virtual children by Scott Warnock

Twelve hours and two minutes in one day is a lot of TV watching for any generation

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Adults lament it all the time and I have lamented it here: Kids watch too much TV and generally look at screens too much. Researchers have quantified their screen-viewing in all kinds of worrisome ways: Too much screen time may even inhibit their ability to read emotions. It’s bad, people. But what is perhaps really bad is that the behavior, as with most behaviors of the youth, is so unself-aware, so mindless. Does it have to be that way?

No. Why do I say this? Well, for the first time in a public forum, I want to share something with you: My own TV watching log from March 1979 to May 1981. As demonstrated by the graphic below, for whatever ungodly reason, I logged my daily TV-watching down to the minute for 21 straight months when I was 11 to 13 years old.

TV Log 1 001

The start of the 1979 TV log.

Most of the three-page log, titled “T.V. Hours I Watched,” I typed on my old typewriter in neat columns. If you had in your hand the yellowed piece of looseleaf paper pictured above and flipped it over, you’d see rows of indentations, the result of periods and colons pecked diligently, month after month, onto the other side.

At first the list was all typed with my black ribbon, but during year two, I typed some important dates using my red ribbon. Some of those important days: December 21, 1979, my 12th birthday (when I watched one hour and 53 minutes of TV); Christmas, 1979 (31 minutes); June 1, 1980 (0:00[?]); and July 5, 1980 (which I must have marked because it was a whopper: 11:46).

For the last nine and a half months of this time span, the entries were handwritten. I don’t know why. I do appear to try to maintain the same methodology, using red pen for significant dates, but then it appears I just used the pen that was handiest – probably whatever was on my nightstand.

I was precise. I watched one minute of TV Christmas Eve 1979: 0:01. Same with January 13, 1981. Like my TV-less day on June 1, 1979, I had some TV-less runs. For instance, December of 1980 must have been a busy month in my life: I logged 14 days without TV. (Maybe I had been punished.)

That first month, March 1979 (I actually started on the 17th of the month), I ran some numbers, which too were typed up; I averaged 2:36 with a daily high of 5:49. I didn’t generate similar metrics going forward, but it is clear that I often watched loads of TV, even taking several deep dives into double digits. In addition to that whopper day on July 5, 1980, I also logged double-digit viewing days on September 2, 1979 (10:27) and January 19, 1980 (10:23).

But no day would compare to Saturday, July 14, 1979. On that incredible day, I watched 12 hours and 2 minutes of TV. 12:02! This must have been pre-red ribbon methodology/technology, because I sloppily boxed that date in with a pencil. A week after I suppose a festive 4th of July, I gorged myself on more than 12 hours of TV. Three’s Company, The Jeffersons, The Dukes of Hazard, and The White Shadow. I liked baseball back then and might have tossed in a Phillies game. It must have been stuff like that, because I can’t believe I was interested in world events that week, like Carter cabinet members offering their resignations or a stage collapsing at the Miss Universe pageant in Australia or a kid finding a piece of Skylab.

I try to imagine myself on that July 14, peering at the TV all day. What was it like?

It ended on May 30, 1981. There is a date recorded for May 31, 1981, but no time logged. I moved on. Forever enshrined, though, were my TV watching habits. I don’t have time to add to the madness by crunching all the numbers right now to derive averages, but I certainly watched a lot of TV.

I re-discovered the log recently. I’m here to tell you I survived. I also thought there might be a lesson, something to learn?

But, it’s all backfired. My boys spend too much time in front of screens. I showed them the log — “Be mindful of your habits!” I implored.

I came downstairs recently and started rampaging about the FIFA-playing that I saw. Demanding outside time. Moaning about shrinking brains. My 13-year-old never looked up from a virtual PK: “This from a guy who watched more than 12 hours of TV in one day,” he muttered.

You may draw your own conclusions.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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5 Responses to “Twelve hours and two minutes in one day is a lot of TV watching for any generation”

  1. Scott, You let let yourself in for that last comment on your son’s part! Why is it that the outstanding figure, the one so far from average that it is called “the exception that proves the rule,” is the one that goes viral?

    I myself was not allowed to watch TV on a school night until I’d finished my homework for the next day, so once I started 7th grade at a school a mile away (yes, I walked a mile each way to school for three years because we were just a wee bit too close to merit a school bus, and this in Silver Spring MD, home of the now infamous kids being picked up by the police for being “free range”kids), I discovered the Stamp and Coin Club (where I learned how to tell shaggy dog stories), the Current Events Club, Orchestra, and just Hanging Out with Friends Who Lived Over a Mile Away so I never got home until dinnertime, after which…my sister (who came right home from school, did her homework, then went out to play until dinner) and my parents settled down in the Living Room for an evening of those wonderful family sitcoms from the mid-1960s (I started 7th grade in 1964) through college and grad school that I never saw except as reruns in the summer (and then we’d be playing outside until dark, when I had to go to bed anyway, so I didn’t see all that many reruns).

    When I married, my wife, a Dutch woman who was irritated by the TV and its American Cultural hegemonic behavior, didn’t want a TV, and I was so used to this I had no problem with spending evenings reading together.

    Wow, though, to keep records of how many minutes of TV you watched for years…I sense the germ of a nascent grad student there…;0)

  2. I’m incredibly impressed that you recorded your TV watching with such diligence. Wow. I love how your mind works!

  3. There is really only one conclusion….

    You, my friend, are Bat. Crap. Crazy.

  4. Wonder what you started to log after 13.
    Serious issues.

  5. Humm..its a wonder you found time to get into mischief!

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