Addicted to Television The temptations that can disrupt human life are often caused by pure indulgences. That which we most desire may ultimately harm and destroy us. For example, no one has to drink alcohol. Realizing when a diversion has gotten out of control, such as alcohol, is one of the greatest challenges of life. These excessive cravings do not necessarily involve physical substances. Gambling can be compulsive, leading to great financial distress; sex can become obsessive, often altering a persons mentality and behavior.

However, one activity is repeatedly over-looked. Most people admit to having a love-hate relationship with it. It is America's most popular leisure past-time, the television. It is undeniably the medium that attracts the most American attention. Numerous studies have been conducted on the marvelous hold that the television has on its viewers.

Percy Tannenbaum of the University of California at Berkeley has written: "Among life's more embarrassing moments have been countless occasions when I am engaged in conversation in a room while a TV set is on, and I cannot for the life of me stop from periodically glancing over to the screen. This occurs not only in dull conversations but during reasonably interesting ones just as well". Is the television a means of innocent entertainment, or is it a medium that will lead to the unavoidable addiction and dependency? What is it about television that has such a hold on us? Scientists have been studying the effects of television for decades, usually focusing on whether or not there was a direct correlation between viewing violence and acting violent in real life.

Less attention has been paid to the basic allure of the small screen, the actual medium instead of what can be viewed on its screen. Scientists who have studied television addiction have come to the conclusion that it is real and affects many Americans without there knowledge. Substance dependence can be characterized by criteria that include: spending a lot of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated efforts to reduce use; giving up important activities to use it; and exhibiting withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. It does not necessarily mean that those who watch television are immediately categorized as dependants; it is only for those that notice that they should not be watching, yet find themselves unable to reduce their viewing.

What causes our profound interest in the television? The amount of time that people spend watching television is astonishing. The average individual will devote three hours a day to watch television. At this rate, a person who lives to be 75 would spend a total of nine years in front of the television.

Based on polls taken in 1992 and 1999, two out of five adults and seven out of ten teenagers said they spend too much time in front of the television; roughly 10 percent of the adults called themselves television addicts. To study the physical and mental reactions to television, scientists have conducted experiments monitoring brain waves, skin resistance and the heart rate of people watching television. After analyzing the data, scientists discovered that people viewing television reported feeling relaxed and passive. More relaxed than while reading a book. Studies have also shown that the relaxation caused from watching ended once the television was turned-off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continued.

Viewers reported having difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people report improvements in mood. After watching television, people report that their moods are about the same or worse. One of the reasons that we are so attracted to the television is our "orienting response". First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, .".. the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus. It is part of our evolutionary heritage, a built in sensitivity to movement and potential threats" (Kubey 77).

In 1986, Byron Reeves and his colleagues began their study on whether simple features of television - cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noised - activate the orienting response, causing attention to be focused on the screen. By studying brain waves, the researchers concluded that these features of television triggered involuntary responses causing the viewer to become more involved in the program. The involuntary triggering of the orienting response is the reason why viewers report their inability to take their eyes off the screen. Do heavy television viewers experience life differently than light viewers?

Through research studies, heavy viewers reported feelings of being more anxious and less happy than light viewers in unstructured situations, such as waiting in line or day-dreaming. Robert D. Mcllwraith discovered that self-described addicts were more easily bored and distracted with short attention spans compared to non-addicts. The self-proclaimed addicts said they used television to distract themselves. Do people turn to TV because of boredom and loneliness, or does TV viewing make people more susceptible to boredom and loneliness? Dorothy Singer of Yale University suggested that. ".. more viewing may contribute to a shorter attention span, diminished self-restraint, and less patience with the normal delays of daily life" (Lang 52). More than 25 years ago, Tennis M. Macbeth Williams of the University of British Columbia studied a mountain community that had no television until cable finally arrived.

Over time, both adults and children in the town became less persist with their daily tasks, and less tolerant of unstructured time. To some researchers, the parallel that associates television and addiction are the withdrawal symptoms that people experience with reduced usage. In some case studies, families have volunteered to stop viewing for a week or month. Many of the volunteers could not complete the experiment.

Some families fought amongst themselves verbally and physically. "The first three or four days for most persons were the worst, even in many homes where viewing was minimal and where there were other ongoing activities. In over half of all the households, during these first few days of loss, the regular routines were disrupted, family members had difficulties in dealing with the newly available time, anxiety and aggression were expressed... People living alone tended to be bored and irritated... By the second week, a move toward adaptation to the situation was common" (Kubey 80). Even though television does seem to meet the criteria for substance dependence, not all research has gone as far as to call television as addictive.

Whether we formerly diagnose someone as television-dependant, millions of people believe that they can not control the amount of television they watch. One of the other mediums that have the same affects as the television is the computer. Although much less research has been done on computer games, they offer the player escape and distraction. The difference between television and video games is the interactivity.

These video games contain an increased amount of orienting responses contained in television shows. The orienting response contained in video games is much higher than that in television programs. Case studies have shown that prolonged exposure can cause the player to feel tired, dizzy, and nauseated. In 1997, in the most extreme medium-effects case on record, 700 Japanese children were rushed to the hospital. Many of the children suffered from 'optically stimulated epileptic seizures' caused by viewing bright flashing lights in a Pokemon video game broadcast on Japanese TV. Manufacturers and game platform designers now include warnings prohibiting prolonged exposure to video games.

There are many different ways of controlling and reducing the amount of time spent watching television personally and as a family. The first step is to become aware of the habit and how much time it absorbs. Make a list of alternatives to watching television. Exercise personal will-power; know when to turn the TV off. Control the amount of television that is watched in the household. Instead of wasting time channel surfing, know the show that you want to watch and turn the TV on only at this time.

Instead of watching a program, record it for later viewing. Many people never return to much of the material that they have taped. Many families have succeeded in reducing the amount of time watching TV by only using one set in the house. Some families end their cable subscription so that members of the family leave the house for enjoyment rather than watch TV.

Controlling the amount of television that is viewed is up to the individual. Television and the possible addiction that may be associated with it are being studied more and more. At this time, the amount of research and study completed is not yet substantial to incur that television is indeed an addiction. Even though the criteria for a substance dependency is met concerning this topic, diagnosing television as an addiction is not yet possible. There are many possibilities and reasons that a particular person may have trouble reducing his or her viewing time. Heavy viewing may stem from conditions such as depression and social phobia.

The amount of time that a person watches television is in control of that individual. The secret to the problem is maintaining a control over ones media lifestyle. Television sets and computers are everywhere. But these diversions do not have to interfere with the daily quality of life. "In its easy provision of relaxation and escape, television can be beneficial in limited doses. Yet when the habit interferes with the ability to grow, to learn new things, to lead an active life, than it does constitute a kind of dependence and should be taken seriously" (Kubey 80)..