Like all “Baby Boomers,” I grew up with television.
I cut my teeth on “Captain Kangaroo” and “Sesame Street” and graduated to sitcoms such as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bewitched” and “Gilligan’s Island”
On Saturday mornings, I awoke early and enjoyed the host of characters from Warner Brothers. It’s amazing that Mel Blanc was the voice behind all of them.
As a teenager, I began to show interest in “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train” as well as shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons.”
I can remember watching events of historical significance as well – several of the Apollo space missions, the night Hank Aaron hit home run 715, the day George Wallace was shot and the coverage of the Watergate scandal, to name a few.
Later in life, I learned that it wasn’t quite a full day until I heard Johnny Carson’s monologue.
For most Americans my age, television played an important role in our lives. Apart from it, we would have been disconnected from Americana.
So, when my wife and I moved to Jefferson, Ga., four years ago, it was a no-brainer whether we would get cable television service. The question was: Which one?
About a year ago, it occurred to me that television did little to relax me. Ironically, as cable television has added to the number of stations we can watch, the quest for something good to watch has gotten harder, not easier.
Each time I have traveled to places like Liberia and Peru, I’ve had a television vacation and discovered that I didn’t miss it very much.
A few months ago, I began to look for cheaper alternatives and finally purchased Apple TV. However, we aren’t currently subscribing to any of the monthly services offered through the streaming box.
In fact, my wife and I have cut out most of the television from our lives. When we do watch a show, we watch it free through the Internet. Surprisingly, we have not missed cable that much.
In addition to saving $600 a year, Tina and I read more. We also enjoy quieter evenings, and we can talk to each other without asking, “What did you say?” as the television vies for our attention.
A 2010 report from the University of Michigan Heath Care System stated that television viewing among kids was at an eight-year high.
On average, children ages 2-5 spent 32 hours watching television programs, DVDs, DVR recordings and using a game console. Kids ages 6-11 spent about 28 hours a week with these devices.
I wonder if this current generation will look back on their usage of the Internet and social media in much the same way I look back at the television of my youth as Facebook, online gaming and chat rooms have replaced time spent watching television.
The Internet is more addictive and has much more potential for harm and good than television ever did.
While much good will continue to be reaped from the Internet, I predict that addiction to social media and Internet usage in various forms will continue to grow and will become epidemic for two reasons.
One, people are hungry for relationships and have a void of meaningful relationships in their lives.
People are trying to fill those voids through online relationships. However, most of the time these relationships are superficial, pseudo-relationships.
Like a drug, once the high of connecting with people is over, they have to return to the computer to get another fix.
This leads me to the second reason. Research has found that certain Internet usage actually releases dopamine in the brain, creating withdrawal symptoms when a person goes long periods without using it.
To compound the problem, some Internet usage is spent in fantasy worlds, viewing pornography, on gambling sites or engaging in relationships that jeopardize their relationships with spouses, families and employers, to name a few.
The Internet and social media are shaping Americana like television did in my generation. These mediums are neither good nor bad, but they become bad if they control us, consume us and lead to making choices that are destructive and immoral.
In a letter to a church wondering whether it was moral to eat anything they wanted to eat, Paul wrote, “You say, ‘I have the right to do anything,’ but remember that not everything is beneficial. So, I say, ‘I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything'” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
That wisdom applies to our television and Internet usage. Though the amount of usage will differ for each of us, a lot of people are being mastered by electronics.
Even though I’ve discovered that there is life after cable, I realize I can easily substitute my time spent in front of the television for time spent on the Internet.
While some of that time is healthy, if not done in moderation or with boundaries, it can become a negative influence on my life.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.