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The day the TV died

By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
July 27, 2003
Toddlers and electronics don't mix. Last month, my 2-year-old ran up to me with a key from my laptop yelling, "Uh oh, it broke!" This occurred just a few hours after he had disabled our TV.
Incredibly, even without television or Internet access, the sun still rose the next morning. That night, I didn't get to see Peter Jennings worrying about quagmire, previews of fall sitcoms, or the latest Dateline/Court TV exclusive on yet another husband and wife murder story.
I wasn't able to check my e-mails, either, and missed 12 opportunities to refinance, 10 forwarded news clips, five free Viagra prescriptions and one proposal from a Russian bride. Life without screens and monitors was so terrible that I didn't attempt to fix either machine for weeks.
Friends have always looked at me strangely when they find out we don't have satellite or cable TV. When word leaked out that we were doing without Internet and television altogether for a few weeks, people thought we'd joined a cult.
The neighbors organized an intervention. "Think of your son," they pleaded, "without high-speed Internet and WB, he'll be so uncool. He'll grow up reading books and playing outside." Oh, dear.
Technology amoral
Don't get me wrong; I love science and technology. I shop online, fly airplanes with GPS navigational systems and instruct in $15 million flight simulators. I'm also grateful for modern medicine and love being able to call home when work takes me halfway around the world.
Technology is amoral (neither good nor evil). The same digital camera that transmits a live image of a trauma patient to a team of physicians can be used by a kidnapper to stalk a child. It's how someone uses technology that determines whether it benefits or harms society.
A television or computer can be a great source of information, education and entertainment. But when they're overused or abused, they can become an addiction, an obstruction to communication and a conduit of garbage.
Numerous studies show that most American children watch between 35 and 40 hours of television a week. Even if they're watching something wholesome like Little House on the Prairie or Animal Planet, that's still a lot of time spent in a passive mental state. And if they're watching MTV all day, you'd better have a bail bondsman on the speed dial.
Lost art
With so much easy entertainment available, concentration has become a lost art. When I think of what Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver accomplished without computers, it makes me wonder if more imagination and more concentration, not more technology, is the answer to America's educational decline.
When I was growing up, our TV was on a cart with wheels. Whenever my parents thought we were watching it too much, they would roll it into the closet. There was nothing wrong with Scooby Doo or Gilligan's Island, but my parents believed that too much mindless vegetation would turn us into uncommunicative zombies.
As a result, we spent many TV-free nights talking with each other while playing Rummy, Spoons and Monopoly. We honestly had more fun when the TV was in the closet than we ever did when it was on.
I thought about that one night last month as my wife and I were sitting on the porch listening to the crickets and bullfrogs after a game of Scrabble (I still think Zanx is a word). Sometimes it's nice to turn off that constant stream of electronic noise and enjoy a few moments of peace.
Craig Ziemba can be heard Monday morning on AM 1010 WMOX. He will be available to sign his new book, Boondoggle, Saturday, Aug. 2, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Bible Bookstore in Bonita Lakes Mall.

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