Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Putting the "Boob" in Boob Tube

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on the effects of television cites a recent study by two economists that suggests television might not be all that bad for kids.

Now, I agree that television viewing has become a convenient scapegoat for a variety of society’s ills, but to cite a single study as definitive, or even persuasive, evidence that plopping junior down in front of the tube for hours on end isn’t going to do harm is a bit silly.

For starters, the study Hyman cites looks at television viewing from 40 years ago. This allowed the researchers to look at the effects of television in a novel way, since they could compare scholastic performance of kids before and after television was introduced into their communities. The drawback is that the amount and kind of television viewed is not the same as today. With television, just as with all media, it can be used for good or for ill, carry uplifting messages or empty nonsense. Given the wide difference in available programming between the period studied and now, one would have to also do a content analysis to get strongly persuasive results.

The effects of television on young people (or the rest of us, for that matter) is far more complicated than simply measuring average numbers of hours viewed and comparing this to certain arbitrarily chosen measures. Even if one could show that children who watched a lot of TV did just fine in terms of scholastic tests, it wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they were socially or morally retarded.

If you’d like a brief glimpse at some of the possible physical, psychological, and intellectual effects of letting kids watch too much television, you can take a look at the
webpage put together by the University of Michigan Health System.

Oh, and just as an interesting sidenote: the lead researcher in the study Hyman cites has
also written about media bias. His conclusion? A competitive media market with information coming from independently owned outlets that strive to present facts rather than content slanted to reflect the bias of their viewers is the best way to assure unbiased reporting.

Guess Hyman and the folks at Sinclair must have missed that one.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.57


At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For middle-agers like me, one can forget about the extent to which TV has changed. Way more commercials. In the early years of cable TV, many cable programs were completely commercial-free (the notion being that you are PAYING for cable, for heaven sakes).

I seldom watch TV, but when I do, I'm always surprised how much of TV is simply exhortations to buy more stuff. Given that Americans have a negative savings rate, TV watching seems as bad a habit as being hooked on OxyContin.

The fact that TV programming is of a much poorer quality these days is confirmed by the fact that Man In The Suit Hyman appears every day on my local Sinclair propaganda station.

At 9:37 AM, Anonymous the daily phosdex said...

Too, one should remember where, 40 years ago, cable TV was oft known as "CATV" (Community Antenna Television), and was confined, for the most part, to parts of the country where hilly terrain precluded use of even "rabbit-ears" antennae to receive TV programming clearly and without distortion.

And the only channels available through CATV were "free-to-air" stations from cities some distance away, for the most part, with maybe the occasional channel for weather information, community announcements--and a musical background of awful-sounding ur-MUZAK.

In other words, Mr. Hyman compares apples with oranges, rather than apples with apples.


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