How the Plug-in Drug got me questioning TV

Now here’s a book that impacted me when I was younger: the Plug-In Drug, by Marie Winn. It talks about something I hadn’t thought much about at the time: TV. Specifically, it dealt with how TV, video games, and other forms of screen time impact individuals and families.

Some key insights:

  • It’s not just what you watch, it’s what TV crowds out
  • TV, she claims, caused verbal SAT scores to decline materially
  • TV is powerfully addictive
  • Many families have eliminated it, and live richer lives
  • Play is reduced after TV — and play is a great thing

It was a great introduction into the subject matter here. And I didn’t even finish! There’s still a lot more to be gleaned from it.

Regarding how TV crowds out other things, Marie writes:

“The very nature of the television experience apart from the contents of the programs is rarely considered. Perhaps the ever-changing array of sights and sounds coming out of the machine — the wild variety of images meeting the eye and the barrage of human and inhuman sounds reaching the ear — fosters the illusion of a varied experience for the viewer. It is easy to overlook a deceptively simple fact: one is always watching television when one is watching television rather than having any other experience.”

There are some facts about consuming media — whether it be video programs, social media, news, or video — that are obvious and don’t need researching:

  • On average, we spend a big chunk of our free time consuming this stuff
  • When we’re consuming it, we aren’t fully engaged in anything else
  • It didn’t use to be this way, at least not before ~1950

So things have changed in a big way. But is this change good, bad, or neutral? Marie Winn provides an attack that should have us asking this right away. And asking the questions that flow from this, such as: What are the different forms of media consumption doing to us — to our brains, anxiety levels, work ethic, conversational skills, and general happiness? I’ll dive into this in a separate post.

One downside to Marie’s recommendations: She turns too quickly to books and other forms of media as an alternative. With any media consumption you are not creating, you are consuming. You are crowding out other, more engaging activities, living vicariously, and falling into lazy habits.

Overall though, this is a recommended book if you haven’t thought much about the topic. She may come across as old-fashioned, but I think we need the older generation’s viewpoint on TV since they’ve watched it’s impact unfold and have more perspective. In that sense, the book is eye opening.