Thursday, December 27, 2012

TV as a time waster - another gem by Bill Bonner

I read this excellent financial newsletter by Bill Bonner, which has educated me more about life then many books I have read.
Here is another gem about TV and its awesome time wasting power. Some of the calculations are hard to digest - but truthful
The Bonner Family - Zombified!

Baltimore, Maryland

Yes, we have succumbed to the biggest zombie-maker of the last 50 years. As a Christmas present to the family, Pater Familias bought a large-screen TV and put it down in the rec room. But is it really a benefit? Or a curse?

The background: we have lived for 30 years happily without television. We watched neither the news, nor sports. Ask us a question about popular culture...we wouldn't know the answer. We had no conversation about what appeared on TV the night before, because we didn't see it. We didn't know how to operate a TV remote control.

If we watched more TV today, we'd know more about something. But what?
We'd know that the US was scheduled to go over the 'fiscal cliff' next Monday...or so. We'd probably think this was a very important thing. Heck, everybody's talking about must be important, right? Here's the Reuters' report:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday warned that the United States looks to be headed over the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts that will start next week if squabbling politicians do not reach a deal.

    "It looks like that is where we're headed," Reid said of the likelihood of the U.S. economy going over the "fiscal cliff" - with tax increases on most working Americans and automatic spending cuts kicking in next month.

    Reid urged House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, to bring his chamber back into session and to avoid the biggest impact of the "fiscal cliff" by passing a Democratic-backed bill extending low income tax rates for all Americans except those with net household incomes above $250,000 a year.

We're programmed by millions of years of natural selection to pay attention to the news. Imagine sitting around in camp 20,000 years ago. A fellow runs in and tells us that an enemy tribe is about to attack. Better pay attention!

News was important. There wasn't much of it. But it could be a matter of life and death.

But what about today's TV news? Is it important? Does it matter? Or is it just noise...causing us to react to things that we can't really understand or control...?

The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV per day - 34 hours per week. In other words, the average American spends as much time watching television as the average Frenchman spends at work! If he has a job...

Since we have not owned a TV since 1985, we have missed out on a lot of "TV knowledge." If we had watched as much TV as the average American we would have spent 47,736 hours - or 1,200 work weeks - or the equivalent of 24 years' worth of 40-hour work weeks -- sitting on our fat derrieres watching the boob tube.

Which is why we didn't own one.

What did we miss? What do people who spent all that time watching TV know that we don't know? On the other hand, what do we know that they don't know?

Not every innovation increases output. Some make us poorer, not richer, by increasing consumption rather than production.

When the television was first invented, it was considered a huge breakthrough. People thought it would be used to educate the masses. The hoi polloi would no longer have to live in ignorance, said proponents. They imagined TV shows that taught people to use better grammar...or that taught history...or mathematics. They saw a whole range of TV programs that brought the lower classes into the offices, homes and lives of the upper classes...people who were better educated, people with better manners and better working habits. They thought the television would improve the quality of peoples' lives by showing them better ways to live.

We recall a childhood friend who, in about 1958, got up early to watch an educational show on TV. Our friend was trying to learn Russian. It didn't work. TV is too passive. It's too easy to turn to another channel. TV doesn't challenge the soothes sedates allows him to occupy his mind without actually thinking about anything.

The lower classes took to the TV in a big way. But they didn't use it for self improvement. They used it to waste time. They were zombified by it...spending hours...days...weeks...months...and years of their lives sitting in front of it. That's part of the explanation for why wages at the low end have gone nowhere in the last 40 years - people at the bottom are wasting their time!

What do people have to work with? Time...resources (including energy)...and skills. Waste time and you waste life itself. You will grow poorer. TV is a time-waster...a life-waster.

Fortunately, the Bonner family avoided TV for three decades. The children grew up without one. We spent most of our career without one. As far as we can tell we're better off without it.

Why then would we set up one now? Are we going soft? Are we getting stupid? Are we becoming zombies Stay tuned!

Last night, Edward, 19, and one of his friends were watching a Japanese crime movie. It had subtitles, which allowed us to see that Japanese thugs are no more eloquent than English-speakers. They were much more polite however. One lowlife bowed at his superior, who in turn bowed to his boss. Then, the lowlife got whacked. And then his boss got whacked. And it looked like they were all going to get whacked in a yakuza mob war.

"Hey, it's shouldn't be watching that sort of thing," we said. "Let's watch something nice."

We ended up watching Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation." Chevy was determined to have an 'old fashioned Griswold family Christmas.' But everything goes wrong. And having the extended family come for the holidays is not as sweet as he had hoped. But despite explosions, fires, auto accidents, kidnappings and a SWAT team all comes right in the end.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.