Controlled By Technology
Robert Kesten wants you to turn off your television. This is not too surprising considering he is the executive director of Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness (formally called TV-Turnoff Network), a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging healthy lifestyles, functional families, and vibrant communities.
As a part of achieving its mission, the organization sponsors the annual TV-Turnoff Week in April. "With the average American family having the television on for eight hours and 40 minutes per day, it is essential that we break that bond to the screen and reintroduce ourselves to our family and friends," says Kesten.
Between televisions and computers, we spend a lot of time looking at screens, and Kesten is concerned we are not controlling our technology so much as we are being controlled by it. "Humans need real human contact; we need to look each other in the eye, we need to hear what others have to say, and we must participate in our families and communities," he says. "With screens encroaching more and more, we do these other things less and less."
Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness wants to encourage people to use technology more responsibly and reap the benefits of being more active and involved in their own lives. The TV-Turnoff Week and other activities sponsored by the organization are intended to be wakeup calls. "Each and every one of us can still make this a better world, just by talking to each other, face to face," says Kesten. "I hope, this coming April, that people will discover people once again."
The influence of media viewing is undeniable. "There is 40 years of research showing the influence of TV on all of us, not just kids," says Kathleen Hart, a child and adolescent psychologist at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Much of that research has focused specifically on the role of violence on TV and other media such as video games. Repeated viewing of violent acts can desensitize us to them, and, in some cases, may lead to copycat behavior. "With children, this imitation is often done with little or no concern for the consequences of the behavior," says Hart. "So children will imitate violence, sassy language, and sexual activity."
Cristina Pieraccini, professor of broadcasting and mass communications at State University of New York at Oswego, agrees. "Too much television stifles creativity and creative thinking skills," she says. "It is too formula-driven, leaves no room for alternative problem-solving and falls often to violent answers."
Aside from the issues with programming content, there are other troubling aspects to excessive television viewing. "Studies show a clear correlation with TV viewing and obesity later in life," says Pieraccini. "If children watch five hours of TV per day and snack at the same time, no wonder we have a childhood epidemic of obesity. Plus, look at the ads—snacks, sweets, and fast food."