I Was Almost A Nielsen Family
by Tina Blue
January 8, 2001
I was chosen to be a Nielsen household. I got the postcard in the mail last week, and a couple of days later a woman called me to set things up.
That's when I had to admit that I don't even have a television in my apartment. Talk about losing a once-in-a-lifetime chance! No one I know has ever even met one of those people whose households determine what shows America is allowed to watch and what shows will be canceled after the second episode. And I almost got to be one.
Actually, that happens to me a lot where television is concerned. Twice in the last year a company that does focus-group screenings for potential television shows has contacted me and offered me money to spend an hour of my time watching a program and filling out a survey on it.
On each occasion, we got to the part where the lady on the telephone began to ask me about my TV-viewing habits, and I had to admit that I didn't have any. She would then say, "Well, um, we were looking for someone who actually
watches TV sometimes."
I think about how a cat will home in on the one person in the room who either hates cats or is violently allergic to them. Well, the fact that I have very little contact with television seems to attract these TV-rating companies.
The reason I don't have a television set at home is that I gave mine to a friend for his video games, so that I could have access to his computer without keeping him from playing his games. It seems like a fair trade, even if it did cost me the chance to help skew the viewing options of the American public.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not one of those snobs who insist that there is nothing worth watching on TV. A lot of programming is utter garbage, of course--but I actually think that there is also way too much good programming on the air. It would be tempting to spend huge chunks of one's life just sitting passively in front of the TV rather than actually living. We don't have that many hours in our lives that we can let the TV swallow so many of them like that.
I have often seen people sit in front of the TV clicking the remote, unable to find anything they wanted to watch, but equally unable to get up and do anything else, so mesmerized were they by the glow of the television screen.
Television is a thief of time. It gets in the way of family interaction, and it comes between people. Without a TV to distract you, you might find yourself having conversations with friends about something other than what is on Friends.
It also prevents you from getting up off your fanny and actually moving your body. Besides, if you're going to sit around, wouldn't it be more productive to read or write? I mean, even when the television show is good, its effect on the mind is rather like that of a stone skipped across a pond. It may momentarily disturb the surface, but it has no deep or lasting impact.
I have watched television in the past, though hardly at all for the last two and a half years, and I might take to watching again it sometime in the future. Occasionally, even now, something will draw me to the TV. I did watch the Bush/Gore debates and the wicked Saturday Night Live parodies of those debates, for example--though I never can sit through the rest of that show, which is decidedly less engaging than the debate parodies were.
I find myself feeling rather grateful that I missed out on last summer's Survivor craze, though in a sense it was impossible to completely miss out on it. It so pervaded the culture for awhile that I couldn't help reading about it in newspapers and news magazines. But, honestly, aren't you a bit perturbed when Newsweek features the cast of Survivor or Oprah Winfrey on its cover? I was even annoyed a year or so ago when the cover article was about Katie Couric. Isn't that what People Magazine is for? How is Katie Couric's private life news?
But that is the effect television has on our culture. It becomes the ground that all else must stand on. Everything is trivialized by the ascendancy of television, television personalities, and television values.
Still, somehow I feel as if I have missed my chance. I almost got to be a Nielsen household, but since I turned my back on television, the television culture has relegated me to the dustbin of history. Some other person, not I, will be making decisions that will ultimately determine what television programs you will be able to watch.
Aren't you relieved?