TV Fried My Brain, Reading Repaired It

April 30, 2023

I am writing from a small laptop-shaped section of desk walled in by books which mark my shift from art writing (my focus for the past ten years), towards some version of prose I have yet to identify.

There are approximately two hundred hours of reading surrounding this screen. And yet, for the last six months, these books have remained mostly closed and neatly stacked. I simply haven’t had the time. So, in December of 2022, when a particularly conscientious friend shared his intentions to embark on a TV-free January, and despite my life-long resistance to new year’s resolutions, I decided to join him. Although I instinctively understood this to be the solution to my illiteracy, I could never have anticipated the depth of its positive effects on every aspect of my life.

January 5th

Today I was busy. Today this feels normal. I’m not missing it today. But still, I think about it, obsessively, all the time, every day. When I first shared my plans with friends and colleagues, some would sheepishly admit to their own unhealthy habits, but a good handful would furrow their brows and ask me why. Since I’ve long ago lost my patience for stating the obvious, I would digress and immediately begin to judge. I was as conceited as anyone in the early throes of a resolution, but surely any rational adult is aware that TV negatively affects sleep, decreases motivation, reduces critical thinking, lowers mood, and increases appetite. It is addictive, designed around cliff-hangers and emotional rollercoasters, causing our brains to emit endorphins and adrenaline while over-stimulating the visual cortex and bypassing analysis and reasoning. I have long been aware of the space that TV takes up in my subconscious, a space where I suspect my imagination would otherwise thrive.  But TV is fun! It’s warm and comfortable, requiring sweatpants, snacks, and bodies draped over bodies, sunken into couches, steeped in dimmed lights and fantasy worlds. It’s the best way to relax, disconnect, and encourage time to pass. There are TV characters that live inside my head, having settled into part of my identity that feels richer for having known them. They are characters that tend to be smart, ambitious, and unapologetic about the way they move through life, and they certainly never have time to watch TV the way I do. Can you imagine witnessing your favourite character spending an hour searching for something to stream, and then, after settling on an apocalyptic teen drama with vampires, proceeding to carry their iPad to the bathroom to pull their pants down one-handed while their headphones dangle dangerously close to the bowl? How utterly unromantic. How deeply embarrassing.

January 10th

TV softens the mind and body! I’ve been an addict rationalizing destructive behaviour. It’s not like me to want to turn off. No more exceptions. Stop making a case for it. It’s true, of course, that I have watched movies and TV shows that have challenged my thinking and provided me with enlightened perspectives that positively effect the way I approach the world, but it turns out that a case for not watching TV will always be a case for reading. Some escapism is necessary, and stories are a great way to get there. But unlike TV, reading is inherently cognitive, not to mention peaceful and physical. It is pure time slowed down. It calms anxiety and improves mental and emotional clarity. Reading is an opportunity to swap thoughts with intelligent humans you are not likely to meet. This can both reinforce and enrich your own internal dialogue. Last month I read two and a half books, a couple art and book magazines, and several articles from the New York Times. I also repotted my plants, started doing push-ups in the mornings, slept more, ate better, and spent more time in silence. Eliminating TV created space around my daily activities, and I used that space to meditate. It literally expanded time so that I could be more present in my actions, leaving behind the terrible feeling that I’m a hamster in a wheel, unable to do what I want or even see what I already have. 

January 19th

Reading while eating is awkward and eating alone is boring. What will my writing be like with more empty time? What will my writing be like if I use this time to read? Can the solution really be this simple? Will eliminating, or greatly reducing, TV consumption really make me a better reader, writer, and sleeper, and therefore a better lover, mother, and person overall? Allow me to end with a quick calculation: If I watch an average of one hour of TV a day until I turn ninety, that will put my total adult life consumption (from age 20 to age 90) at about 25,500 hours. At two hours a day (which is, sadly, a more realistic estimate based on my current habits, but still under the national average of almost three hours a day), I will reach a total of 51,100  hours of time spent watching. Need I continue to state the obvious here? – Alex Bowron is a Toronto-based writer and curator and current director of Galerie Nicolas Robert Toronto. She was previously programs and partnerships manager at the Canadian Art Foundation and assistant director of MKG127. Bowron holds an MA with honours in Critical Cultural Theory from the University of Leeds, UK (2013), a BFA with distinction in Sculptural/Installation from OCAD University (2012) and a BA in Religious Studies from the University of British Columbia (2004). East Room is a shared workspace company providing design-forward office solutions, authentic programming and a diverse community to established companies and enterprising freelancers. We explore art, design, music, and entrepreneurship; visit our news & stories page to read more.