EFFECTS OF TELEVISION ON THE BRAIN
(Continued from File 6)
VI. TELEVISION: THE INVISIBLE PHENOMENON
1. TELEVISION HYPNOTIC EFFECT
If you could somehow drop all preconception of television and read this list as though people were describing some instrument you had never seen yourself, the picture you would obtain is of a machine that invades, controls and deadens the people who view it. It is not unlike the alien-operated "influencing machine" of the psychopathic fantasy.
- "I feel hypnotized when I watch television."
- "Television sucks my energy."
- "I feel like it's brainwashing me."
- "I feel like a vegetable when I'm stuck there at the tube."
- "Television spaces me out."
- "Television is an addiction and I'm an addict."
- "My kids look like zombies when they're watching."
- "TV is destroying my mind."
- "My kids walk around like they're in a dream because of it."
- "Television is making people stupid."
- "Television is turning my mind to mush."
- "If a television is on, I just can't keep my eyes off it."
- "I feel mesmerized by it."
- "TV is colonizing my brain."
- "How can I get my kids off it and back into life?"
People are saying they are being hypnotized, controlled, drugged, deadened, but they do not assign validity to their own experience. Yet if there is any truth in these descriptions, we are dealing with a force that is far more powerful and subtle than Aldous Huxley's hypnopaedic machines in his book Brave New World. If television "hypnotizes," "brainwashes," "controls minds," "makes people stupid," "turns everyone into zombies," then you would think it would be an appropriate area of scientific inquiry. In fact, someone should call the police!
Science has a name for such collections of descriptions. They are called "anecdotal evidence" or "experiential reports." Such reports are not totally ignored by researchers, although they are not exactly taken seriously either. In the case of television, there is the problem that the symptoms are not fatal, they are subtle. Few people go to doctors complaining about them. They therefore remain below the threshold of visibility for scientific inquiry. Even when such reports are noticed, science does not accept them as valid unless they have been put through the grinder of scientific proof. Since it is beyond science to validate exactly what is meant by "zombie" or "brainwash" or even "addiction" or even "hypnosis," these symptoms inevitably remain unproved, leaving people who need external validation at a loss.
One major result of modern science has been to make people doubt what they would otherwise accept as true from their own observation and experience. Science, medicine, psychology and economics all deeply depend on people being mystified by their own experience and blind to the strict limits of scientific method. In this country, where intervention between humans and their inner selves is so very advanced, the mystification is virtually total.
2. TELEVISION DIMS THE BRAIN
Television is watched in darkened rooms. Some people leave on small lights, or daylight filters in, but it is a requirement of television viewing that the set be the brightest image in the environment or it cannot be seen well. To increase the effect, background sounds are dimmed out just as the light is. An effort is made to eliminate household noises. The point, of course, is to further the focus on the television set. Awareness of the outer environment gets in the way.
Many people watch television alone a substantial amount of the time. This eliminates yet another aspect of outer awareness. Even while watching with others, a premium is placed upon quiet. Talking interferes with attention to the set. If you like to look at people while talking, turning your head actually breaks attention. So other people are dimmed out like the light, the sounds, and the rest of the world.
Dimming out your own body is another part of the process. People choose a position for viewing that allows the maximum comfort and least motion, that is, the least awareness of the body because like awareness of external light, sound or other stimuli, awareness of your own body can detract from the focus on the television. Positions are chosen in which arms and legs will not have to be moved. One may shift weight from time to time, or go for a snack, but for most of the experience, the body is quiet.
This dimming out is also true of the internal organs. The heartbeat slows to idle, the pulse rate tends to even out, the brain wave patterns go into a smooth and steady rhythm. Thinking processes are also dimmed.
Overall, while we are watching television, our bodies are in a quieter condition over a longer period of time than in any other of life's non-sleeping experiences. This is true even for the eyes, which are widely presumed to be active during television viewing. In fact, the eyes move less while watching television than in any other experience of daily life. This is particularly so if you sit at a distance from the set or if your set is small. In such cases you take in the entire image without scanning. Even with huge television screens, the eyes do not move as much as they do when seeing a movie, where the very size of the theater screen requires eye and even head movement.
Even when you are working in an office, or reading a book, the eyes move more than they do while watching television. In offices there are always interruptions. While reading, you vary the speed at which you read, go over material and raise your eyes off the page from time to time.
In the wider world outside of the media, the eyes almost never stop moving, searching and scanning. For humans, the eyes are "feelers"; they are one of our major contacts with the world and are forever reaching and studying.
While you are watching television, in addition to the non-movement of the eyeball, there is a parallel freezing of the focusing mechanism. The eye remains at a fixed distance from the object observed for a longer period of time than in any other human experience.
Ordinarily, the process of focusing, defocusing and refocusing engages the eye nonstop all day long, even during sleeping and dreaming. But while you are watching television, no matter what is happening on the screen, however far away the action of the story is supposed to be inside the set, the set itself remains at a fixed distance and requires only an infinitesimal change in focus. The result is to flatten all information into one dimension and to put the viewer in a condition akin to unconscious staring.
However idle the eyes are during television watching, they are positively lively compared to the other senses. Sound is reduced to the extremely narrow ranges of television audio, while smell, taste and touch are eliminated altogether.
EFFECTS OF TELEVISION ON THE BRAIN, PAGE 8