Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience

Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience

Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience

Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience


Employing a unique research methodology that enables people to report on their normal activities as they occur, the authors examine how people actually use and experience television -- and how television viewing both contributes to and detracts from the quality of everyday life. Studied within the natural context of everyday living, and drawing comparisons between television viewing and a variety of other daily activities and leisure pursuits, this unusual book explores whether television is a boon or a detriment to family life; how people feel and think before, during, and after television viewing; what causes television habits to develop; and what causes heavy viewing -- and what heavy viewing causes -- in the short and long term. Television and the Quality of Life also compares the viewing experience cross-nationally using samples from the United States, Italy, Canada, and Germany -- and then interprets the findings within a broad theoretical and historical framework that considers how information use and daily activity contribute to individual, familial, societal, and cultural development.


By current estimates the first human beings emerged on Earth approximately 2 million years ago. In this vast stretch of time, approximately 100,000 human generations have lived and died, and yet ours are among the first to live in a world where much of daily experience is shaped by widely shared, instantaneous mass communication. Foremost among the mass media is television.

The A. C. Nielsen Company (1989) currently estimates that people in the United States view upwards of 4 hours of television each day. Given the likelihood that such estimates are inflated, let us assume a more conservative estimate of 2½ hours of television viewing per day over the period of a lifetime. Even at this more conservative rate, a typical American would spend more than 7 full years watching television out of the approximately 47 waking years each of us lives by age 70--this assuming an average of 8 hours of sleep per day.

Such a figure is even more striking when we consider that Americans have about 5½ hours a day of free time, or approximately 16 years available for leisure of the same 47-year span. From this point of view and based on a conservative estimate, Americans are spending nearly half of their available free time watching television.

Still, the number of hours spent viewing continues to creep upward by a few minutes each year, and people throughout the rest of the world seem every bit as attracted to the medium as do Americans. In fact, television is growing in popularity in almost every country on the globe. Programs such as "The Cosby Show" and "Dallas" are viewed by enormous audiences throughout the world--"Dallas" has aired in over 90 countries--and have caused the desertion of cafés and movie theaters, and forced public events to be rescheduled during broadcast hours. At a 1988 international meeting of television program buyers and sellers in Cannes, one estimate set U.S. television program sales to Europe at $2.7 billion for 1992, a 1,200% increase since 1983 (Miller, 1989). So great is the attraction of television that the East German city of Dresden experienced a crisis in labor supply when many residents moved closer to the western border to watch programs being broadcast by stations in West Germany (Cantor & Cantor, 1986).

Suffice it to say that television has become our species' preferred and most powerful means of mass communication. But although television . . .

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