The Zen TV Experiment

Broken TV Set

Lately I have been pointed to an interesting experiment about television. It is called The Zen TV Experiment by Adam Shand. I found it to be a very interesting read and I recommend you check it out although it is a bit longer than your typical 140 characters that we are so used to nowadays 🙂

It is basically a small experiment everybody can do themselves and it teaches us a lot about the television and its effect on our lives. Having studied media myself, I can relate to a lot of the scientific arguments – and watching television from time to time, I can relate to the described effects as well. In the experiment, you are basically asked to analyze television from a purely technical perspective to see what really happens when you are watching it. To look at the atoms of what makes the tv experience. Go read the piece and come back after that 😉

To me, it is not merely a question of the Technical Events – which are a big part of the experiment – that are manipulating our perception of reality and our own lives. On a more abstract level, there are also mechanisms that capture our brains and make it stay with the program for a lot longer than we initially intended to. In television programming, a principle called flow is used to perpetually keep us interested in the next episode, the next news show, the next part of the movie.

Flow is the reason that the commercial breaks are the longest in the middle of a show and not between shows. Our brains are wired to solve puzzles and to want to figure stuff out. That’s why you see so many teasers for the story line of the next crime show while you are still watching the afternoon cooking show. The flow preps your brain to be interested in what really happens and to stay with the program to figure that out. The nasty fact is that this works even for shows that you have already watched a few times. It is something that even people who know the principle and recognize the mechanism can’t really defend against when they don’t consciously discipline themselves to turn the tv off. Maybe you know the feeling of: „after the next show I will DEFINITELY turn the tv off“ and then find yourself still zapping at three in the morning.

So Flow in combination with the basic flood of technical events really makes it hard for all of us to turn the tv off. It might be best to not turn it on in the first place. Maybe we can start with the Zen TV Experiment and see for ourselves. Take care 😉

Image from Flickr User schmilblick