My name is Sharon, and I’m a mediaholic. Using Webster’s definition of media, that means I’m addicted to all “agencies of mass communication,” such as television, radio, newspapers and the Internet. Like all addictions, it’s not something to be particularly proud of, and unfortunately there’s no 12-step program for people like us.
The other day while sitting on the couch recovering from the stomach flu, I found myself watching back-to-back bad TV shows, at the same time holding my iPad in one hand and The L.A. Times in the other. I suddenly felt myself slipping into a media coma.
I realized that this self-destructive pastime was pulling me away from any activity that might be construed as productive or healthy, like, for example, engaging with another human being. If my perception of reality was coming straight from “NCIS,” I knew I was in trouble.
I began my TV addiction when I was 5. I remember spending hours in front of the TV, which included drinking my milk to “Red Light, Green Light” on “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade.” If anyone is as old as I am, you might remember Sheriff John as the kindly cop who sang, “Laugh and be happy, and the world will laugh with you.”
Well, times have changed: back in the early ’50s there was no show like “American Crime,” and 60% of American households had TVs compared to 99% today. I was shocked to read that children today have seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV by the time they reach age 18. Back then, my parents’ biggest worry was that I would in danger of losing my eyesight from the rays emitted from the TV after endlessly sitting 12 inches from the screen.
It’s no coincidence that I ended up working in the TV business straight out of college. I jumped at the chance to work at KNBC, where, hired on the same day as NBC’s very first female page, I could every once in a while catch a glimpse of Johnny Carson coming out of the “Tonight Show” studio.
Eventually becoming an administrator in the somewhat nebulous field of community relations (a job created as part of the FCC requirement to involve “minorities” in station management), I was asked to speak to community groups about the “power” of television. I remember reading statistics about average TV viewing to be anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day, and could only imagine what it was doing to young people’s formative minds.
I ended up leaving it after demeaning myself on various talk shows (the predecessor to today’s reality shows), where unwilling celebrity guests were asked either ridiculous or shocking questions about their personal lives — just to get an emotional response. A good guest was one who could be made to cry on cue.
Thankfully, I had my fill of this kind of manufactured emotion, and today my craving for television is limited to non-reality shows — except of course for the occasional Jon Stewart rerun or David Letterman show. I shamefully admit that I am addicted to “Dancing with the Stars,” but only for the dancing, honest.
I recently read that too much TV viewing in fact fulfills the criteria for substance abuse. Some of the symptoms, according to a Rutgers University psychologist, are indiscriminate viewing, feeling a loss of control while watching, and feeling angry with oneself for watching too much. So you can understand my concern when I caught myself turning on the tube in the middle of the day.
My mediaholism, however, is not limited to the screen. Radio and newspapers occupy a big chunk of my mornings, and I wake up each day to The Los Angeles Times while listening to NPR news at the same time.
Indeed, I am a media multitasker. There are times I find myself turning on my iPad next to my bed as soon as my eyes open, though for news, print is still my favorite format. I find it a lazy luxury to leisurely browse through the Sunday edition of the The New York Times. Last, but not least, I am of course a devoted Rafu reader.
Sadly, the compulsive behavior that seems to have consumed my life lately is social media. Unlike many people my age, I’m a faithful Facebook and Twitter follower, but I’m one of those who hide this addiction by reading others’ posts faithfully while not writing my own. Like watching television, it’s passive, lazy and indiscriminate.
I am not saying my media habit is all bad. After all, how else to stay informed about the complex world we live in without these information tools? As unrealistic as some shows can be, TV also provides the most informative and enlightening programs around. For instance, I have never felt ashamed about my obsession with “The Wire,” a gutsy program I consider to be one of TV’s best. I also think it’s imperative to stay connected to the community and the world we live in through valuable news and social media outlets.
What I am saying is that it’s also important to take an active role in what we do. For example, over the years I have seen an unusual family caravanning on bikes early in the morning on the beach bike path. The family consists of an Asian man, his wife and their four young children. What is unusual about this family, besides the fact that the youngest child started on a trailer when he was an infant, is that each member is towing several pounds of gear, including six surfboards, trash receptacles and large gear bags. I have watched them riding along while stopping to pick up bottles, cans and other trash along the heavily littered beach.
After finally getting the nerve to stop them one day, I discovered the father was a local Japanese American from Culver City. I couldn’t help but ask if he would mind my interviewing him for a column, but I was not surprised when he quietly turned me down. His goal, he said, was simply to teach his children about recycling and the environment, and to hope that they become “good” people.
Somehow, I imagined that this family was not watching much TV, but instead out there cleaning up the world.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.