How I Became a Media Vegetarian
The American (media) diet was ruining my (mental) health
Posted Feb 26, 2016
I decided to evict the television set from my home over ten years ago, and every single day since then, I’ve been glad I did.
I no longer have broadcast or cable signals of any kind in my personal space.
That was the first step in a series of liberating decisions and actions that have continually reduced the presence of media products in my personal environment.
And I have Maury Povich to thank for it.
I was addicted to television for many years, just as hundreds of millions of people now are. I suddenly broke my addiction in a single, unforgettable experience. I was sitting in my living room one evening, mindlessly channel surfing as I had done on many other evenings. I’d often noted that several hours would slip by as I flipped through the channels, seldom finding anything really interesting or worthwhile, but seemingly unable to just switch off the set and do something else.
On this particular evening I was emotionally raped. As I sat in my TV-induced stupor, the host of a variety show, one Maury Povich, cued a sports clip that showed a martial arts fighter getting injured, in the most shockingly graphic, horrifying way imaginable. Personally distressed and offended beyond belief, I snapped out of the TV trance. I became so angry at the injustice and insensitivity of presenting this man’s unbearable suffering as a form of mass entertainment – Povich replayed the clip four or five times – that I switched off the TV set, unplugged it, and carried it out to my car. The next day I gave it to one of my staff members and never saw it again. I immediately canceled my cable TV subscription. That was my “Popeye moment.”
I began to spend my evenings differently – reading, practicing the guitar, meditating, working on various projects I’d been putting off, and going out more often with friends. I began to notice that my general state of mind became brighter, more cheerful and more open to new experience. I felt like I had cleansed my brain somehow, flushing out the accumulated pollution. Next, I moved some studio-grade video equipment from my office to my home, and began to watch classic movies and comedies; documentaries; and also educational lectures of all sorts, such as those published by The Learning Company, an outstanding source of high quality food for the mind.
I was especially pleased to have freed myself from the “news” broadcasts. I didn’t need, or want, talking hairdos and partisan pundits telling me what to believe, who to envy or admire, and who to hate. I soon realized that there are actually only ten basic news stories, or templates, which are being continually recycled with various sets and characters. [See the Psychology Today blog item, “The (Only) Ten Basic News Stories,” at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainsnacks/201005/the-only-ten-basic-news-stories.] I decided I would gather my own “news,” according to my own standards for information quality.
I’m often amused when someone I meet has heard, or discovers in conversation, that I don’t watch TV (I usually don’t volunteer it), and the first question is usually “Well, how do you keep up with what’s happening in the world?” Foregoing my favorite answer – “Do you believe that TV shows are what’s happening in the world?” – I usually reply, “Most of my friends know I don’t have a TV. If something really big happens, somebody is sure to call me.”
I experienced this new “vegetarian” media diet as marvelously liberating and, at the same time, satisfying. I could more easily differentiate my own ideas and emotions from the stream of manufactured stimuli, and I became much more aware of the flow of ideas through my mind. I had a lot more time to think – about big ideas, my writing, and about the various creative projects I was incubating. When someone asks, “How did you ever find the time to write 24 books?” my answer is usually, “I’m not married, and I don’t watch TV.”
As I continued to eighty-six the artifacts of the synthetic culture from my sensory environment, I began to appreciate more and more the value of peace and quiet. I no longer kept a radio playing in my office or home to generate background noise. I chose to drive with the car radio turned off – a welcome relief from the mean-spirited political talk shows. In hotel rooms, I would leave the TV switched off. I replaced my smart phone with a cheap and simple cell phone – no news alerts, no stock prices, no discount coupons.
Now, I go to a coffee shop occasionally, to have coffee – preferably with interesting companions – not to poke the keys on my laptop. I usually ask the kids working there to turn down the volume on the music that’s blaring through the sound system. At the gym, I insert foam earplugs to attenuate the screeching rock music that constantly fills the place. When my dentist’s assistant tilts back the examining chair so I can see the TV screen that’s mounted on the ceiling, I politely ask her to switch it off.
I soon realized what a time-waster email could be. Now I use electronic tools to filter the tide of messages drastically. I don’t keep my cell phone on all the time. I don’t measure my importance or my worth as a person by the number of people who can interrupt me whenever they like.
Then came the tidal wave of “social media,” which transferred the addiction from the big TV screen to the small hand-held screen. Facebook? “No, thanks.” Twitter? “Have fun, but include me out.” Apps? “Thanks, but I generally prefer naps.”
I began to grok that the need for “time management,” so popular with yuppies in the seventies, has now given way to the need for attention management. We’re so besieged with media messages that we no longer have time to think.
I began studying the electronic culture of amusement – from a slight distance – and wondering how it’s shaping the views, values, aspirations, and unconscious biases of several generations of loyal addicts. I began to understand that the message and the medium are, indeed, inseparably fused.
I realize there’s still a lot of selecting and prioritizing to do, until I reach some point at which I feel that my vegetarian media diet is more nourishing than debilitating. It’s a continuous learning process.
Every day I’m reminded of an off-hand comment made years ago by the sixties’ “beat” poet Allen Ginsberg: “We’re in science fiction now, man. Whoever controls the images – the media – controls the culture.”
It’s all propaganda – including what you’re reading now.
And, by the way – thank you, Maury Povich.
Order Karl's Book:
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Postman, Neil. New York: Bantam, 1985.
Practical Intelligence: the Art & Science of Common Sense. Albrecht, Karl. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2007.
Dr. Karl Albrecht is an executive management consultant, coach, futurist, lecturer, and author of more than 20 books on professional achievement, organizational performance, and business strategy. He is listed as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in business on the topic of leadership.
He is a recognized expert on cognitive styles and the development of advanced thinking skills. His books Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success, Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense, and his Mindex Thinking Style Profile and Social Intelligence Profile are widely used in business and education.
The Mensa society presented him with its lifetime achievement award, for significant contributions by a member to the understanding of intelligence.
Originally a physicist, and having served as a military intelligence officer and business executive, he now consults, lectures, and writes about whatever he thinks would be fun.