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This website tells us that the average American watches 4 hours of TV per day. That sounds high to me, so let’s cut that in half, to two hours per day. A few posts ago I mentioned how great the iPod economy was. Here is what I forgot to mention or try to quantify.

My wife and I watch a couple of shows per week. If we had to sit through the actual network broadcast of the show, it would require an hour of our time. What we do now is DVR record that show and watch it when it is convenient. But ┬áthe convenience of watching when we want it is not nearly the only benefit of this technology. DVR programming (and other similar technologies) dramatically reduces the amount of time we have to sit in front of a TV. We don’t even have to speed through commercials anymore, the show is recorded without them. So what once took us 60 minutes, now takes us 46 minutes. This is 14 minutes per week per person in my home, or about 30 minutes of extra time to make desserts, talk to each other, read our books, etc. Over the course of the year, this is 26 extra hours of time we have to clean the house, run errands, pray, do our schoolwork, etc. that we were not “able” to do before.

If we apply this cost/time savings to a typical American couch potato (not my term for them), the new technologies that help us reduce commercial exposure save a typical American 28 minutes per day, every day. That’s 170 HOURS per year, or about one more week of time freed up! One week – who new that technology could allow us all to enjoy a full 1 week of “vacation” each and every year, even if we do not have to spend more than a few extra dimes or alter our lifestyle in any meaningful way?

Now, whether people choose to “buy” all of that freed up time by choosing alternative activities is an open question. Just as people respond to better fuel economy in their cars by possibly driving some more, so too might TV watchers respond to this lower cost of TV by watching more TV. In any case, these technologies seem to me very underappreciated.

2 Responses to “Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Television Watching Edition”

  1. chuck martel says:

    I never tire of mentioning to people that I haven’t had a television in over twenty years. It has its uses, maybe. Simulcasting of horse races, for sure. And it could be used to greater advantage, such as in surveillance for graffiti. But in general television is technology with great potential that has been exploited in the form of crap. I stumbled across Neal Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” the other day and though we’re hardly political allies, I had to agree with much of what the late Mr. Postman had to say about the modern media, especially television. A great example, and one that he brought up, are the debates between the presidential candidates. He describes the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which went on for hours, interrupted by the spectators going home for lunch and then returning. Now, of course, the debates are orchestrated as sound bites and “gotcha” moments that fit in with the programming schedule, with only the most rudimentary exposition of political philosophy. In addition, television really doesn’t fulfill any informational function, it’s just entertainment. And usually not very entertaining at that. Another who has sadly left us before his time, Michael Crichton, criticizes the media in general here: http://www.wbsi.org/ilfdigest/commentaries_mar_04.htm.
    The real point is that technological advancement isn’t necessarily an unmitigated good. Perhaps television’s greatest sin is that it gives watchers the idea that they have actually learned something, that by observing a news clip of the OWS fiasco, for instance, they have garnered some meaningful knowledge of the relationship between Wall Street, greed and the American economy. Further advances in technology will require us to decide if we wish to accept them. The Amish have faced this dilemma and we will, too. It won’t be long before human clones will be available, if they’re not already. You’ll be able to order a playmate that fulfills all your requirements. Your wife might say, “Hey, wait a minute, what’s up with you spending all your time in the basement with that android?” You’ll say, “Honey, it’s just a doll, a toy. Nothing to get excited about. Besides, didn’t I give you the credit card for that trip to Italy last month? What about that?” This will go over OK in some households, others will be on the phone to their congressman wanting to put a stop to it.

  2. Pat says:

    Let’s be realistic here. The Americans who spend every day watching four hours of television have probably not mapped out ahead of time the eight 30-minute shows that they will watch that day, because they probably don’t care what they are. The more commonplace TV-watching regimen is this: Arrive home from work, sit on the couch, click on the tube. It amounts to four hours because there are four hours to kill. If the four hours were reduced to three, sans commercials, you can bet that the free hour would become a fourth hour of commercial-free television.

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