A Magic Screen

There’s a commercial out there that’s kind of been bothering me from the first time I saw it. It’s got a bunch of people with glow sticks drawing flickering images against a twilight or nighttime background of a park with a fountain. The voice over asks you what you dreamed about when you were a child, mentions things like space travel and other imagined adventures for the future. And it leads to talk about a magic screen that you could keep in your pocket so that it would entertain you on command. It’s a commercial for Sprint, I think, and it makes me uncomfortable.

This ad assumes that our own imaginations play second fiddle to what someone on the other side of this technology imagines for us. It baldly exploits our preference for passive entertainment. And it could be one of the most on-target advertisements I’ve seen in some time. Which also makes me sad.

I still watch too much television. I can’t seem to break myself of the habit, the addiction. I’ve tried, and I’ve struggled to find balance before. I try not to blame TV itself, because like anything we do, it is just another way for a message to be delivered, a story to be shared, another way to sell something to someone who will find that something useful. It is what it is.

I am a big advocate for personal responsibility. So I try, and often fail, to distance myself from the glowing box when I begin to realize that this addiction of mine is starting to affect other areas of my life. To affect my mental state, my emotional contentment, my intellectual, creative and educational pursuits.

Yesterday morning, I willed myself not to turn on the television. This quickly turned into just a little bit of a show while I eat breakfast. I promised myself that I would turn it off if there was nothing on, which was highly likely for a late Saturday morning. I watched the whole episode of Trading Spaces and kept the TV on while I worked on my laptop on the couch. I turned it off when I showered, telling myself again that there was no reason to hit that power button another time when I finished. But I did. I flipped from guilty pleasure reality shows to romantic comedies I’ve seen a thousand times and back again as I attempted to make our scrunched up living room area somewhat neater and folded the laundry on the kitchen table so it could finally be put away. It’s not that I wasn’t productive as the television played on, but in the back of my mind all day long was the idea that I might be more productive had I just kept the thing turned off.

I found myself getting worried these last few days that this addiction of mine will become damaging. If it isn’t already. Not only damaging to me, to my own creativity and productivity, but to my family’s. I enjoy my time so much more when I find myself connecting with my husband or a friend in conversation than when we are silently staring at the moving pictures in front of us. Especially this summer. There are only reruns and syndicated sitcoms we’ve seen dozens or more times on the same channels day after day. We don’t learn anything. We barely even remember anything. And often, we let it all play on even after we’ve tuned it out and gone into our own projects, magazines, books, or web surfing, distracting us at a background level.

I worry that leaving the television off for even one day will make this room seem empty somehow. I worry that I will have children who end up as tied to this magic screen as I am, losing their own creativity and unique thoughts and ideas and expressions in the midst of all the regularly scheduled programming. Because I find it difficult to leave the house on my own, I fear that I will unintentionally pass on a limited view of our neighborhood, of the world at large.

I don’t watch television or movies on my cell phone or on any other portable devices. All of that is still new enough that I can deny it because I’ve only become exposed to all of it as an adult. But I worry about how all of this will effect my children with just how commonplace and accepted it’s become.

We tune in to television and tune out the world. Our entertainment becomes increasingly violent and shocking because we’ve become accustomed to and bored with everything else. Text messaging makes communication easy but connection more and more difficult. We are already a society focused on the individual wants and needs, the selfish, the more-better-now, instant gratification. And as much as I try to resist, it is more difficult to resist than to blindly consume.

I’m not trying to pretend that I’m better. I’m not. I am vulnerable, but I often feel the need to try harder, to do better than I have been doing. Because I can only change myself. I want to be a good example for those who will be looking at me for one. I hope I will be strong enough to follow through.

Comcast has a series of commercials to promote their “triple-play” deal. A man on the phone with his girlfriend is surfing the Internet at the same time and isn’t listening to what she’s saying. She accuses him of “snurfing” and hangs up on him. Yet somehow, this is supposed to make us want the ability to “snurf” ourselves via Comcast’s phone and web services. Another man is sitting on a couch in front of a TV with a computer on his lap and a phone to his ear while an older man talks to him from a reclining chair in the same room. The wife comes in and says, “He can’t hear you.” The elderly man looks confused and asks why not. It’s because he’s “televisiphonerneting.” And because of this scenario, we are supposed to get the cable/phone/Internet from Comcast so we can do the same. So we can ignore our loved ones in favor of mindless distraction. This is what I’m talking about. This is what scares me.

We have information at our fingertips. We can send and receive messages practically unconsciously. There is so much talking going on, but what’s really being said? I’m not trying to knock the technology, lord knows I love it and use it as much as the next guy. But I have to keep thinking and questioning, if only for my own sanity. Which is why I write these meandering paragraphs and strive to sift some real connection from all the noise.

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