Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
ADDICTIONS: February 25,2001
'Hooked' to the idiot box
Prof T. K. Oomen
The writer is with the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, JNU, Delhi.
Addiction means habituation. But the term does not carry a neutral connotation. A drug addict is invariably perceived as a person with a wrong or negative habit. Similarly, an alcoholic is a person addicted to excessive consumption of alcohol. In contrast, the term workaholic does not carry a stigma with it as in the case of a drug addict or alcoholic. However even a workaholic, and some persons take pride in being so and announce it freely, may often meet with disapproval from significant others - family members or friends - who believe that they have a legitimate entitlement to share some of his time. Similarly, an addict to intellectual pursuits may invariably neglect some of his roles.
Manoj K. Jain
An addict to television falls somewhere in-between a drug addict and a workaholic. If the attitude to a drug addict is invariably negative, and the attitude towards a workaholic is often mildly positive, the perception about an addict to television is only slightly negative. This differential attitude is anchored to society's evaluation towards work and leisure. Work is productive, leisure is unproductive. The reasoning is, those who are committed to their work cannot become addicts to television.
Addiction to television has its positive pay offs. If all or most of the members in a family are addicted to television, it brings them together. That is, television is a facilitator of physical togetherness. I emphasise physical togetherness because when people watch television they do not want anybody to talk. That is, in spite of physical togetherness, there is no communication between co-watchers; theirs is a "unity in silence". Which is to say, physical proximity and mental distance co-exist. Be that as it may, physical presence at home or elsewhere with family members and friends keep people away from "undesirable" activities.
It is however wrong to say that a person is addicted to television; addiction is not to the medium as such, but to particular items or programmes-films, mega serials, sports, cartoons, wildlife, even to news bulletins. If a person is addicted only to selected programmes, the time spent in watching television will be limited. Such addiction is not likely to be injurious to the cause of one's work. But if one is addicted to most or all of the programmes, that will certainly at the cost of one's major pre-occupation.
Those who watch television together do not share common interests as they have different attributes. For example, a family consists of different age groups, sexes, persons of different levels of education, intellectual orientations, tastes etc. In turn this may mean addiction to different types of programmes: children may be addicted to cartoon shows, women to films and film related programmes, male-youth to sport and games, female-youth to fashion shows, student youth to education and quiz programmes, the aged to religious programmes.
This "differential addiction" to programmes often results in clashes if the time of their broadcasts coincides. Often this leads to conflicts between co-watchers who belong to different categories. The problem is further aggravated when different categories are addicted to the same programme which cannot be watched together because of its content - excessive violence, exposure of the human body, sexually explicit communication. It is not uncommon for channels to be switched off suddenly, or for the embarrassed to look away or even leave the room. This is exactly the opposite of what I have said earlier, the physical togetherness facilitated by television can be thwarted by the contents of some of the programmes.
Broadly speaking, addiction to television as a whole or to particular programmes substantially influences one's lifestyle. Not only that the "addicted" avoids visiting others but also tries to avoid visits by others because of television programmes. Addiction determines one's time allocation to and the timing of various activities - eating, worship, study, exercise. Generally speaking, television time makes serious inroads into one's social interaction time. Thus addiction to television may make one more family-centred, even though only in a physical sense, but a social retreatist. Television dictates what is to be done, when and with whom.
Multi-channel television creates new problems of addiction. The more the number of channels, the greater is the range and variety from which one can choose. The freedom to choose, the credo of contemporary advertisement, necessitates the provisioning of a wide range and variety to choose from which necessarily increases the width and depth of addiction. Thus, in effect, the freedom to choose becomes a bondage. Further, freedom to choose vanishes when two programmes of the same type are shown at the same time as in the case of "Kaun Banega Crorepati" and "Sawal Dus Crore Ka".
Multi-channel television has brought with it new dimensions of addiction. One could be addicted to different programmes drawn from different languages. That is, in addition to content, language becomes an important influencing factor of addiction. Let me illustrate with an example. Till the 1990s, Delhi Doordarshan showed two Malayalam films in a year. Now there are three channels - Asianet, Surya and DD - entirely devoted to Malayalam. At least six Malayalam films - two each in three of these channels - are shown everyday. For those Malayalees who are addicted to watching Malayalam films, this is both a boon and a curse. A boon because the choice has gone up exponentially. A curse because one cannot see most of these films either due to lack of time or because there is an overlap in the time of telecast.
The multi-channel television with its wide range of offerings in several languages on the one hand and different watch-groups with differing tastes on the other, is reinforcing consumerism. In the case of upper middle class households with adequate number of rooms, two or more television sets seem to be the solution. Thus an increasing number of households of this category are becoming multi-television households.
For those who are busy either because they have to work or study hard, the availability of and accessibility to television creates deprivation, as they do not have enough time to watch programmes. In contrast, for the relatively unengaged - the retired and the old, the unemployed, and those students who pursue relatively less demanding courses - addiction to television does not pose a problem. In fact, for the hard working housewife the television is a boon as she combines her work with television viewing. To put it pithily, addiction to television has differing connotations for different categories of people.
Addiction to anything, including television, is a human frailty. It is indicative of an individual's incapacity to choose from among a wide array of available things. Above all, it clearly demonstrates a person's incapacity for self-regulation. To do away with addiction, individuals should be equipped with the ability for self-control and prioritising.
Table of Contents
Copyrights © 2001, The Hindu.
Republication or redissemination ofthe contents of this screen are expressly prohibited
without the written consent of The Hindu.