Springing ourselves from television

I don’t know about you, but I am so grateful that it’s springtime. And I am not just talking about the weather.  

It’s true that for many parts of the country, winter seemed like it would never end, in terms of the snow. But for people of faith, especially practicing Catholics, the storm clouds of bad news just kept rolling in and clobbering us from one week to the next. Whether it was the health care debacle, dissension and division within our own flock, or the unwarranted and often biased and badly reported stories attacking Pope Benedict XVI, I feel like the new season gives us chance to shake off all that darkness and negativity and start fresh.  

Even for those who don’t take their faith all that seriously, you would think that — given the state of our country — most of us would be ready for a change of scenery, and much brighter scenery at that.  

Not so, according to a new report from the folks at the Nielsen media research firm. We can’t seem to get enough of all of the noise and clamor in our lives, much of which is coming from the mass media. Not only are we spending additional hours inside with our gadgets, we’re using more of them at once. We are now experts at media multitasking. 

The Nielsen Three Screen Report released last month shows that many Americans are watching television and surfing the Internet simultaneously. Nearly 60 percent of TV viewers use the Web at the same time. The report for the final quarter of 2009 tracked usage of television, the Internet and cell phones and found that our talents for media multitasking are getting more fine-tuned. There was actually a 35 percent hike in the amount of time we used the television and the Internet compared with numbers gathered for the same period in 2008. It’s good news for the television industry, but bad news for those concerned about too much media consumption. 

“The rise in simultaneous use of the Web and TV gives the viewer a unique on-screen and off-screen relationship with TV programming,” said Nielsen researcher, Matt O’Grady. 

O’Grady added that gone are the worries about traditional television viewing being negatively impacted by the Internet and cell phones. Oh joy! Television is still as popular as ever. Americans are taking in about 35 hours of television per week and two hours of what Nielsen refers to as “time-shifted” television via video recorders.  

He told Reuters News Service that we’re just madly in love with our media: “We seem to have an almost insatiable appetite for media, with online and mobile programming only adding to it.” 

That quote really bothers me for a number of reasons. The negative news coverage, as I mentioned, is one piece of a very distasteful media pie. The amount of violent and sexual content is through the roof with a recent study showing that portrayals of violent acts against women on television increased 120 percent from 2004 to 2009. We can also point to a long list of studies showing a connection between too much time on the couch and not enough time engaging in some sort of exercise. Whether the movement is on the treadmill downstairs or talking a long walk in the local park, research shows we need a lot more of it for both our physical and mental health.  

Proverbs reminds us that laziness “plunges a man into deep sleep, and the sluggard must go hungry” (19:15). If current media content is any indication, Americans are, for the most part, starving. Spring may have sprung, but the bluer skies apparently aren’t going to be enough to get us to back away from the television and the computer any time soon. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.