In case you didn’t notice, the week of April 23rd was “TV Turn-Off Week,” the week Americans (as well as Brits and several other participating countries) are encouraged to leave their TV sets off. To practice “not watching” television.
If, in fact, you didn’t notice, you’re not alone. Despite the promotion in schools across the country, this year’s event drew the lowest participation in the last five-years – with American’s watching a miniscule 1.7% less television than the average 2005 week-to-date.
So how much TV did we watch, exactly? In the average American household during TV Turn-Off Week this April, the television set was on 57 hours and 27 minutes. That works out to more than 8 hours a day. During TV Turn-Off Week. 1.7% less than the week before or the week after.
Maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else think 8 hours of TV a day might be a wee bit too much? I mean, if I left my blender or my lawn mower on 8 hours a day 7 days a week I would expect my friends and neighbors to rally together and say, “Give it a rest, already!” So what is it about this particular appliance that makes us as resistant to turning it off as if it were the oxygen filters on the international space station? What would happen if it went away? If it broke? Would we just die?
For many of us, we might have to rediscover the art of conversation. Reacquaint ourselves with the sound of silence. Read something – something besides TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and the menus of our Tivos. Our kids would have to fill the awkward time between soccer practices with that long-lost art of self-directed play. Good heavens. It sounds stressful.
But not, perhaps, as stressful as some of us discovering that, in the spaces currently filled with the noise, glamour, action, romance and spectacle of television, our lives have atrophied. Withered. We might discover that television has become for many Americans, Christian and non-Christian alike, an artificial life. Prosthetic experience. TV's "magic" is its ability to create the sensations of living, of loving, fighting, exerting, accomplishing, traveling. But at the end of the day, we haven’t gone anywhere and we haven’t done anything. And neither have our kids. Except soccer practice.
TV Turn-Off Week, it seems, is doomed. Blessed with the best of intentions, its creators seem to have severely underestimated the emotional needs met by a glowing cathode ray tube. (Or flat-screen plasma, for the upwardly mobile.) And it isn’t going to get any easier. Hollywood is already focused on the next great frontier, live TV delivered to cel phones. Within a very few years, we’ll be able to fill every waking moment with the warm, comforting drizzle of our pseudo-lives, our fake experiences. No matter where we are. No matter who we’re with. No matter what good we could be doing.
Jesus offered us “abundant lives.” He said, if we followed him, that his burden would be easy and his yoke would be light. Paul asks us to “live lives worthy of God” – lives, he promised, that would be filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Sounds pretty good, huh? But in reality, many of us – even those who call ourselves followers of Jesus – invest more time consuming fake experiences from shallow people than pursuing the real, abundant lives designed uniquely and perfectly for each one of us by the Creator of the Universe. Somehow, in all our cleverness, we've decided NBC is better suited to fill our deepest longings than God.
Earlier this week, our television inexplicably refused to turn on. Of course, a modern, logical mind would conclude the cause was purely technical, and easily corrected. But I couldn’t help but wonder if our loyal television, in a rare technological moment of cognitive self-awareness, was trying to help us. “Here – let me,” he was saying.
If only we could be so wise.