Sunday, March 4, 2007

The End of Childhood (Part 2...TV and Instant Gratification)

How does TV fit into the scheme of things? The anti-technologists will blame the TV on everything from ADD to the war on Terror to global warming. Others will acknowledge TV and the Internet for providing instant knowledge and education, a bridge of communication that has made the world flat (Thomas Friedman's book), and become an indispensable part of world culture. And for the most part, they're all correct. Television (or in other words, electronic, visual media) has been as important for the change in the culture of the world as Gutenburg's printing press was back in the 1400's. The main reason for this is that it changed the way that people communicated with each other. It changed the need for education, the way people learned, and even changed the way people think in themselves, with neurons firing in a completely different method than they did before hand. I said previously that post-Gutenburg man thought in the way that people read. There is a sense of logical, literal thought, just as your high school teachers taught you how to write an essay. Topic sentence, corroborating facts, concluding sentence. Also, there is a certain need for self-discipline when reading. You can't just go to the last page, or read the last paragraph of the essay. The joy of reading is suspending your belief, contemplating and testing the arguments or plot lines in an essay or story, and thinking through everything. There is nothing instantly gratifying about reading something. It takes time. And I find this ironic, since the majority of ADD people, like myself, have the ability to read a book for hours on end, when their whole make up would suggest that taking that much time and using such self discipline would be impossible to do.

Television, on the other hand, is a visual stimulating medium, where news stories take 30 seconds and commercials take even less time. Nothing is connected to anything else, and everything is meant to be taken immediately, with instant belief in whatever is being said. There is no time for doubt or analyzation of what is being said or done. The plot line can have holes big enough to drive trucks through, but that's okay. News shows can go from Murder to the war on Terror to weather to sports to someones kitty being in a tree, and they all get the same amount of time. Everything is meant to be taken in immediately, with a clear emotional response, but not so much that whatever is being said actually means anything to the person who is listening. This carries over to the newspaper, where what is being said now has very little to do with what's going on in our lives.

With society changing from one of self discipline to one where instant gratification is needed, where the emotional response to an argument outweighs the logical reasonings, many aspects of society itself were affected. For instance, Presidential debates were once spectacles of debates on the issues, and many people swarmed into an un-airconditioned room to hear two older men argue back and forth on issues, with speeches that have survived even today. But now, with Television broadcasting the debates (which can only last two hours because they have to be done before the next episode of Lost), it is much more about entertainment, and the looks of the candidates rather than what they are actually saying. Nixon or Bush wouldn't have stood a chance with someone like Clinton or Kennedy around (and didn't, obviously.) Kerry might have one if he had had Edwards looks. Unfortunately for him, his wife was uglier and therefore had a negative impact on his campaign.

In the area of business, instant gratification has shortened the commercial, heightened the need for children to get candy or need this or that, and the persistence to bug the adult for it. And it is usually successful, because the adult, who has also need of instant gratification would rather buy the item to keep the kid happy than deal with the consequences of having a misbehaving child in the store. While this also has to do with Materialism as an aspect of Love (see earlier blog), the whole idea of getting something now and being happy is a direct influence by Capitalism and it's drive to take advantage of the instant emotional responses elicited by Visual Media.

Of course, you cannot have a discussion about instant gratification without the mention of credit cards. In college, credit card people line the walkways, urging you to get a credit card (for a free hat, or T-shirt!!! WOW!!) with the promise of being able to buy anything that you want. And of course, it works, and now this generation is in mountains of debt because they have seen commercials of delectable foods from Applebee's, and then they credit card themselves to a full stomach (among other things.) The commercials of fake foods and fancy advertisements will get your stomach rumbling every time, and that's exactly what the credit card people want, as it is now so easy to charge a Big Mac as it is a computer system.

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