In one of those "well, duh!" moments the other day, I came across a headline on Slashdot that said Unhappy People Watch More TV. Given that I mostly stopped watching TV quite some time ago and consider it to be one of the more rude devices in our culture, I clicked thru to read about how others have discovered what I'd already guessed was true...

A new study by sociologists at the University of Maryland concludes that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as 'very happy' spend more time reading and socializing. 'TV doesn't really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,' says researcher John P. Robinson. 'It's more passive and may provide escape--especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself.

Imagine that... Stagnation and exposure to negative information leads to sadness. It goes on...

The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.' Unhappy people also liked their TV more: 'What viewers seem to be saying is that while TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, "the shows I saw tonight were pretty good.

Another shock. TV provides only a short-term reward (kind of like a drug hit).

If this resonates with you a bit, or you suspect deep down that there's more going on with the influence of TV in our culture, I highly recommend reading Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman if you have not already.

It's too bad this stuff doesn't get taught in school--where, I'm told, teachers are using PowerPoint more and more.


Posted by jzawodn at November 17, 2008 02:28 AM

Reader Comments
# ben said:

That's a bit of a stretch to compare TV with a PowerPoint presentation. Granted, they're both eye candy, but PowerPoint and other screened presentations can be used very well in classrooms. It's one step up the technology rung from the overhead projector.

Bad teaching is bad teaching, but you can't just attribute it to PowerPoint.

That being said, I agree with the TV bit.

on November 17, 2008 02:42 AM
# Basil Mohamed Gohar said:

I'm not sure I understand the PowerPower link myself, so I hope you can clarify it for us. ;)

Aside from that, from experience, I have to agree. TV has almost always been an escape for me and a time eater. I had the habit of watching TV while eating, and coincidentally, it took me much longer to eat and I also would eat more, especially junk food. A match made in Hell.

One of my high school teachers used to refer to TV as the "electronic IQ reducer", and I didn't realize how true it until much later. Seeing how truly addicted my other friends and family were to it, and how it controls their life (having been divorced of it myself for well over a year now).

Thank God that my wife & I have both agreed that TV will have no place in our home. The Internet provides enough vice as it is. ;)

on November 17, 2008 06:03 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

PowerPoint is the TV of the business world.

on November 17, 2008 06:09 AM
# Robert Accettura said:

PowerPoint in school has a major advantage. Microsoft PowerPoint can make outlines out of presentations. Essentially once you have the obnoxious PPT, print out in outline view and you've got good notes (assuming the presentation is wordy, which in education is almost always the case).

The really bad powerpoints are the ones that are purely graphical. There's generally no value for the presentation, and it doesn't provide any notes for afterwords. It's just worthless "eye candy" (if you can call it that).

IMHO prefer the presentations... provided the file itself is made available.

on November 17, 2008 06:21 AM
# Charles said:


Correlation != Causation

on November 17, 2008 06:41 AM
# Peter Steinberg said:

I'm amazed it actually took a study to prove that TV watchers are unhappier people than the populace at large. But I question whether this is causation or simple correlation.

Watching TV is typically a very solitary, isolating act. Are they unhappy because they've isolated themselves or isolated themselves because they're unhappy?


on November 17, 2008 09:40 AM
# Octave said:

How do you keep up with sports if you don't watch television?

I know the Internet replaces a lot of stuff, but I don't think it can replace everything.

on November 17, 2008 11:36 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I am the exact opposite of a "sports person" in almost every way.

on November 17, 2008 11:45 AM
# Octave said:

In other words then, an atypical male.

As I said, the Internet replaces a lot of stuff, but I don't think it can replace everything.

on November 17, 2008 12:22 PM
# Rick S said:

So, in defense of powerpoint. Having been away from
school for almost 30 years, been back at it taking
some gradual courses. First couple of courses were
fairly heavy lifting statistics, theory, math, and
much to my surprise, this was all the chalkboard
experience of the 70's, with a minor tech update to dry-erase.
Lots of high speed i/o trying to copy the whiteboard, then
also trying to "chew" (intellectually) on the subject while
it came spewing forth. The i/o part is wasteful - this
is where Powerpoint/pdf/etc should provide lift. Course
this semester is a welcome change, the instructor sprechen-sie powerpoint, which gives much more time to
absord, formulate, and interact. But I do agree with
the comment one poster made that Powerpoint is TV for
business. In education, I find it to be quite the
opposite - it is the antidote for rote, providing the
student is actually paying attention.

on November 17, 2008 03:42 PM
# Phil said:

bought the book based on your recommendation. Somewhat embarrassed to say I purchased in audio format, because of my commute (the author talks about difference between written and spoken word). Anyway about through the first two chapters and wow some really interesting ideas. Even though the book was written 20 years ago it's easy to see how the ideas translate. Thanks for the recommendation.

on November 17, 2008 07:57 PM
# Kingsly said:

@Rick S

The i/o from teacher to board.. and from board to students notebooks is at "human speed". And also shows the steps involved (in say deriving an equation) as opposed to a fully solved problem appearing on the screen.

If screens full of information are going to replace the whiteboard and you are going to be handed annotated slides/notes. It reduces the value of the class itself.

I rarely revised the day's lessons after class. Seeing problems solved on the board and copying it(or solving simultaneously) into my notebook was revision enough. Or for non-math subjects making my own notes from
the lecture to supplement the textbooks was a learning process in itself.

And not everyone is lucky enough to have smart teachers. I've had lecturers in college who used to revise fairly basic stuff and make notes before the class even though they've been teaching the same course for years.

If the teacher no longer has to solve problems on the board there is no reason for them to actually know the solution.
And bad teachers will just be human text-to-speech "machines" passing off to be more knowledgeable than they actually are.

on November 18, 2008 12:16 AM
# John Allspaw said:

I dunno if I agree personally. We finally got a TV about 3 years ago after not having one since Seinfeld went off the air.

I'd say that in our house, we watch only a select number of shows (fiction and non-fiction) and look forward to them each week. I would say that without Tivo, I would be very unhappy.

But otherwise, we're quite a happy household. Maybe that's because we also talk, read books, and play with the kids in addition to watching TV.

on November 18, 2008 09:30 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

John: not doing it to the exclusion of other important things really does help.

on November 18, 2008 09:36 AM
# Sean said:

It's hard to argue with the results from the study, but I'd imagine that perhaps the group of people who are the least happy are the people who do nothing *but* watch TV for what they perceive to be pleasure. I watch my fair share of TV shows, and I also spend my days, and more nights than I'd like, in front of a computer screen. Most of this time my brain is being exercised and I'm no mindlessly watching the latest viral hamster video on youtube. What I've always found interesting is that many people who would say "kill your television" are the same people who spend all their time on a computer and are exposed to all the same lame news, depressing stories and other drivel that you'd find on TV. I guess my main point is that watching some TV doesn't make me unhappy, but taking a nice long walk in the woods with my dog certainly does make me happy. :)

on November 20, 2008 07:08 AM
# Dr. Shane Sheibani said:

Overall I think the study still is about right. Television is like an addiction almost equil to taking downers with an element of mind control from all the propaganda thrown in via the news media.
I think those that are addicted to watching the news are the most unhappy of the lot.

on November 28, 2008 05:06 PM
# gaby de wilde said:

My Tee Vee died while I was zapping.

It was very strange, I immediately experienced a feeling of happiness and joy. It's years ago now and the dead Tee Vee is still standing there. It makes me happy looking at it.

I really wonder why I spend all those hours looking at it.

Why would anyone do that?

In the days of online video this Tee Vee viewing people really ran out of excuses. Should help them, ask them why they view this crap? I know one who looks at it for hours per day. He talks about blogs as if it is a diary. Youtube is only this and that. You know? Then I see him view a show about stupid internet videos. He thinks this represents the whole picture, he now knows there is nothing interesting to see on the internets. The Tee Vee told him you know? The program actually made effort towards showing the worse imaginable footage one could imagine and got away with it! There was no unsubscribe button either!

Safe to say, it was really scary to see the brainwashing live in front of a studio audience.

But I have a solution.

People who sell computers should give a discount in exchange for a Tee Vee. Cut some wires in the antenna circuit and call it a monitor. Then sell it with a computer but without the remote. You know? Make it sterile?

on November 29, 2008 12:34 PM
# Song Demos said:

A few years ago I became disabled, at that time I thought I had nothing left in life but to sit on the couch in front of the TV. I put on about 100 pounds, and turned into a marshmallow !
Then, about 6 months ago, the TV broke down. I was like, just shoot me now.
there wasn't much to do around here, (I live in a small artist colony) so I started to go out and walk my dog, then I started hiking, then I started working out (lightly at first)
I'd like to say I got over my disability, that didn't happen.
However, I have lost over 40 pounds so far.
I'm done with TV, (useless).

on November 30, 2008 07:49 PM
# xian said:

I wonder how many people nowadays watch TV with a laptop or other connected device handy? Often what we're watching leads to questions, about historical figures, geography, or even what really happened in that final scene in that movie, and I find myself turning to the web, wikipedia, search, etc. to gather more context.

I also noticed people liveblogging or tweeting political debates and things like that in this election year. I wonder if this approach to television is more interactive and engaged or just as unhappiness-sustaining as passive TV watching?

on December 9, 2008 08:40 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.