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Too Much...

Technological Addiction

by DAVID MACARAY

Didn’t the ancient Greeks—Plato or Aristotle—recommend that all things be done in moderation? Leave it to those ancient Greeks to hit the nail on the head, because that advice (along with “Know thyself” and “Payback is a bitch”) comes very close to falling into the category educated people might call “wisdom.”

Not to be snotty, because it’s obvious that those ancient philosophers knew what they were talking about, but if Greece had followed its own advice, it wouldn’t have suffered that embarrassing financial meltdown traceable to “immoderate”—indeed, insatiable—greed, and wouldn’t be facing the dreadful austerity measures it now faces. But I digress.

Because the dictum, “moderation in all things,” makes eminent sense, it raises an entertainment question: How much television is “too much? Is that even a fair question, or is it too subjective to be meaningful? Because if we believe there is such a thing as “too much” TV, by whose standard do we make that determination? Do we ask a psychiatrist? A professor? A CEO? Do we ask the Greeks? As far as I know, there is no mention of television in the Bible.

Consider: If we take the view that we can, in fact, watch “too much” TV, then what’s our cut-off point going to be? Forty hours a week? Fifty hours? Fifty hours sounds excessive, but believe me, it can be easily done, even in Athens. Conversely, if we insist that “too much” TV is simply a construct invented by snobby people, does that give us permission to watch as much as we like? Can we watch 90 hours a week without guilt?

Of course, this problem derives not from some character flaw, but from technology. This is totally a technological dilemma. It wasn’t that long ago when there were only three major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), along with a sprinkling of local stations. Moreover, with VCRs not yet invented, there was no way to record a show for later viewing. We either saw it live, waited until summer to see it in re-runs, or we missed it (and were forced to do something other than watch television).

But today, with cable TV, the networks not only number in the hundreds, but we can record shows for later viewing. We not only get to see any show we like, we can plan our day or week (or life) around them. We can rent movies, have movies mailed to our home, and stream movies. Not only movies, but TV shows, and not only relatively recent TV shows, but vintage TV shows. For crying out loud, we can go on YouTube and watch shows from the 1950s and 1960s.

The problem with television is that there is too much of it. Too much great stuff, too much good stuff, too much crap, too much in-between. And because all the new stuff is gushed over by the critics, it naturally makes me want to see it. I want to see everything. There was a time when the notion of “binge-watching” would have disgusted me. Today it comes dangerously close to defining me.

David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition). dmacaray@earthlink.net