C-SPAN makes people boring

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

Techwit By Jason Ohler

A study appearing in the April issue of Pediatrics journal has found that every hour preschoolers watch television each day boosts their chances - by about 10 percent - of developing attention deficit problems later in life. I had the same reaction to hearing this that I had to hearing that scientists had proven that inhaling tar and poisonous gas (otherwise known as cigarette smoking) was bad for people. Gosh, really? Sure glad someone spent billions figuring that out.

But no sooner did the new tots and TV research appear, than Sesame Street folks were enumerating the virtues of Big Bird's qualifications as an inter-species alphabet teacher. I suspect the argument about whether television is good or bad for kids will go on until TV and reality are so fused that we can't tell the difference between them. Then we won't care. Or won't be able to.

But until we are all living in the Matrix, we need to focus on the real issues about TV and kids. Fortunately, a top secret CIA document left in the bathroom where I work has the real story. The report is titled "Researchers prove that C-SPAN makes kids boring." For those of you who don't watch television, this needs some explanation.

Since television was created, TV producers have continually increased how often camera angles change during a show. TV programming started out with very few changes: point a camera at Ed Sullivan's stage and leave it set up until the show is over. Contrast this with MTV or shows like NYPD Blue, which change camera angles so frequently that you need motion sickness medication. Apparently, advertisers (who, if you haven't heard, control the world) think we like this. They spent billions proving that we would rather watch something that moves than stare at something that doesn't move (like a large rock).

So, back to C-SPAN, that anomaly of television channels that uses almost no camera angle changes. C-SPAN camera crews set up inside the U.S. Senate chambers, point their cameras at government officials discussing things like federal subsidies for the preservation of historical parking lots and wait for nothing to happen. The people talk, the camera rarely moves. This can go on for hours. Every once in awhile, someone blows his nose and the camera swoops in to catch it. But otherwise, it's pretty calm.

The CIA, afraid that fast action TV was keeping kids from being able to concentrate on anything at all (like supporting the president, no matter what he does), began exploring the potential of using C-SPAN to calm kids down. They subjected a group of 8-year olds to 15 minutes of MTV directly followed by 15 minutes of C-SPAN. The result: massive brain activity that left the kids with no net effect. Sort of like washing back sedatives with a big cup of black coffee. This looked promising so the CIA subjected the same group to an hour of C-SPAN once a day for a month.

The result: C-SPAN made them boring. Their interests changed from skateboarding to discussing things. This sounds great until you realize the impact on the economy. If talking to people makes you happy, then what's your motivation to go shopping? Some parent organizations have suggested that televisions should come with warning signs, like cigarettes. Perhaps something like, "May reduce attention span so much that delayed gratification is impossible." But advertisers were quick to counter with the demand that books bear the warning: "Reading stories by yourself can destroy community storytelling." They also wanted pencils to have a label which read, "Hurts when jabbed at someone; could result in lawsuit."

TV or not TV? That is the question. It's so stressful trying to figure out the right thing to do, especially after a hard day's work. My suggestion? Chill out. Take a load off. Put your feet up. Get out some chips and dip. Find the remote. Turn on the tube. Relax ...

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