. By 1995, viewing per household was more than 50% higher than it had been in the 1950s. Television viewing has crowded our leisure activities. It consumes 40% of the average American’s free time (Putnam 677). Each hour of viewing time is associated with less social trust and less group...
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