Let me preface this by saying that I watch a fair amount of TV. Not nearly as much as most of my fellow USians, but a fair amount. I am not saying that no one should watch TV, ever, but that perhaps we should be a bit more critical of it as a society.
Turn on your TV set (or imagine that you are). Find a show that you like that is not a sitcom or news and takes place during the modern era. Now wait for the protagonist to sit down and watch some TV. Chances are, you will be waiting for a while. Those doctors, detectives, scientists that you like so much don’t really watch TV, or if they do, it is to catch the big game or to watch a news snippet. They don’t go home every night and plunk down for an hour or two of TV.
Now, think of how you relate to those characters. At some level, you probably want to be as smart, funny, or interesting as those people. It would be cool to do interesting things, wouldn’t it? So what does that have to do with the amount of TV that they watch? Two things. First, watching someone watch TV is about as interesting as watching them go to the bathroom, less so even, since we see a lot more of the latter. Second, they don’t have time. If they went home and watched TV every night, they wouldn’t have the time to do all of the things that their fictional lives require of them.
What I’m saying is that by spending a lot of time watching fictional characters do interesting things, you pretty much prevent yourself from doing interesting (or heck, useful but boring) things, by definition.
Last year, the New York Times ran a story reporting that in 2010 Americans watched an average of 34 hours of television per person, per week. That sounds like a lot, but it sounds like more when you do some math with it. There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming that people sleep eight hours per day, that leaves 112 hours. Now, if you work 9-5 five days a week, and have a half-hour commute each way (and many work longer and commute farther), that leaves 67 hours. That means that Americans spend 30% of their waking hours watching TV, and over 50% of their free time. Another way of putting this is that Americans watch 4.85 hours of TV per day. On a workday, that would leave you a little over two hours each day to do things like eat or raise your family. Most people probably aren’t that determined to watch TV on weekdays, however, probably clocking in closer to three hours (a guess on my part), which would then mean that they spend 19 hours watching TV on the weekends.
You probably get my point by now. People in the United States watch a lot of TV. Maybe next time my neighbor comments on how much yard work we get done over the summers I will just point to the ever-present blue-white glow of their TV visible through their front window.
I’m going to go do something interesting, maybe you should, too.