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Turn Off the TV

By age 65, the average American will have watched nine years of television. Looking back on our lives, do you suppose we'll wonder what grand dreams we might have chased with those hours instead?
 
 
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We're dying here. Physically, mentally and spiritually: overweight, apathetic, full of talk and noise, and less informed than ever. Okay, so maybe I'm a cynic and a misanthrope. But I'm not alone.

More than 7 million people turned off their television sets last year during National TV-Turnoff Week, which celebrates its 10th annual year this week.

In my own anecdotal and very unscientific survey, eight out of 10 friends I've spoken to about the campaign were either already anti-television (no more $56 monthly cable bill) or expressed a desire to be less "addicted" one fine day.

Most were shocked to learn that, by age 65, the average American will have watched nine years of television. Looking back on our lives from the rocking chair, do you suppose we'll wonder what grand dreams we might have chased with those hours instead?

I disconnected my cable service many months ago (with a brief, temporary reconnect for the final episodes of "Sex and the City"). Honestly, I haven't missed it in the least.

We all have different reasons for tuning out. Some are upset by "news" coverage of the war in Iraq (me). Others are simply exasperated with the drivel and couldn't care less who got fired or what Omarosa did with her lunch hour (me again).

But mostly I tuned out because I love life. Because I still think the changing colors of Central Park on the edge of springtime miraculous; a gift from God.
As are the ducks sleeping on the banks of the reservoir in that eerie way they have, with brown heads spun around backwards, and beaks tucked into surprising splotches of turquoise-amethyst feathers.

We all have our drug of choice. Mine was "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which made me feel like there was a system out there in some distant future that was generally ruled by reason, education and humanitarian values. With "TNG" I fantasized daily, in a very predictable and comforting way every evening over dinner, that I was part of an enlightened collective of people who created ordered, caring networks of universal community. If a cool-headed Renaissance hero like Jean-Luc Picard could guide us through all manner of calamity, selfishness and greed, we frail humans might just survive after all, I thought.

Television gave me hope. And then I realized: It wasn't real.

You may think that last tidbit somewhat of a no-brainer, but ask yourself: How many times have you found yourself "missing" your "friends" from "Sex and the City"?

Hello? Reality check. Carrie is not our friend. So let's get out there and create that universe we've been dreaming of. Or, at the very least, appreciate the ducks in springtime.

This op-ed originally ran in Newsday.
Kristal Brent Zook, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, lives in Manhattan.