Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Saturday, January 27, 2007


It seems all of America -- okay, the world -- is a bit conflicted about television. Here are some links related to the ongoing battle:


Death of a Television

We've had the same Magnavox television for nearly 18 years, and it went on strike the other night. Jagged horizontal lines quivered on the screen, and Gavin began to bawl. He wanted to watch Power Puff Girls, his latest superhero fixation, and all seemed lost to him.

This level of despair, although it quickly dissipated with distraction, got me thinking. I've always been conflicted about the role of television in our lives. I am grateful that we have only the most basic of cable plans -- when we stay in one of those hotels with a mind-boggling array of channels, I see quickly how the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon can lull you into letting them baby sit on a frequent basis. Weekday mornings at our house, only PBS has kids' shows. I comfort myself, perhaps falsely: at least Gavin is getting some education. Tom and I rush around packing lunches, ironing pants, loading the dishwasher, while he learns about animals we have never heard of, courtesy of ZoBooMaFoo.

Today was a good morning for moderation. Gavin was up around 5:30, and our first couple of hours were filled primarily with breakfast and Play-Doh. Finally, at 7:30, it was me who piped up with "let's see what's on kid TV!". He is happy with the novelty of a Saturday morning network show (Daffy Duck), and I appreciate the time to write uninterrupted.

Are computers any better? For Gavin, nearly 5, they seem to be. The games we have are educational, and I am hoping all that mouse action fosters hand-eye coordination (like his mother, fine motor skills are not a natural strength). The computer poses questions that make him think, and I've even had Al Gore or Elijah Wood read him a story on occasion, courtesy of BookPALS online from the Screen Actors Guild. I am vigilant for the slippery slope that leads to mindless gaming, though. I know plenty of teens get into games with shooting and what seems an all-around depraved world view. For now, though, it's Clifford (aka the Big Red Dog) phonics, ZoBooMaFoo karaoke, and celebrities reading stories.

Maybe I'm not quite ready to euthanize our TV, and I guess for now I view TV as I view my diet. It's not food itself that is inherently bad, it is my bad habits that have to go. I have to be more mindful of mindless consumption. In small doses, it can be relaxing and relatively benign. More than that and it starts to feel like lousy nutrition. One parenting policy I'd like to work on: never suggest TV (often Gavin thinks of better ideas, when given the opportunity).

I have dreamed, on occasion, of a life with no TV, and how much more I would get done, how many more classics I would read. When our Magnavox took a long nap, I was actually excited. Here was an opportunity to get back to basics. Gavin and I read and played games, and I found that my energy level rose with the interaction.

The Magnavox is dying in stepwise fashion, for now just having mini-strokes and slowly losing its grasp on color and volume. I don't have the heart to kill it, so I guess I am rooting for a natural death. I dream of at least a limited social experiment: a week or more with no TV (while we eschew our credit cards and try to come up with the cash for a new one). Until then, it's Saturday morning blogs to the soundtrack of Looney Tunes.


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