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  • Digital Detangler

TV Does Not Count As Reading

Over the past year, I've discussed with several friends the way our world has been and continues to be transformed by technology. One argument I've heard over and over again is that people have always resisted new technology. There are plenty of historical precedents for this argument: the Luddites destroying looms in early industrial days, Socrates worrying about the invention of writing, even the printing press had its share of critics. The argument assumes that those resisters were always wrong. Over time, the more forward-thinking of us or at least the next generation swept away the impediments to progress. I don't want to get into the weeds with the individual circumstances of each of those examples, largely because it doesn't matter. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the most important aspect of technology advances: the effects technology has on humans. And that turns out to be fairly simple to measure and study. Science provides us with the tools to measure how technology changes our world for the better and for the worse. That allows us to avoid the worst uses of technology and embrace the best.

To give a concrete example, let's look at television. The average American watches television for 5 hours each day(7). Television has been shown by many studies to be connected to obesity. Possibly the most damning study demonstrated that television habits as a child predict obesity in adulthood(5). Television even increases risk of death(6). An expert from the Mayo Clinic went so far as to describe the risks of television watching as, "similar to what you see with high cholesterol or blood pressure or smoking"(6), which is not surprising given the association between television and obesity paired with obesity's connection to type II diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure(3). In fact, just watching a character in a television program experiencing stress can cause a release of the stress hormone, cortisol, in viewers(4). In summary, "the negative effects of television have been well documented, including violent behavior, reduction in reading, decreases in physical activity, increased obesity, and negative impact both on total sleep time and sleep quality"(7).

Reading on the other hand expands our world. Doing an activity like reading that is intellectual in nature slows the rate of mental decline as aging occurs(2). Reading lowers stress levels more than listening to music or playing video games(2). Increased reading even results in a longer life: "on average, book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers"(1). Nevertheless, the average American reads for just 19 minutes each day(8).

It seems pretty clear that despite how much fun watching television may be, if you care about your well-being, you'd be wise to minimize your exposure. Shifting a couple of those TV hours over to reading would likely improve and lengthen your life. Don't settle for trite sound bites that reinforce your own bias. We aren't helpless in the face of impersonal technological progress. We can measure what it does to us and make informed decisions.


  1. Flood, A. (2016). Book up for a longer life: readers die later, study finds. the Guardian. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  2. Gelman, L. (2017). Benefits of Reading: Getting Smart, Thin, Healthy, Happy | Reader's Digest. Reader's Digest. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  3. Information, H., Statistics, H., Statistics, O., Statistics, O., Center, T., & Health, N. (2017). Overweight & Obesity Statistics | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  4. Perry, K. (2014). Stress can be transmitted through TV screen. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  5. Television Watching and “Sit Time”. (2012). Obesity Prevention Source. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  6. TV watching raises risk of health problems, dying young. (2017). Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  7. Watching TV Leads to Obesity . (2017). Psychology Today. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

  8. You Won't Believe How Little Americans Read. (2017). Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

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