Lost In The Tube

The Gwich’in are a group of native Alaskan people who have lived in the northwestern part of North America, mostly above the Arctic Circle, for many centuries.  The word “Gwich’in” means “people of the land.”  Oral tradition indicates that the Gwich’in have occupied this area for as long as 20,000 years.

Until the 1980’s, the Gwich’in lived a very isolated existence, far removed from the influences of other cultures.  They were a self-sufficient society, surviving all those thousands of years on the habits and skills passed on to them by their ancestors.

In 1980, a gift was given to the Gwich’in tribal leader, Gideon James … a 12-inch, black and white Zenith TV.  This television represented the first exposure these simple people had to the outside world … the world as we’ve known it.

Within weeks of receiving this “gift,” and along with it the gift of Johnny Carson and other popular TV shows of the era, the Gwich’in people became hooked on the view of life presented to them through the box. They watched and watched and watched.

Members of the tribe described the event as “the beginning of an addiction.  Soon native customs began to be ignored in order to maximize television-watching time.”

Fast forward to the present … today, all 67 cabins in the Gwich’in village are equipped with televisions. They’ve learned what they’ve been missing out on; things like sugar, alcohol, metal, tobacco, and gunpowder.  They stopped preparing “tundra tea” with alpine spruce needles in favor of Folger’s instant coffee. Handmade, beaded moccasins were replaced by Nike’s. Sled dogs were no match for Ski-Doos.

Many have come to believe that the tube did to the Gwich’in what no invaders had been able to do for centuries: kill their primal soul.  According to Dr. Michael Krauss at the University of Alaska, “For these natives, like everyone else, television is a cultural nerve gas. It’s odorless, painless and tasteless. And deadly.”

In the words of one Gwich’in tribe member, “Television made us wish we were something else. It taught us greed and waste, and now everything that we were is gone.”  (The Topeka Capital-Journal)

A few alarming statistics:

Most kids plug into the world of television long before they enter school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF):

  • two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day
  • kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs
  • kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games
  • Children who consistently spend more than 4 hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight.
  • Kids who view violent acts are not only more likely to show aggressive behavior but also fear that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.
  • Some 55 per cent of the respondents to a poll said they would not give up indulgences such as watching television, even if it would add five healthy years to their lives. (RBC Insurance)

There’s no question about it, watching TV is addictive. It’s so easy just to switch it on and zone out.  And like any addiction, even when you have decided you will watch less TV, before you know it, you’re watching again.  Watching too much TV exhausts what psychologists call the “orientation response,” making the watcher feel tired and depressed. While it may feel like it is relaxing activity, television actually agitates and tires the brain.  Brain scans have shown that TV inhibits the thinking brain. Interestingly, within thirty seconds of starting watching TV, a critical part of the brain begins to shut down, leaving the watcher less ‘aware’ than normal.

Despite the fact that television has brought many positive changes into our lives … made it easier, more comfortable, and more interesting … there are some definite dangers associated with it, as shown in the example of the Gwich’in tribe. We all need to be aware of these dangers, and begin to make better decisions about how we choose to spend our time – as well as how our children spend their time.

“Television changes our view of the world, and can encourage us to develop highly unrealistic and often damaging conclusions that serve to reduce our life satisfaction by up to 50%.” ~ Jeffres & Dobos 1995

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