A tip given about ‘How to live a better life’ amongst others that I read about set me aback a little. It was headed ‘Stop watching TV’ and read as follows: ‘Television evolved a lot from the balanced news provider it was in the beginning up to the current manipulating tool. Just stop watching it for a week. And then for a month. Meanwhile, assess your psychological progress. You may be amazed.’ I have no doubt that anyone who tries this out will indeed be amazed. But more amazing perhaps is whether in these days anyone will be bold enough to not watch TV for a month, why, even for a week for that matter. Come to think of it, even a day perhaps?
We live in a world of non-stop stimulation of our senses – in particular eyes and ears – coming from a multitude of sources delivered to us on ever-smarter gadgets. We have become addicted to both the content and the devices, and even a short ‘absence’ of contact with them can make us spin into a tizzy. Evidently, it is more acute if it is our work that is concerned, because there is a cascading effect on all aspects of the work environment that can have serious implications and repercussions – e.g. meetings to be rescheduled, documents that cannot be processed in time, automatic machines that can stop functioning and so on and so forth.
However, even at a personal level we can feel the impact, and it can be no less acute, akin to the ‘withdrawal symptoms’ that are associated with drug addiction – the craving becomes heightened when one tries to stop the habit. No TV for a day? But what on earth are we going to do? Communication within the family has changed from being from person to person to interaction via devices – and most families have more than one TV in the house, with each one watching her or his favourite programme. There will be nothing to talk about – force of TV-induced habit – if the TV is down, isn’t it. Even kids these days hardly get to listen to stories being told by older siblings or parents. Forget about grandparents telling stories, because mostly it’s nuclear families now, and grandparents are further away.
The tip given is no doubt drastic, and meant to make us go back to being human again, and to reconnect with our true, inner self – the psychological assessment advised. This is indeed a laudable thing to do, but can we do it despite watching TV? I would think that that is the crux of the matter. We are the ones who take the decisions about feeding our senses. Surely we can equally decide to put a break on any excesses? But how is the big question, a capital Q! It is not as easy as it may sound, but neither is it impossible if we are genuinely concerned about what direction we wish our lives to take.
We may think that the more educated or more mature we are, the better position we are in to take such ‘good’ decisions. That this is not necessarily so is illustrated by the following true story. It is about a late colleague of mine who was a fairly heavy smoker – and who advised his patients not to do so! – and regular drinker too. I learnt that after he had retired he was contracted to work on sessions at a Health Centre, as a general purpose medical practitioner. I found this odd because he had been a consultant in charge of a department in hospital.
So one day when I met him at the private clinic where we both practised, I asked him why he had agreed to work in a lower position. His answer was direct: ‘You see, when I am at home, I have the bottle (of whisky) on the table. I look at it and it looks back at me. After a while I tell myself it’s either me or the bottle. Invariably I decide that it will be me, and I take hold of the bottle. So I preferred to get away from it, at least now it’s only in the evenings.’
Addiction is indeed a bane, and as we all know is not only potentially of high risk, but it can be deadly too. Bottom line, therefore, is to be clear in one’s mind, early on in one’s life, what is it one wants to do with it, to live it purposefully and joyfully or to destroy it. For after a while, it is almost impossible to get rid of bad habits.
Watching TV is a habit. Like all habits, it becomes bad when there’s too much of it. As I said, I think the tip is rather drastic, and perhaps a bit unrealistic in this day and age. Nevertheless, I will concede with the premise of the author that many TV channels have become tools for manipulation, and that there is a lack of balanced news, and usually we prefer to choose what we want to hear. But here again, knowing this reality, we can be selective, and train ourselves to keep an open mind. For various reasons, we have no choice but to keep up with the minimum of information about what is going on in our country and in the rest of the world, because events in any part of it can now affect all the other parts, and that includes our country too.
But having done so, the rest is up to us, and we can watch the better programmes and channels, those that show documentaries on a variety of subjects, such as wildlife and nature, travel adventures and unusual phenomena, knowledge channels about different cultures and science, history and art. Depending upon one’s interests and inclinations, there is a good variety to choose from, and such programmes are less addictive than serials or crime films for example. They are therefore easier to switch off from – in other words, not watching for a while. But really, it is the more addictive, thriller types that one needs to actually stop watching, for they are the ones that are likely to influence one adversely! To that extent, therefore, the advice to switch off for a lengthy period so as to introspect is certainly a valid one, and may wisely be followed – and would no doubt result in a lot of good – ‘amazement’ – to the person doing so.
Similarly for the internet, without which we would nowadays feel truly orphaned. What will be the next invention that will rivet our minds, nay our whole beings, is impossible to say. Sometime towards the end of the 1990s a famous scientist was interviewed in the French magazine Le Point. To the journalist’s question of how he saw the world in fifty years’ time, his reply was that the pace of scientific and technological change was so rapid, and increasing, that he was in no position to say so. Five years ago, he said, the Internet came on the scene, and took over the world of communication by storm within such a short time. Fifty years from now? Impossible to say!
Without the Internet? Goodness me, how can we even think of that… it’s blasphemy!
* Published in print edition on 8 August 2014