Many people do not realize that television shapes our perceptions of ourselves and effects our self image drastically. People of all age groups see their demographic represented on television and unconsciously begin comparing themselves to the characters and figures they see on TV. People are only able to separate entertainment from reality to a certain degree, but emotionally, people tend to react to what they see on TV as if it were real. This works through a psychological process that television producers and creators are aware of.
Creators of television shows and commercials deliberately create prototypical images of people through characters and representations. These portrayals of people are more attractive, more well spoken and lead more interesting lives than the average person. Television audiences are aware of this frame of TV marketing to a certain degree, but psychologically, they are still affected by observing portrayals of people who lead prettier, more interesting lives than themselves.
People process these portrayals by comparing themselves to the characters they see on TV. Television shows and commercials give people the notion that somehow they are not up to par because they do not look, talk or act like the characters they enjoy on TV. They become wistful and longing to be more impressive so that their lives can resemble that of a TV character.
This way of thinking leads to self image problems. People become dissatisfied with their lives and live in a constant state of self criticism when they are always comparing themselves to TV characters. They become anxious at the thought that their lives will never be as impressive as the characters they see on TV and develop a very negative way of thinking about themselves. For the sake of good mental health, this trend needs to be reversed. Many social scientists believe that media literacy is the answer. This means people as a whole need to become more practiced at digesting their TV diet with an appropriate amount of criticism.
Television addiction is a real and well documented thing. The term “addiction” can apply to anything that one does compulsively and excessively. Since the creation of television, people have been watching it compulsively and excessively. People who are addicted to their televisions devote their valuable personal resources to TV watching, replace other things of value in their lives with TV watching and exhibit inappropriate emotion when prevented from watching TV. You can identify a TV addict by their revealing traits:
- A television addict will have inappropriate emotional reactions when they are prevented from watching TV. Any addict turns to their addiction as a means of escapism. Their addiction represents a way to shut the world out and release stress. Everyone needs to do this in a recreational way, but when a person becomes so dependent on television that they cannot stop themselves from indulging in it, they have become addicted.
- A television addict will also replace their socializing, relationships, hobbies and responsibilities with television watching. This is another tell tale sign of any addict. Addiction infects a person’s thinking and convinces them that there is nothing more important in the world than engaging in their addiction. A TV addict will go as far as ignoring their family, friends, job, school and health in order to engage in their TV watching.
- Lastly, a television addict invests themselves into TV watching in every way a person can invest themselves, including their time, money, energy and affection. They prioritize their TV watching over every other activity and sacrifice their resources to accomplish their excessive TV watching.
Television addiction is not accidental. It is carefully orchestrated by TV producers, writers and directors. Television shows and commercials are a commodity of their own, and whoever keeps audiences returning is selling their commodity most effectively. If you or someone you care about is a TV addict, it is wise to join a support group or seek counseling. TV addiction can be overcome, but it takes work and effort.
Asking whether short attention spans came first or whether short television content came first is sort of like opening the “chicken and the egg” question. It is likely not an accident that cases of ADHD became prominent at the same time observations on how short television entertainment and commercials are began to emerge. Television is not alone in its guilt of this trend. Reading material, radio programs and advertisements all follow the same model of being brief, full of transitions and catchy. This is done deliberately to engage short attention spans, but what has taken place due to this media construct is the promotion of short attention spans.
On one hand, television and media creators are responsible for encouraging this trend. After all, they tailor their brands of entertainment to short attention spans in order to captivate a broad audience. This not only validates those who naturally have a short attention span, but it also cultivates a short attention span in people who would otherwise be able to engage for significant periods of time. This is largely the equivalent of the fast food industry. Ultimately, people are responsible for the quality of their own food and media diet, but when the industry is deliberately trying to pull people in and prey on their cravings, they are not meeting their ethical responsibility.
On the other hand, the television industry has offered us a media diet to suit cravings that were already in existence. A majority of the television viewing demographic was exposed to enough education to know the basic difference between quality media and junk media, yet a majority of the television viewing population still chooses television content that was created for short attention spans. This craving for simplistic, unintelligent media is one that responsible people make the effort to control and irresponsible people indulge in. We, as the television audience, play a responsible role in dictating to the television industry what our media diet will be.
The hypnotic effects of television watching have been documented by a number of sources. TV has a lull and a repetition to it that leads many people to feel under its spell. TV show creators and commercial producers are aware of these affects. In fact, they try their hardest to harness the power of these effects to make people addicted to their viewing product so that they will return for more. The hypnotic power of what we view on TV is made up of several elements.
Firstly, the sensory experience created by TV watching is crafted with the intention of drawing people in. TV producers use attractive colors to capture the focus of the eye. They create a soundscape that will be memorable and will repeat in a person’s mind throughout their day. The content is not challenging and is served in brief doses so as not to lose short attention spans. The whole of the TV viewing experience is designed to be immersive and hypnotic. It does take a developed skill set to market a TV viewing experience, but the amount of marketing that goes into it is purely for the purpose of making people addicted.
Secondly, TV producers create entertaining content to be delivered in their shows and commercials. This content is meant to entertain, enlighten and inform viewers in order to inspire them to return to watch more. The content may be comedic or dramatic in nature. The content is delivered through the writing, acting, directing and other on screen elements that compose the dialogue and spectacle of the show or commercial. There can be genuine art form to this content creation, but TV producers are always first and foremost focused on hooking their audience.
And lastly, the pacing of shows and commercials does not reflect reality so much as it reflects the kind of entertainment people and their attention spans crave.TV producers know that TV marketed to short attention spans will hold people’s interest longer and hook their viewing audience over and over again. All of these elements combined create an entertainment experience that has a hypnotic effect on the average viewer, which makes them a repeat viewer.