Is television really a solitary activity?

This week a writer from Entertainment Weekly refuted a claim that “watching television is not exactly a communal activity, [but, rather] we often use it to fill a communal void.” The EW writer made the point that it is TV that actually brings her closer to friends and family who live thousands of miles away, as she has regular (and scheduled) phone calls, Internet chats, and e-mails with those loved ones during which they discuss shared interests, including favorite TV shows. Because it is a weekly activity, she actually has more interaction with the people in her life than she may have even had before moving across the country. It’s a compelling argument, and I am in total agreement.
The magazine writer points out that the L.A. Times article which suggests isolation-by-television is using data from a ten-year-old study. And even some of his research that is more recent doesn’t seem to acknowledge the current state of social interaction. We’re no longer separated by distance. We have constant connection to everyone we love (and some we don’t) by virtue of technology. It’s true that many people use Facebook and Twitter as a symbol of how “popular” they are and that many of their “friends” are not even acquaintances, but it’s also true that a great number of people use social networking to keep in touch with the ones they do know. The ones they actually care about and enjoy spending time with. How is using IM or Facebook or Twitter to discuss television any different than doing it face-to-face at a water cooler or over coffee? I’m certain that I have much deeper conversations, about TV and real life, through e-mail and texting than I have ever had over dinner. Not to mention that it’s immediate conversation, in the moment and as it happens. It’s very rare to have such exchanges about anything unless all of my friends just happen to be sitting beside me at the time. That television is my daily medium for entertainment does not mean I don’t enjoy real friendships. Instead, it simply offers one more topic of conversation with the friends I have. Never has it come between us.
I often speak about my best friend Cerella and the fact that we are ascloseasthis without ever having met in person. The fact is, we became friends in the first place because of television. We met online in the early days of fan communities, having arrived at a discussion group for the TV series The Magnificent Seven. It was the first such experience for both of us, and as we began corresponding we learned that our lives had great similarity and our interests were much the same — from pop culture to creative writing to dreams of being published to personal values and relationship with Jesus Christ. She lives in Pennsylvania and I live in Texas, and the fact is that we would never have met otherwise. But we found each other because of a television show. And 11 years later, we have shared every aspect of our lives through e-mails, texts, and blog posts, without ever once meeting in person (yet). Without the technology we would not have become friends, much less best friends with no boundaries. Had we not both loved a single TV series, we would never have crossed paths. This is my story when people begin to question the positive impact of television. It’s what I say when someone discredits social networking. And I also tell them that I have more conversations with my parents, sisters, niece and nephews as a result of common TV viewing than I would have if any of us just stuck to daily life topics. It is actually our TV commentary that inevitably leads to real life commentary, and often leads to philosophical conversations and the intimate details of our lives. I will never be convinced that my love of TV makes me a solitary person. Instead, I’ll reference this very night of Tuesday, October 19, 2010, when I watched Game 4 of the ALCS and interacted online with 14 people who were also watching the game from various locations across the country. That wouldn’t have happened unless we all went to that game together. But because it did happen that way, we shared an experience as a result of television. There’s no way that’s not a good thing.

About Jules Q

sharing stories of life, faith, and love for pop culture

Posted on 20 October 2010, in What I Watch and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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