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TV vs The Brain (and the Soul)

(remote control buttons in our sweaty little hands)
(we're lining up and waiting for someone's command)
(we send out for food, get the news on video)
(there's no need for movies, we got HBO)
  - Joe Jackson, lyrics from the song 'T.V. AGE,' © 1982

Joe Jackson was apparently ahead of his time when he wrote that song over 20 years ago, warning of the dangers of TV addiction. Excessive TV watching has been implicated in a number of evils: reduced cardiovascular function and obesity (from lack of exercise), violent behavior, poor performance in school, and other such nasty things. Now comes perhaps the most disturbing potential consequence of all: an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The findings by a team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Friedland, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that the disease is linked to those who were less involved in recreational activities between the ages of 20 and 60 than healthy people with otherwise comparable backgrounds. The one exception to this apparent rule is TV watching. The Alzheimer's patients involved in the study were more avid viewers during mid-life than their healthy counterparts.

Now, this is one fairly small study (about 550 total participants), so further research is needed in this area before definite conclusions can be established. It is uncertain whether too much TV is a genuine risk factor for Alzheimer's, or the result of undiagnosed early symptoms of the disease, or a combination of the two. However, other studies have previously shown that well-educated people are less likely to develop Alzheimer's. This makes a true link with excessive TV watching at least a logical possibility, since in both cases greater exercise of the brain would seem to have an ability to ward off the disease.

When you think about it, TV watching is unique among recreational activities in that it can do all your thinking for you. Unlike radio or reading, for example, there's nothing to visualize. Unlike playing a video game, there's no interaction with the screen, which requires active thought. You just sit there (or lie there) and let the sounds and images flow in. While watching TV is certainly capable of stimulating thought, often it is a completely passive activity, both physically and mentally. You basically allow your mind to be taken wherever the writers and performers want it to go. It's a reasonable theory that large amounts of this low level of mental activity could have a negative impact on the overall functioning of the brain itself.

If anyone who watches a lot of TV doubts that, ask yourself: 'How often do I use expressions in my daily conversations that I picked up from TV?' Think about your speech patterns, the words and phrases you frequently employ, and figure out what their origins were. You might be surprised how often you can trace them back to something on TV. This is because of what happens in the subconscious. Our thought patterns are greatly influenced by what we see, hear and read. They can be much more influenced by TV than other things, because so often there is no critical analysis of what is going into our heads. Without our even being really aware of it, watching TV - particularly in regular large doses - can exert great influence over how we think, specifically because of the reduced levels of brain activity it can cause. Why strain yourself by thinking, when TV can think for you?

Now, I'm sure you doubters are still scoffing. After all, the producers and writers and actors and directors of entertainment programs are constantly claiming that what they put on the air doesn't really influence most people very much. I'm sure you've heard them say this often.

Probably on TV.

But if that's true, if TV watching really doesn't influence most people to a meaningful degree, then why do advertisers spend vast amounts of money to put their commercials on TV? THAT'S the question the media types can't answer, and it chops the legs right out from under their claims. The truth is that if TV didn't have a significant influence on lots of people, those advertisers wouldn't be spending all that money. But it does, and they know it well, so they do. The point is absolutely inarguable. And if it has influence even over those who limit their TV time, it's obvious that 'tube addicts' are likely to be influenced to a much greater degree.

Now, none of this is to say that everyone who watches TV will turn into a mind-numbed zombie. Used responsibly (i.e., with selectivity and moderation), TV can be a good thing, or at worst neutral. As with many things, however, there is a need for caution in its use.

There's also one more level of analysis that needs to be considered: if TV IS influencing your thoughts, then it is also influencing your morals. If you believe in the God of the Bible, as I do, this should be something that makes you stop and think (preferably with the TV turned off), because it is well known that the morals of most of those involved in the production of TV programming - both entertainment and news-oriented - stand in stark contrast to what can be found in the Word of God. Many of these people are consciously, sometimes vehemently, opposed to Biblical morality - and their work clearly reflects it. The more regular doses of their products you put into your head, the more you are allowing these people to exert significant influence on your very soul. In the long run, this is an even greater danger to your well-being than Alzheimer's disease.

So think about what recreational activities you engage in most. If TV is high on the list, the increased risk of Alzheimer's disease is only the latest of numerous good reasons to consider moving it down in your priorities. Heed the warnings both from science and involving Scripture, as well as the words of Joe Jackson:

(pretty soon you won't be able to turn it off at all)
(then it'll turn YOU off - your back's against the wall)

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