What Do the TV Shows I’m Addicted to Say About Me?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Have you ever wondered what our lives would be like without television? Television is like the proverbial sixth that lets us see and hear across space and time. We could have used television technology to extend the reach of our eyes and ears to real-time events in reality. My wife spends endless hours watching an eagle’s nest in Florida, but few people watch live cams. Most of us watch recorded shows. Either fiction or nonfiction. And as much as I love documentaries and news programs, my real TV addiction has been to fictional shows.

When you think about it, isn’t it rather odd that we have this technology to spy on reality across the globe but we prefer inputting make-believe into our eyes and ears instead? I can only assume watching our favorite television shows is a rejection of reality.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not about to tell you to stop watching television. I’ve had a lifelong addiction to television and there’s little chance I’m going to give it up now. I do feel I’ve gotten my TV habit under control though. I only watch 2-3 hours a day, and one of those hours is my routine of watching the NBC Nightly News and Jeopardy with my wife Susan. For the first ten years of our marriage, we spent primetime together every night, but we’ve slowly drifted apart preferring other shows.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I remember watching television every evening with my family. I had my favorite shows I looked forward to each week, but I wasn’t obsessed with watching every episode. Beginning this century with complete seasons on DVD or streaming an entire series from the first episode to last, I’ve developed the habit of binge-watching completed series from the past. Now that feels like an addiction. Looking back I realize my TV viewing habits have changed many times since 1955. That’s when I remember watching my first TV show.

I’m realizing what I’ve been doing recently is going back over a lifetime of television watching and picking out certain shows to watch every episode in order. Here’s are the shows I’m currently working my way through:

Now, this does not cover any of the dozens of TV shows from the 21st-century that I’ve watched every episode as they came out.

I keep asking myself why I’m drawn to those old TV programs when we have the latest shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, CBS All-Access, The Great Courses, Curiosity Stream, and Acorn TV to watch.

I keep thinking I need to psychoanalyze myself. I accept TV watching as my addiction, but I keep wondering why I pick the stories that I do. Most nights I flip through all the new offerings and end up watching either Perry Mason or Route 66. These shows give me the most pleasure at the moment. And it’s not necessarily nostalgia because I didn’t watch them when they first ran. Oh, I saw a couple episodes back then, but I was too young to appreciate them. My ten-year-old head was into Dobie Gillis and The Flintstones back then.

While Susan is in the living watching her shows late at night, I’m watching old black and white TV shows from the late 1950s. There’s a certain surreal quality to that. I feel like I’m channeling my parents who would have been in their forties at the time. These were their favorite shows. Or maybe I’m channeling the whole era from when I was growing up.

If watching TV is rejecting reality, then watching old TV is rejecting modern reality and the alternate reality of modern TV shows. There’s a weirdness to that. Think about it, TV is how we turn off our senses to the present and provide an alternative input. Why am I feeding my brain 60-year-old TV shows? What does that say about myself? And if I also admit to focusing on reading science fiction short stories from the 1940s and 1950s, I’ve got to wonder about my connection to the present.

It’s telling we prefer fiction to reality, but isn’t it also revealing what kinds of fiction we prefer for our substitute of reality?

Last night Susan and I made a Spotify playlist to share where we only added songs we both loved. Most of them were from the 1960s and 1970s. Tomorrow night we’re going out on the coldest night of the year and pay for high-priced movie tickets to watch The Wizard of Oz from 1939 on the big screen, a movie I got addicted to as a kid from its yearly showing on TV.

(By the way, I’m not completely out of touch with modern pop culture. I’ve already seen 6 of the 8 Best Picture Oscar nominations for this year, and will probably see the other two before the Oscars are revealed. I’ve lost touch with modern music, but I’m going to be really worried about myself when I no longer keep up with movies too.)




Would I Be A Better, Happier, More Productive Person If I Didn’t Use The Internet?

The Internet has consumed our culture.  We are quickly becoming a hive society.  Is that good or bad?  I think it’s good, but like all good things, I think it comes with some bad aspects.  Yesterday I watched the movie Chef, a moving story about  a father getting to know his son, but also a lesson in how Twitter works, for both good and bad.  I also read “How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star” in the LA Times, about how Internet gossip can create false impressions in the hive mind.


The Internet is capable of spreading liberal and conservative concepts with equal speed.  It is just as effective at teaching the truth as it is as spreading lies.  The Internet is equally suited to preach Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Atheism.  Net Neutrality is an ideal in more ways than one.  The Internet can be as addictive as a drug, or as productive as any tool.

The internet is tremendous fun, and I could never give it up, but what if I used it much less?  Most companies consider the Internet a  productivity waster and limit employee access.  Now that I’m retired its very easy to just get seduced into following one link after another, just clicking my way through the day.  I have fiction writing and programming projects I dream of doing, but instead I’m enticed by endless tidbits of fascinating facts.  No wonder George R. R. Martin writes on an ancient DOS machine using WordStar 4.0.

In some ways the Internet, including all the television, movies, music, ebooks, games, comics, news, magazines and audiobooks it delivers, is the ultimate song of the sirens.  Instead of owning a dog, I enjoy photos and videos of dogs on the Internet.  If I was younger and hornier, I’d probably be spending my time with virtual women.  Instead of watching cable TV, I get my shows via the Internet.  Instead of listening to music on CDs I have Spotify.  Instead of reading magazines I read Zite and News360.  When I want to cook something new I watch a how-to on YouTube. 

Everyone sees daily tales about Internet abuse, but who actually walks away?  Would I work on my novel full time if I canceled U-verse and unplugged my TV?  Is the Internet keeping me from being creative, or am I enjoying the Internet while not facing up to the fact that I’m not creative.

Obviously humanity is not going to reject the Internet any more than it’s going to reject fire, farming, writing and science.  The Zen of right living is to use any tool wisely.  The Internet is like a telescope, it allows us to see further, but do we always need to observe reality at an eyepiece?  Most people believe moderation is the key to everything, but I wonder if we don’t get the most from our tools by learning to use them as little as possible.

What inspired this essay was the realization that I was compulsively reading news stories from the Internet because I felt like I was learning so much.  The truth is we forget most everything we read.  Real learning comes from distillation of facts, not the abundance of facts.  It’s better to read one memorable essay than to read a hundred fascinating essays.  Strangely the one essay that stuck with me from yesterday is the one about Tom Cruise, and how the Internet tarnished his reputation.  And I have to admit that I went from liking Tom Cruise as an actor to avoiding his films because of Internet gossip.

I would be a better, happier, more productive person if I used the Internet less, and maybe elements of this essay have some 12-step properties.

JWH – 5/25/14

Is Addiction to the Internet Permanent?

Has Internet usage become a permanent part of our lives, or is there still a chance it could be a fad? 

Isn’t there always a possibility we could reject using the Internet, or that something bigger and better might come along?  Or is networking everyone and everything, to everyone and everything else, just too good of an idea to give up?  Can anything bigger and better come along, other than an ESP hive mind?


Over the recent centuries, there have been many back to nature movements.  None ever caught on with the public at large, but these movements have been big enough for thousands of people to retreat to living in the country hoping to find a more fulfilling life.  Both the 19th and the 20th century had fairly large communal living movements, and Henry David Thoreau is still very appealing to people today.

I guess the question to ask is:  Does the Internet make people happier?  Billions certainly have flocked to it.  And it certainly gives the illusion that the world is much smaller, and it’s possible to know far more people.  I assume people are happier, because most net users spend hours each day on the web, and billions of smart phones have been sold.

I guess the next question to ask is:  How would you live without the Internet?  (Just, in case it went away.)

My immediate answer is I’d read books and magazines, watch TV, and listen to CDs.  That’s what I did before the Internet came along.  And I think that answers the title question.  Everything we liked before the Internet was internet like.  We cherished technology that brought us news from around the world, that let us keep up with other groups of people, to share ideas, to feel part of a bigger world.  Retreating to living on a commune in the woods sounds very isolating and lonely, but I could probably do it if I at least had a nice selection of books.

I really can’t imagine people rejecting the Internet, other than maybe religious extremists.  Sooner or later, fundamentalists may reject the Internet because it’s like the teaching of evolution, something that will undermine their beliefs.  I can picture some fundamentalists giving up the Internet like the Amish gave up modern technology.

I guess it might be possible for some people, Internet addiction could be so bad that they will reject it completely, because it will be an all or nothing affair for them.

And finally, there might be some people, like those who have given up television, because they are so focused on their work, art, sport, hobby, etc. that the Internet will seem like wasting time.

For most people, I think our addiction to the net will only grow.  I get a lot of my television from the net now, and nearly all my music, and I subscribe to a service for magazines over the net.  I download audiobooks and ebooks, and read them on Internet connected mobile devices.  I participate mildly in social media, mainly the old fashion kind like Yahoogroups for book clubs, and blogging.  I keep my photos online, and my documents, and all my ripped CDs.  When I want to learn something new I turn to the Internet.  For example, when I wanted to peel a mango I studied it on YouTube.  When I check out a library book, I look it up online and put it on hold.  When I shop for clothes or new gadgets, I shop online.  Now that I’m retired I spend a fair amount of my social time online, rather in person.

Damn, I’m addicted.  Maybe I should give it up.  Why should I?  I don’ think there’s a real reason.  But could I?  Know what’s funny, the hardest thing I’d have trouble giving up is Audible.com.  I’d painfully miss Rdio.com, but I could go back to CDs.  And my pocketbook would miss Amazon.com, but the only way to get audiobooks cheap is via Audible.com.

If I could walk more I might do more “real” things.  One reason I don’t feel my spinal stenosis as a burden is I love living on the net.  I can’t walk for exercise, but I could bike.  I could go see more people.  I could get some dogs and cats.  I could garden.  I could take up guitar playing, or chess, or wood working.  There’s endless amount of things to do off the net.  I’m just as addicted as all those kids who live and breath social media lives.

For me, if I had to live without the Internet, I’d spend my days writing like I do now, but I’d write essays or stories to submit to magazines.  I think periodicals were the Victorian age’s Internet.

I’ve got to assume the Internet is here to stay, and its where I’ll live until I die.  I asked my wife just now if she could give up the Internet, and she snapped back, “Are you crazy?”  She freaks out if she gets out of reach of her iPhone.  She watches television with her laptop on her lap.

I do wonder if the Internet could become any more addictive?  What features are left to add that will fill up the rest of our real lives?  No, the Internet is not a fad, it’s become a way of life.

JWH – 2/19/14

When Does Abnormal Become the New Normal?

There’s two films showing at Sundance this week about web addiction.  Web Junkie from China is about teens going through rehab for internet addiction, a condition that China deems a psychological category for severe treatment.  Then there is Love Child, about a Korean couple who let their real baby starved to death while obsessively caring for a virtual baby.  A while back there was a spate of articles stating that 45% of Japanese women 16-24 were not interested in sex.  Then there are all those stories about Japanese children never leaving their bedroom – it even has a name, Hikikomori.  And the long term trend in America is to live alone.  Any many young women today claim their boyfriends would rather play video games than have sex.

Now I imagine there are parents in America who would love to send their kids to camps to get them away from their computers, but I’m not sure we think of compulsive internet use as an addiction.  When everyone is a pod person, it’s hard to know there’s another way of life.

How much is too much of anything?  When does something become an addiction?  Are bookworms who read all day book addicts?  Lots of retired people spend their entire days watching television.  Are they TV addicts?  Of course, people who work 60 hours a week are sometimes said to be addicted to their jobs, and called workaholics.

Evidently, there’s an assume dichotomy:  normal life and escapism, so if we spend too much time away from normal, we’re addicted.  But what if living in front of a computer becomes normal.  I was a computer programmer, and often spent my entire work day in front of a monitor.  And, then I came home and spent my evening in front of a computer writing.  Was I addicted?  Or was that just life?

I spend a lot of time at my computer desk.  I don’t play games, and I don’t stream TV and movies.  I do write, listen to music and read news stories, all of which I did before computers and the Internet, and what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet.  A couple years ago I lived three days without power and in the evening I’d write by pen on a yellow pad, listened to books and music on my iPod touch, and played old radio show tapes on an ancient Sony Walkman, all by flickering candlelight.


I know what they mean about addiction.  Younger people do spend a lot of time on the net.  But women my age spend a lot of time on their smartphones, and panic when they don’t have them.  And more people than ever seem to love living alone, often with their TV, computer, and game console.

Is the real problem video games?  Is the main worry that video are games more appealing than day-to-day living?  In the film clip above one young guy says he played World of Warcraft for 15 days straight.  Now, maybe that is an addiction.  However, if you have lots of free time, isn’t a computer game a higher form of stimulation?  It’s certainly more engaging than reading or watching television.  We live in a world of growing unemployment.  A good portion of our population is without engaging work, so why not turn to the Internet.  It’s better than drugs – where the original meaning of addiction comes from.  And what does it say when video games are more appealing than sex?

And there’s one more thing to consider.  Humans are self-aware beings living inside a skull of an animal.  We have five senses bringing data in from the reality outside of our body.  Could the Internet be our sixth sense?  Or an extension to our sight and hearing?  Doesn’t the Internet just extend the range of our body’s normal senses?  Can living alone on the Internet be considered the beginning of a hive mind?

Is hearing a real tree fall in the forest different from hearing a virtual tree fall in the forest?

JWH 1/22/14

My Fiction Addiction

Some addictions you know you can never give up.  Even when you know they are bad, and it’s even harder when think they’re good for you, like when you’re under the illusion you have a positive addiction.

If you’ve never had a substance abuse problem, you might think I’m using the idea of fiction addiction as a simple metaphor, but I’m not, I’m talking about a real addiction.  People crave drugs for more than just feeling good.   A good high can make life worth living, give it meaning, making a dull world dramatic, and instill the desire to go on.  Without the high, you feel what’s the point.  Fiction has me hooked like that.

I have many sources of fiction.  I listen to books, I read books, I watch stories on TV and I got to the movies, and on most days I spend several hours feeding my habit.  And when I’m not taking in stories, I make them up in my head.  I seldom take my reality straight.  A Zen master would be constantly bashing me with his bamboo cane because I just can’t keep my mind focus on reality.

I chain smoke books.  If I can’t sit and read, I plug in my iPod and listen.  If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, I make up stories that I fantasize about writing.

Now I know that many bookworms are going to horrified I’m suggesting that fiction is bad for you, and I am, but don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you give it up.  If you’ve got the fiction addiction I don’t think you can give it up.

You know you have it bad when you’d rather read your book or watch your show than talk with a real person.  You know you have it severe when all your favorite memories are from stories.

I could be doing something real, but I choose not to.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

I’m going back to my book.

JWH – 9/21/10

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