THE BLOG

RIP Television Lovers

08/24/2011 11:02 am ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Dear fellow television addicts viewers: We've received awful news. Researchers in Australia have deduced that for every hour of TV we watch, we're shortening our lifespan by 22 minutes. Last year on our own shores, the Nielsen organization concluded that the average American watches 35 hours of TV per week.

That's 1,820 hours of TV-viewing per year. So if the average American has a life expectancy of 78.3, we'll all have watched 142,506 hours of TV in our lifetimes. Therefore, the average American who lives to age 78.3 will lose 5 years, 11 months and 14.6 days of their lives to Comcast, DirectTV, etc. So, the average American who lives to age 78.3 will die at age 72. That's frightening.

But with Medicare running dry in 2024 and Social Security emptying its coffers by 2036, if you're aged 40 or under, you might as well watch the final season of Desperate Housewives with wild abandon because you'll be dead soon anyhow.

Now, I don't really know if any of my numbers are accurate because I'm not a research scientist and I don't have a sponsor for my study. But I think we can all agree that my conclusions are dramatic.

TV is killing us. It's picking us off one by one like Predator (which I watch whenever it's re-run on TV).

It makes me grateful that most of the shows I enjoy get canceled half way through the first season. I don't mean to gloat, but this means I'm only losing 11 minutes to your 22.

After reading the terrifying news of TV's murderous ways, I did an informal poll of the people who were sitting in the room with me watching the finale of The Next Food Network Star. Would this study change their TV watching habits? The people on the orange couch shrugged and said they didn't care and would never give up their shows. The people on the tweed couch said it was really scary and they were glad they didn't have cable anymore. My husband and I were the people sitting on the tweed couch. Otherwise known as the sanctimonious, "We don't have cable" couch.

Initially, I didn't want to give up TV. It was my empty wallet, rather than my own sense of self-worth that forced the decision to become a cable-free household. And we don't have an antenna, so we can't actually watch any live television. Yet when we rearranged our living space, we still gave our flat screen a prominent spot. You can see the TV from anywhere in the room. But it just stares blankly back like the monolith in 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Sometimes I stare at its black screen and lose myself in the void.

I've had such an intimate relationship with that television: It provided me companionship in times of great loneliness and despair. It made me laugh and cry (I'm looking at you, Six Feet Under). It taught me how to invest for retirement, re-grout the tile in my bathroom, and how to properly use a chef's knife. It made me love every inch of its Panasonic-iness. It is beautiful inside and out. I don't let my husband catch me staring longingly at the television in the same way I don't allow him to see me pouring over the shoebox filled with pictures of my ex-boyfriends. It would highlight the cracks in our relationship and make us both sad.

The point is, I don't have TV anymore.

So when the news broke that television is the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, I was a little smug. Like a vegan on the days that Brian Williams warns the country about an E.coli outbreak in ground beef. (By the way, I'm also a vegan.)

Oh, in case you're curious how the TV can kill you in 22 minute increments (and I should mention that the Australian study did not account for the time difference between Australian Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time), the study mentioned it is because you are sedentary when you're watching television. Sitting for hours is really bad for your body. And staring at a screen brings on early dementia. And it isolates you and keeps you from making real human contact. And it inspires mindless eating of crappy food you see advertised on TV. And it breaks down the discs in your spine and smashes the nerves in your back and legs. And there was more, but I got distracted because I realized that I could stream The Closer online at TNT.tv. I haven't watched that show since we cut off our cable and I was freaking out because I didn't know if Brenda was going to get in trouble for dropping that murderer off in the middle of gang territory where he was beaten to death. There's some really good articles online though if you want to find out more about the ill-effects of television viewing.

I think the Australian study is a little flimsy because the researchers didn't differentiate between what kind of shows we might enjoy. Is a Pawn Stars marathon more dangerous than watching hours of Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, The Doctors, and Grey's Anatomy? I really don't know because I'm completely unqualified to make those distinctions. I guess it depends if you're walking on the treadmill while you're watching.

The Australian researchers also don't give credit where I know credit is due:

  • TV is reliable. (Unlike the stock market, the housing market, the job market.)
  • It is always present and available. (Unlike our friends who get too busy to return our calls.)
  • It's a giver. It entertains and informs, without asking for anything in return. (Like our pets or our spouses.)

Sure, the TV might sap our vital life force, but it fills up our senses (well, two of them at least) with life-affirming reality shows. Feel overweight and self-conscious about yourself physically? Turn on Season 624 of The Biggest Loser! You'll feel fit as a fiddle. Don't know how to express your anger? Turn on Ann Coulter and you'll be blowing your top like a steam locomotive. Regret that you didn't get a higher education? Turn on one of those shows with the orange people from New Jersey and you'll feel like Einstein. See? TV boosts our self-esteem! It engages us with our feelings. I don't see any allowances for that from the Australian researchers.

Those healthy-outdoorsy Australian researchers say that TV viewers spend too much time sitting and that's why we're gonna croak before our time. As if surfing in an ocean teaming with sharks off the Great Barrier Reef is going to allow you to age like a fine wine. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. And how long did it take them to write-up this study? Let's say like 100 hours. That's 100 hours of sitting and typing on their upside-down Australian laptops. Does that mean they're going to die 220 minutes early because they wasted my time freaking me out with their stupid study that tells me that I shouldn't be couch surfing like I don't already know that?

My blood pressure feels really high. If I could, I'd turn on that yoga show on PBS with that Hawaiian lady. Her voice is so calming. I never actually did the yoga with her, but I sat and watched many times.

I'm scared. I'm scared out of my wits.

I don't know if these incendiary Australian findings are true or not, but just in case, we might want to avoid the new 3D TVs. That's three times the amount of danger as a normal TV. I don't know what 22 minutes to the 3rd power is, but it sounds powerful... and really awful.

No matter what kind of television you have -- whether you stream it on your iPad, or your Wii, whether you DVR it, or watch it live -- it's not a question of if your TV will annihilate you -- the question is when. How do you want to go? On a wave of exciting fall premiers? Or in my home, reading books and playing Scrabble for one more endless night, counting down the minutes until I can take my Ambien?

Please invite me to your house. Please. I'll bring the dip.