Last Sunday started on a good note and ended on a miserable one. The good note was waking up earlier, showering and getting dressed. The bad note began when I started what I’d planned to be a brief video game session. Fast forward five hours, and I’d covered both video games and some “Let’s Play” videos without much else.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs rest at times. Especially during work hours if you can get away with it. But resting with any form of video (television, movies, online videos or video games) has left me feeling more unsatisfied than rested. It’s less of recharge and more of a passive, numbing drain. And I absolutely loathe it.
Regardless of when I started feeling this way, I’m more curious about why. These are my best guesses on why I’m starting to hate videos, and why others may be better off hating them too.
Less Investment with Less Feeling
Unless a video captures my imagination, there’s little mental investment in it. I stare, events play out, my mind accepts them as-is, then I forget it in an hour. There’s little for the mind to play with or lose itself in - flat images and sounds on display. If I’m lucky there are a good story and characters. More often it’s about visual gags, sex appeal, or fancy graphics.
I find videos like a brick wall - blunt, straightforward to a fault, unemotional, and on a bad day, they make my head bleed. I don’t want to spend my days around brick walls unless I’m climbing over them to steal something shiny.
This is why I appreciate reading more. I get the words and my imagination can do what it wants with them. Sometimes I imagine it as a manga, or as a movie that I can animate and direct how I like. I can pour in all the emotion, pacing, tension, horror, and excitement I want. That makes the story hit me a whole lot harder since I’m active in investing myself in it.
I recently started reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. An early scene has the main character meeting a mysterious, twitchy man at a dive bar. She hears a shady offer to get her some much-needed money. The scene itself is simple but my mind ran with it. I heard the annoying background chatter and the loud fryers. I felt the main character’s desire to leave and the desperation that’s keeping her there. It was so much I still remember this quick scene even now.
This makes for better entertainment but also makes me a better person. It builds my empathy and helps me learn the same lessons as the characters. Videos have rarely given me this experience as often, if at all, since books rely on this meaning more to be good.
Less Critical Thinking
We all know the adage of television rotting your brain. I’m not going to dispute or analyze it here since I agree with it. That’s the other side of less emotional investment: less mental involvement. It’s an unavoidable effect of the simplified, visual nature of all videos.
You may argue there’s plenty of educational video material out there. Documentaries, educational YouTube series, or shows like Adam Ruins Everything that encourages curiosity. I will concede that point, but will argue back with these points:
- The majority of video material out there is not focused on this. Check YouTube or Netflix and most content will be fluff or downright stupid.
- I’ve found video numbs my desire to keep learning about a topic afterward. It has a neat and entertaining lesson, but I’m less likely to remember it or want to learn more.
Again, this hasn’t been the case with reading for me. Like this chain of events starting with one library book. One satirical graphic novel on climate change led to researching online articles. This let to the Adam Ruins Everything podcast interviewing an environmental scientist. After that, I found the scientist’s book at the library and read through it. Now I’m remembering I also own a book on climate change full of graphics and details and plan to reread it soon.
This is learning path’s taken more time and effort than watching a documentary. But I both feel more invested and curious too. I have sides of the issue I want to research more. There are facts I want to clarify, and a growing sense of solid understanding. This all culminated at a Thanksgiving gathering where the topic came up. My new knowledge made for interesting conversations and no shouting matches.
If the trade-off is not having the time or energy to focus on as many different topics, I’ll take it. It means I’ll see the value in the time I spend learning and focus on what matters most.
Spending a lot of time on things like videos isn’t bad itself, but losing control of how much time I spend on it is. It’s happened far too often, on weekends or weekdays after work. I intend to play a little and wind up losing time I intended to spend on other activities. It’s always activities more important, but their time somehow becomes less important.
I can’t even claim it was worth it. At best, videos leave me feeling the same as before but fuzzier. More often they leave me frustrated over a lapse in self-control and stressed over my lost time.
This may not seem like a big deal, but consider how often this happens for many people. From 2014 to 2018, the average American spent around four hours a day watching television. That’s 28 hours a week, not even counting time spent on computers, tablets, or phones.
Watching television is a part-time job that doesn’t pay or teach us useful skills. That’s a lot of wasted time and potential.
Moving Away From Videos
I’ve avoided videos for a week now, and the effects have been small but positive. I’m writing more for my blog and notebook. I’m reading more coding and fiction books. I’m saving mental energy I can invest in piano and laser-cutting projects. Sometimes I’m restless or fatigued trying to keep away, but they usually pass. On the whole, it’s like when I added more distance between myself and Twitter. It’s a big improvement punctuated by anxiety as my mind adjusts to time without it.
I don’t plan to return to online videos or television anytime soon. But I may not leave video games altogether, depending on the game. Good visual novel games may be close enough to the line to allow…I’ll have to wait and see.