Television and Media - Effect of TV In The Age of Missing Information


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The Effect of Television In The Age of Missing Information


Bill McKibben, in his book The Age of Missing Information, explores the impact
of television on modern cultures both in America and around the world. In the
book McKibben carries out an experiment; he watches the entire television
broadcast of 93 separate cable channels for one entire day. In all McKibben
viewed 24 hours of programming from 93 separate cable stations, that is more
than 2,200 hours of television. His purpose in this formidable undertaking was
to determine how much actual information that was relevant to real life he could
glean from a day of television broadcasting. McKibben also spent a day camping
alone on a mountain near his home. Throughout the book, McKibben compares the
two experiences, contrasting the amount of useful information he received from
nature, as opposed to the amount of useless, hollow information the television
provided. He goes on in the book to make several very important observations
about how the television has fundamentally changed our culture and lifestyle,
from the local to the global level.

Locally, McKibben argues, television has a detrimental effect on communities.
The average American television is turned on for eight hours every day. For a
third of the day, every American household is literally brainwashed; bombarded
with high-impact, low content images which mold the mind of the viewer into
whatever the broadcaster wishes.

The problem with television at a local level is that it replaces the innate
human desire for contact with other humans in a community. Instead of relying on
friends, families and community for the day-to-day stability needed to carry on
a normal life, American's switch on the television. CNN, the Discovery Channel,
Oprah, and Friends, all replace an actual community with a virtual one which in
some ways is better than an actual community. In the seductive world of
television, someone is always there at 6:00 relating the news. When people begin
to rely on the television for the news, weather, entertainment, and
companionship, they begin to become less interested in what is going on around
them in their community. Take and example which McKibben cites in his book. In
the early 1900's people were extremely interested in politics. The American
democracy was in full swing and as literacy and education climbed, so did the
turnouts at the poles. But ever since the induction of the television into

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society, people have become less and less interested in their community. During
the last national election little more than half of the American population even
bothered to show up at the poles. People are becoming interested less and less
in their immediate surroundings as a direct result of the television, argues
McKibben.

On a national/societal level, the television is detrimental because of the
values it portrays. The television is a tool of companies who want to sell their
products to a large audience. Television networks want huge ratings because they
can sell advertisement space on their station breaks for more money. Advertisers
are willing to pay more money for higher rated networks because they will be
able to send their message to a larger number of people. When the average
American family consumes eight hours of programming totally devoted to the
acquisition of money, it should come as no surprise that American's are so
unabashedly materialistic. When addressing this issue in the book, McKibben
points out that the very first image projected by a T.V. was a dollar bill.
Little has changed since then. The products the companies sell also give insight
into (as well as continually renew) American culture. McKibben cites the example
a dishwashing detergent commercial where the company claims that other brands of
detergent leave behind an invisible residue of food particles. When seen in a 15
second high-impact audio/visual presentation it sounds innocent enough. But when
analyzed it makes no sense, why should owners of dishwashers be concerned?
Americans can't even see the supposed particles of food, how can these invisible
particles harm them? The answer is that they can't. As Americans move further
and further away from the ancient agrarian ways of life, they forget about
closeness to the earth. American's have long puzzled Europeans by their
excessive bathing and cleansing. It is almost as if American's realize how much
they have separated themselves from nature and they are now afraid of it.
Examine the plethora of products simply for the suppression of underarm sweat in
any drugstore and the same conclusion can be reached easily.

Globally television has the most profoundly visible and detrimental effects.
Since the vast majority of television is made in America, all of the American
values, good or bad are shipped over to cultures which still have tightly woven
communities. McKibben describes how over a period of time in African communities
where people had been newly introduced to television people would start to be
concerned about their appearances. Societies which held aging as a sign of
wisdom and respect were starting to become preoccupied with appearing young. In
America, the breakdown of the community has already happened, but it can be seen
happening in the societies which are being exposed to American culture via the
television.

The real tragedy, McKibben states, is that the information which is being lost
in the disappearing village culture is some of the most vital information that
humans need. These societies have survived for millennia , the way they live
their lives has stood the test of time. Modern American culture has no such
claim, and from all likely indicators will not be able to sustain itself long
enough to lay a claim to the millennia. Television, which could be an extremely
useful tool, is being used for the wrong purpose: greed. The effect of
television is so damaging because it reaches so many with it's poisonous
message, and McKibben warns us that if humanity does not change it's ways, it
will ultimately destroy one of it's most wonderful pieces of information: human
history.

America plunges ahead simply for the sake of plunging ahead, without turning
back to look where it has been, or what it has run over. But when America
finally does turn around, it will find that all the plunging ahead was
ultimately empty and worthless and that the really important and vital
information about life is all missing.


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