There was a time, when I could not get enough of News. TV Sets had become widespread during my teens. The constant stream of accidents, rapes, killings and street fights kept me riveted to the newspaper and the TV screen. The genocides, progroms, wars and famines going on in different parts of the world, promptly shown live in the living room made me lose my faith in humanity. Earthquakes, floods and storms rampaging in the opposite part of the globe terrified me.
But I was hooked on it. I spend hours in front of the box. I felt compelled to keep a track of what is happening around the world.
I loved the other shows too. The colourful advertisements enticed me with the clothes, foods and high life on offer. The voluptuous models fascinated me with the abundance of beauty and curves available in humble Bharat. The rating-engineered serials impressed me with the sex, sleaze and deviousness of urban India.
In spite of all this, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something amiss. Was it distracting me from leading a full life? Could it be possible that it could be making me feel somehow inadequate? And anxious and unhappy?
The King of Bhutan thought so, too. No- he was not concerned about me. He didn’t know me. If he did, it was possible that he would have been. He was bothered about his subjects. He was one of the first rulers to describe ‘the happiness of the people’ as the most important goal of governance, rather than GDP. And Bhutan was one of the happiest societies in the world. The king allowed in television only very late, in the nineties, as he had concerns.
The nineties saw Bhutanese viewing high power ads, American serials and glitzy movies like everyone else.
Crime increased suddenly. Children became unruly, and school authorities were baffled. Affairs increased as marriages collapsed. Happiness levels plummeted as Bhutan began its march to modernity.
This effect was confirmed by some Canadian studies. Different states in Canada had cable television introduced at different times. Each state noticed the same unhappy effects as the Bhutanese.
Watching more than an hour a day of TV has been linked to almost all lifestyle diseases and obesity. It is evident that it has some contribution to attention deficit disorder in children.
Now the number of screens that we have to encounter has multiplied. Laptops, desktops, android phones and touch screen devices litter the background like cookies in a bake house kitchen. Staring at screens is the norm. A recent study from Michigan University seems to show that social networking sites like Facebook may be contributing to human misery, if we dont use them in moderation. We are getting neck deep in the virtual world. Our inner worlds may not be handling it very well. What could be the reasons?
One big reason could be that it cuts us off from other people. It is clear from much of the science of well being that the community and society are very important. Our friends and immediate family are crucial to our life, whether we like it or not. Healthy interaction is prevented by the ‘screens’. The effect may be worse on developing brains. Neuroscience developments hint that the parts of the prefrontal cortex that are involved with social life continue to develop well into our thirties. We could rapidly become social retards, thanks to modern technology.
Now we have information injected into our consciousness from all over the world. Murders, wars and famines from across the world concern us deeply. The haunting images invade our psyches. Our poor tribal minds can’t handle the pain, the threat perception and the anxiety. Any disturbance in our neighbourhood demands our immediate attention. We have to learn, observe. We have to be concerned and anxious. We have to be on our guard. Our survival depends on it. Unfortunately, now the entire world is our neighbourhood. And we can do nothing to stop the nuclear arms race, bomb wielding terrorists and globe warming governments. We feel anxious and powerless.
The movies and serials compete for our attention. They rake up the violence and sex. Affairs occur at the twinkling of an eye. Murders are plotted and shots fired without warning. Blood flows like water.
Now it has been proved that these things lead to a subtle effect called de-sensitisation. Our subconscious minds do not separate real life from screen life. Our children can’t anyway. We become immune to other people’s suffering. We become violent .We tend to believe that there are no values. Nobody follows them in the screen world anyway. If they can do it, I can do it. The effects of this are not so subtle.
The sneakiest effect is the one of comparison. The media worlds show a universe of unmatched opulence. We live in the living rooms of the idle rich. We discuss with them the benefits of a BMW over a jaguar. We see them dine at expensive French restaurants. We travel with them, in our minds, across the globe to picturesque resorts. And we feel greatly diminished in comparison.
I see beautiful girls of all races. They stare at me seductively from the fashion channels. Their scantily clad curves beckon my testosterone ravaged body. All of them are so much more beautiful than my wife, I think. I never knew that so many women were available around. May be there are, and I should look for them?
I am not sure whether my wife will read through this. But for the record, the above paragraph is purely rhetorical and has no similarity to the actual goings-on in my mind at any point.