Marie Winn: “The Plug-In Drug”
The word addiction is often used loosely and wryly in conversation. People will refer to themselves as mystery-book addicts or cookie addicts. E. B. White wrote of his annual surge of interest in gardening: We are hooked and are making an attempt to kick the habit. Yet nobody really believes that reading mysteries or ordering seeds by catalogue is serious enough to be compared with addictions to heroin or alcohol. In these cases, the word addiction is used jokingly to denote a tendency to overindulge in some pleasurable activity.
People often refer to being hooked on TV. Does this, too, fall into the lighthearted category of cookie eating and other pleasures that people pursue with unusual intensity? Or is there a kind of television viewing that falls into the more serious category of destructive addiction?
Not unlike drugs or alcohol, the television experience allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state. To be sure, other experiences, notably reading, also provide a temporary respite from reality. But it’s much easier to stop reading and return to reality than to stop watching television. The entry into another world offered by reading includes an easily accessible return ticket. The entry via television does not. In this way television viewing, for those vulnerable to addiction, is more like drinking or taking drugs once you start it’s hard to stop.
Just as alcoholics are only vaguely aware of their addiction, feeling that they control their drinking more than they really do ( I can cut it out anytime I want I just like to have three or four drinks before dinner ), many people overestimate their control over television watching. Even as they put off other activities to spend hour after hour watching television, they feel they could easily resume living in a different, less passive style. But somehow or other while the television set is present in their homes, it just stays on. With television’s easy gratifications available, those other activities seem to take too much effort. A heavy viewer (a college English instructor) observes:
I find television almost irresistible. When the set is on, I cannot ignore it. I can’t turn it off. I feel sapped, will-less, enervated. As I reach out to turn off the set, the strength goes out of my arms. So I sit there for hours and hours.
Self-confessed television addicts often feel they ought to do other things but the fact that they don’t read and don’t plant their garden or sew or crochet or play games or have conversations means that those activities are no longer as desirable as television viewing. In a way, the lives of heavy viewers are as unbalanced by their television habit as drug addicts or alcoholics lives. They are living in a holding pattern, as it were, passing up the activities that lead to growth or development or a sense of accomplishment. This is one reason people talk about their television viewing so ruefully, so apologetically. They are aware that it is an unproductive experience, that by any human measure almost any other endeavor is more worthwhile.
It is the adverse effect of television viewing on the lives of so many people that makes it feel like a serious addiction. The television habit distorts the sense of time. It renders other experiences vague and curiously unreal while taking on a greater reality for itself. It weakens relationships by reducing and sometimes eliminating normal opportunities for talking, for communicating.
And yet television does not satisfy, else why would the viewer continue to watch hour after hour, day after day? The measure of health, wrote the psychiatrist Lawrence Kubie, is flexibility. . . and especially the freedom to cease when stated. But heavy television viewers can never be sated with their television experiences. These do not provide the true nourishment that satiation requires, and thus they nd that they cannot stop watching.
Please complete the following exercise using the article in the Item above by Marie Winn:
In an analysis, an author first presents the analytical principle in full and then systematically applies parts of the principle to the object or phenomenon under study. In her brief analysis of television viewing, Marie Winn pursues an alternative, though equally effective, strategy by distributing parts of her analytical principle across the essay.
Locate where Winn defines key elements of addiction.
Locate where she uses each element as an analytical lens to examine television viewing as a form of addiction.
What function does paragraph 4 play in the analysis?
In the first two paragraphs, how does Winn create a funnel-like effect that draws readers into the heart of her analysis?
Recall a few television programs that genuinely moved you, educated you, humored you, or stirred you to worthwhile reaction or action.To what extent does Winn s analysis describe your positive experiences as a television viewer? (Consider how Winn might argue that from within an addicted state, a person may feel humored, moved or educated but is in fact from a sober outsider s point of view deluded.) If Winn s analysis of television viewing as an addiction does not account for your experience, does it follow that her analysis is flawed? Explain.