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election anxiety countdown

26 Days: Dustbin

She said
Soap for sore eyes
(I need an intermission)
If looks could kill
(I’d kill your television)

—Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

I became so addicted to cable news in my first years working in D.C. (see yesterday) that I knew the exact rhythm of commercial breaks and when certain segments and commercial breaks would come on. There was an attractive newspaper correspondent who would appear mid-morning. I’d once spotted her in line at my neighborhood coffee shop and reacted as though she were a movie star, awkwardly pretending not to notice her. Sometimes she was unavailable for her 4-minute segment and an older man in a gray suit from the same newspaper would deliver the bits of not-at-all-useful D.C. gossip instead. The gossip wasn’t the point of the segment. It was the tiny bit of glamour in the dull morning that counted; a hint that D.C. offered something else. Little that was said on cable news was new to me since I was also reading blogs and Twitter all day. TV was a comforting reinforcement that some of what I saw online was making it through to a larger audience.

If you’d asked me about TV before I moved to D.C., I would have told you it was brain poison. I might have talked about the corporations that own the big networks. G.E. has deals with the Defense Department. Their TV networks aren’t going to broadcast the truth!

I might also have told you that I can’t own a TV for the same reasons I am now suspicious of Facebook and Twitter: they are engineered to be sticky, addictive, manipulative. If I have a TV with only four broadcast channels, I will judge one of the four to be the best thing on TV. And soon, I’ll develop a habit of watching all the time, and thinking that I’m developing a routine of only the best. But it’s a trick, a false choice. There are better ways to spend time than turning on the bright flashy box. The unread novels picked up at used bookstores. Running in the park. Calling a friend.

Is social media any different? The few friends of mine who are heavy posters seem closer to me than they really are. They are dear to me. But they stay top of mind because they post every day. They are the best thing on my phone. But it would be better to bike with them, talk with them, watch TV with them than to see these public-friendly slices of life interrupted by ads for socks and razors. And the unread novels still pile up.

Early in my experimenting with blogs, I put up a page that was meant as a sort of performance art. It invited anyone who needed or wanted to destroy their television to pay me to do it for them. All I asked for was that they cover my expenses: a flight and a car to wherever their TV was. I would bring my own hammer. I thought it would be a clever way to see the world if it caught on. Nobody took me up on the offer.

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