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The Plug-In-Drug: Television, Children, and the Family by Marie Winn

Marie Winn expounds on the ways television deadens family life, leaving little time or interest for better forms of interaction. Family reunions, she splendidly notes, were once occasions for games and conversations. Now family reunions are occasions to huddle around screens.


Plug-In-Drug’s definition of addiction is too broad, but the best points in this work have little to do with addiction: Television desensitizes. It wastes time, attention, and human spirit. The time-sink argument alone condemns television. “It’s not what you watch. It’s that you watch,” should be an overused cliché by now but is not.


Criticizing TV viewing for violence or addiction, ignores the opportunity losses from watching. Time spent watching TV is time better spent elsewhere. Whether television causes violence is a small matter compared to the trillions of hours wasted on junk television. The idea that TV is good because it, perhaps, prevents some viewers from doing worse activities, Winn points out, is a false dichotomy. Life has better offerings. Opportunity losses must be taken seriously.


Research indicates TV is initially attractive—or perhaps less unenjoyable than boring, stultifying routines. Better activities require more effort, though the effort pays off. Television seems to have an anything effect: No matter how bad almost everything is on TV, individuals let attention be controlled by instantly attractive alternatives. (See George Ainslie for more on this subject.) International vacationers, Winn mentions, watch television, though they cannot understand a word. There is something perversely attractive about staring at glowing screens.


First published a generation ago, Plug-In-Drug holds up well. Worth reading. 288p (H) 1985        

book review articles by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 21, 2009


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