The Value of TV: A social event

We've all been to "Bingewatch Hotel," where you check in to an eight hour marathon of Stranger Things interrupted only by trips to the fridge or pee breaks. For the busy dancer / student / employee that we are every other day of the week, this relaxation makes for a highly desirable way to spend a lazy, gloomy Saturday weekend.

A small part of me cries out as I mentally run through my ever-lengthening to-do list. But my "let-no-minute-go-to-waste" mindset still manages to find a huge upside a binge session: social TV! This multitasking-time management approach to TV watching makes your time on the futon doubly effective. Check it out.

Times have changed from the person who didn't even own a TV in college to the me right now. The fact is, I do watch TV (shoutout to my dad, for buying me a flat screen TV so large that I had to move my couch to the back of the room just to be able to get the entirety of the screen in my range of vision). But my pattern of TV consumption today is radically different from that of the Nicktoons-addicted elementary school Austin, or the cable-deprived college Austin.

These days, I make time to get into a few shows. BUT I am extremely selective about the shows I keep up with. In my opinion, there isn't a single show on television that is worth anyone's undivided attention if it's not a shared experience that encourages worthwhile and meaningful conversations with others. For me, a TV show is only worth your time if the programming can serve as a jumping off point for some degree of human interaction. Shows with this kind of broad impact eventually become enduring cultural mainstays and relevant topics of discussion for years to come, much like any fine piece of visual art or literature. 

Think of it this way: If you hop on Facebook, and you accidentally learn about the thing that happens to that one guy in that one show - FROM 16 DIFFERENT PEOPLE - you might be in the midst of a TV cultural phenomenon that is worth your attention.


Take my biggest TV vice, Game of Thrones. I'm the first to admit that I have an obsession with HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's series of testosterone-fueled, deeply political series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. Each and every Sunday during GoT season, like a religious service for practicing Catholics, you can reliably count on me making my way to a friend's place to enjoy the bloodshed, political intrigue, and inevitable discussion that occurs after the show, as we don our tinfoil hats to hypothesize about wacky theories concerning the motivations of various characters.

In this case, GoT served it's purpose as a free social event (well, free for me, the moocher who doesn't pay for HBO) that brings people together for the express purpose of entertainment in the same way that a football game or bar outing may do so. A small fraction of the value of the show lies within the 50 minutes of TV time. The overwhelming value comes from the hour before, where we sit around drinking beers catching up on each other's lives as the previous week's episode serves as background noise; the hour after, when we rewatch the episode, while making jokes and talking through the onscreen action; and the intervening week before the next episode, when we interact with each other digitally with new theories that pop into our heads.

Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, How I Met Your Mother: All early- and mid-2010's examples of highly-acclaimed TV series' that will impact a generation of viewers. I believe that these are worthy of your attention just as much as any good piece of classic literature. Sure, you may not have seen M*A*S*H* or Cheers, but the groundbreaking nature of these TV phenomena will far outlive the production run of the series. 


(Unrelated note: My desire to always maximize utility has led me to develop a chronically recurring case of "Netflix Paralysis Syndrome." When faced with hundreds of options, a victim of Netflix Paralysis Syndrome will be overcome with indecision so powerful, that the user will compulsively walk up and down the digital aisles to the point of memorization. In the end, the multitude of choice will overwhelm the victim, since they would hate to waste their time on a less-than-perfect use of their evening. They inevitably default to watching something they have already seen, usually Arrested Development or Orange is the New Black - before promptly fall asleep during the opening credits.)

Overall, the idea is that the TV should be a tool that helps you maximize the hours in your day rather than stealing them. Enjoying TV with friends can act to effectively increase your daily use of social time, as whatever your program of choice can function doubly as both entertainment and social time.

Here's the first step: Whenever you get in a conversation with friends about the tenuous strength of your favorite character in Game of Thrones, propose watching the next episode together. Better yet, turn it into a viewing party, involve the interested people in your dance community. Build these connections!

And just like that, you've turned a time sink into a social opportunity, while still getting your hit of Mr. Robot.

Did you also find a way to break (mostly) free of the influence of the TV? Alternatively, do you think anything on TV right now has long lasting value that will be discussed by the next generation of hipsters? Comment at me, and I'll try and sneak in a little bit of that show into my schedule.

The Value of TV: A companion of sorts.

In a previous post, I talked about how college had pulled me away from the programming that was broadcast on TV, an ever-present source of entertainment prior to that time. I want you to know that I'm not trying to downplay the value that a TV can provide. It's too easy to let the TV use you, instead of the other way around. This series of articles is aimed giving you a sense for how you can use your TV.

I find that parking in front of the TV for hours on end is often the least productive use of your limited hours in a day. As I discovered during the span of years when I had no TV at all, my productivity skyrocketed. But without some sort of background chatter, I hated the silence that I was engulfed in. This is just one useful and productive feature that your TV can serve.

TV can function as a generator of background noise.

Like many people, silence freaks me out.

Luckily for me, living in a large city has the benefit of being constantly surrounded by a ceaseless, nondescript, industrial hum. Cars and trucks of every imaginable size, high-powered industrial fans, and mobs of people create a cacophony of noise, pierced only occasionally by a shrill ambulance siren or an unpredictable sports-related shout of excitement. Even at work, the buzzing of the various pieces of equipment around me provide some respite from a death-like stillness that would otherwise drive me insane.

Whenever someone tries to sell me on the benefits of a sensory deprivation tank for relaxation, I quickly and awkwardly change the subject.

Even temporary phases of quiet get to me. The whole reason I enjoy camping is the novelty of the experience, the company I get to spend time with, and the joys of mimicking my primitive ancestors struggling to light a bonfire with which I can cook things. But the second the sun rolls over and the rowdy neighbor-kids pile into their tent for the evening, the usual sounds of the city that helps me get to sleep is absent. Instead, it is replaced by a creepy silence interspersed only by the cries of a lonely cricket trying to hook up.

I and many others find solace in noise. A part of it is the natural human desire to be surrounded by activity. As social beings, even the most introverted among us subconsciously craves the attention of others. Our ancient ancestors found safety in numbers, and our reptilian brains do also. 

One study in particular arrived at the conclusion that craving background noise is a learned behavior, acquired through years of constant exposure to TV / radio / music. Regardless of the rationale behind our fixation on ambient noise, the fact remains:

The TV can become that noise that we want. 

I enjoy cooking, cleaning, or getting ready in the morning with some random background noise / conversation. I set my alarm clock to the radio, despite my disdain for radio music and my distrust of mainstream news reporting. There's something soothing about having people you kind-of know talking at you, regardless of whether you are paying attention or not. Whereas I prefer to let my radio run or turn on YouTube Let's Play channels to act as an ambient noise maker, others fire up an episode of Friends or Seinfeld.

If you find that this kind of background noise helps you get through your day; embrace it.

Some people enjoy doing menial tasks while being entertained by the attention-grabbing voices and live studio audience laughter of late night talk shows. Others fall asleep to the ASMR-like quality of Bob Ross' soothing voice, as he calmly talks you through the act of painting landscapes. And for a handful of people out there, the dynamic ups and downs of sports games serve to keep you alert and focused on whatever else you are working on.

If this describes your level of attachment with the TV, then you have gone a way towards optimizing your use of TV. 

I know I personally find it difficult to write while watching / listening to voices, whether they are talking or singing. As I am typing this right now late at night, the usual excitement of the city life and street performers that I hear from my window has been replaced by big city-style ambient white noise, a humming sound that I find both comforting and soothing. Paying attention to the voices on TV steals away a fraction of your mental attention, so you should try and find the tasks that require little mental attention if you would like to watch TV while multitasking.

Pulling away from the TV can cause you to free up more time than you even knew you lost. There's a specific time and place for when the TV can add a positive benefit into your daily routine. Have you found any other ways by which the TV hasn't sucked away all your time? Share with me in discussion box at the bottom of the page.

More about using the TV:

How I turned off the TV

There's no debate here: the most challenging part of being a "dancer and (insert other profession here)" is finding the time to keep up with both of these aspects of your life. On some days, your dedication drives you straight from work or school into the first available evening dance class at the studio. Other days, your black hole of a couch sucks you into an endless loop of nonsense television programming.

One of the biggest time wasters prior to my time in college was my TV. I managed to pull myself away from that seemingly inescapable force. Here's how.

Now before you get all defensive about this internet author trying to take away your precious TV, check this disclaimer: TV played an undeniably influential role in my childhood. Doug, Rugrats, and Rocko's Modern Life made up my Nickelodeon pre-dinner trifecta. Modern music came to me through repeat broadcasts of Total Request Live on MTV. Interestingly enough, despite their assumed differences in life philosophies and problem solving strategies, both the American Gladiators and MacGuyver served as my childhood heroes (the fact they both had mullets had nothing to do with my adulation).


The disclaimer continues. My childhood years as a TV junkie had a lasting influence on the way I interact with people, even now as an adult many years later. I occasionally allude to Legends of the Hidden Temple in everyday conversations, often in reference to any blatantly-simple manual task that someone is unable to complete as a "Silver Monkey." I, along with every other adolescent male in the 90's, fell in love with Sabrina the Teenage Witch herself, Melissa Joan Hart (who, by the way, hasn't aged a second past her mid-twenties, as I discovered after seeing her on a recent episode of Family Feud).

And then, in college, I quit TV cold turkey. 

It was surprisingly easy to do in retrospect. No withdrawal, no hangover. Just the peace that comes from simplifying your life through minimalism, and the confusion that comes about when you suddenly have LOTS of free time.

First, the fact that my dorm didn't even offer free cable TV quickly diverted my attention away from the tube. I mean, at the price they offered TV, I could buy hundreds of packs of instant ramen noodles, enough "sustenance" to last any college student a month. I quickly lost interest in the nightly broadcasts of my high school obsession: Crime Scene Investigators (CSI), a program that was so wildly popular that a college chemistry course had been rebranded to include "forensic sciences" in the course title to serve as the metaphorical cheese in the mousetrap, ensnaring gullible freshmen in the jaws of an otherwise dull chemistry class. CSI somehow managed to captivate the attention of a wide range of audiences, despite the cookie-cutter nature of the plot points of every episode. It's basically live action Scooby Doo, my absolute favorite childhood early morning programming.


Even if I did get cable wired into my room, I didn't even own a physical TV. Not having a TV saved me from sinking untold hours into this form of entertainment. In those years, the only TVs affordable for the collegiate budget were those comically outdated cathode ray tubes. And these beasts were notoriously heavy. Additionally, I was notoriously lazy. There was a tremendously steep energy barrier that kept me from transporting one of these behemoths up 4 flights of stairs to my dorm room. This is one of those rare and noteworthy instances when Sloth doesn't act as one of those Seven Deadlies, but rather acted to free up untold hours of free time that would otherwise be spent in the pretend company of actors who don't even acknowledge my existence.


The TV-less trend that began in freshmen year of college continued over the next few years, even through graduation and into my first couple post-college jobs. There are a fistful of years that are essentially a cultural black hole in my knowledge of media, as I was devoid of TV based entertainment in the last half of the 2000's. Grey's Anatomy? You mean that old book filled with hand-drawn illustrations of the human body? I had it. The Office? No thanks, I work in a lab. Lost? I was lost.

I was ripped away from the entrancing nature of the TV by a set of circumstances that were largely beyond my control. Instead of attempting to "remedy" the situation by subscribing to cable and buying a tube, I took it as an opportunity to explore my role in a TV-less world. In this world, I didn't depend on entertainment being delivered to me; rather, I sought out to LIVE and seek out experiences that were tangible. Had I given into the pressures of rejoining the world of TV, my college stories would certainly be fewer in number. Somewhere, there exists an alternate parallel universe where I could tell you every plot point of the Sopranos, but had no interest in Filipino cultural dance.

The situations surrounding my media blackout allowed me to approach life in a new way. The TV is notoriously effective at draining away your free time. Consider my personal distancing from the tube as an anecdote that may help you figure out where your time has disappeared to: Did your XBOX suddenly hit you with the "Red Ring of Death"? Instead of rushing out to get a replacement, take a month to replace that gaming time with extra hours of sleep, and track how your mood and overall happiness changes during that time. Alternatively, go pick up a new hobby. Learn fencing, join an IM sports league, take an online class - take advantage of the negative situation and gain something from it. 

Have you been denied access to TV for some reason or another? Tell me about how you came away from that loss with a wider set of experiences in the comment box below.

Shifting your chronotype: Becoming a morning person

The alarm clock screams unreasonably loudly, shaking us abruptly from our dreams. We emerge sluggishly from under the covers, only to be greeted by the sun throwing daggers into our eyeballs. When our feet finally hit the floor, the sudden rush of our daily to-do list quickly overwhelms us. At this point, the only reasonable thing to do is to go back to sleep.

This scenario is something that every evening type / night owl might experience on a daily basis. Unlike those morning types or morning larks, us late chronotype people (A "chronotype" is nothing more than a fancy psychology word to describe your circadian rhythm) don't fully join the land of the living until 10, 11, or even later.

Unfortunately for us, while we are sleepwalking through our mornings, the world around us continues to move forward. In fact, the work schedule of many professional careers, particularly those in the business world, favors early chronotype people. The standard 9-to-5 work day benefits those with peak attention span and vigilance in the morning, while us late types might be chugging buckets of coffee in an effort to become sentient enough to successfully respond to our emails.

Seeing that some workplaces might be morning focused, there may be a benefit to shifting your chronotype earlier. Getting up earlier means less of the morning "GOTTAGETTOWORK!!" panic, which gives us time for a nice leisurely breakfast (And let me just say, as a person who loves eating, I'll take every excuse I can to put food into my mouth.) It is believed that eating breakfast is better for your health compared to skipping that first meal of the day.

For busy dancers, some of us may find ourselves booking late afternoon and early evening teaching or performance opportunities. If your job allows for flexible work hours, getting started with work at 6 in the morning might let you put in your 8 hours, freeing yourself up for an evening of dance.

Additionally, there is a culturally rooted assumption that people who wake up late are lazy. While most Millennials know that there isn't necessarily a correlation between work ethic and when our alarm clock is set, our bosses may still have that bias. 

Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.
- Richard Whately

Lets change my chronotype.

You've decided that your natural evening chronotype is conflicting with your need to function in the morning oriented workplace / classroom. How can I change that?

First, set a goal. What time do I want to wake up? For me, a dancer / employee who often has evening rehearsal / teaching obligations, I found that getting into an early morning work flow is the only way I can maintain a decent amount of sanity through my dance + work lives. Some things at work are accessible on a "first come, first served" basis, and so it benefits me to be among the opening crew. This means rolling into work around 8 - 830. Accounting for my standard morning routine, I set my goal to wake up at 7ish - no easy task for someone who is literally writing this at a little past midnight on a weekday.


To reach this goal, start small: go to bed 5 minutes earlier than normal. (If you are looking for strategies to make this happen, check out some of these related tips about sleep.) 5 minutes is a negligible duration in the grand scheme of your day: it's about the length of 3 cat videos, approximately half the time it takes to decide what to watch on Netflix, and a partial scroll through your Snapchat feed. Although you are sacrificing this time to the sleep gods, you are going to gain it back the next morning: set your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier than expected. 

The next night, continue rolling your bedtime and waketime earlier and earlier in 5 minute intervals. Your body will hardly notice a difference, as long as the change is sufficiently gradual. 

Once you get to your intended sleep / wake timing, you'll have to maintain it. The biggest trick to shifting your chronotype is consistency. The time you lie down in bed for the night and the time you set your alarm clock should be similar each day. Failure to do this is why sometimes we walk around on Monday morning feeling like Death herself is right behind us. Just a couple days of inconsistency with your sleep schedule is enough to produce jet lag that persists into the next week. 

While I am still a obvious evening type / night owl, I function pretty well at 8AM thanks to how I have gradually adjusted and rigorously maintained my sleep schedule. Have you ever felt the need to shift your chronotype to accomodate a busy schedule? Write about it below.

Wanna learn more about your circadian rhythm? 

Driving while Texting: an example of improper multitasking

As students / professionals and dancers, we often encounter the age-old problem: not enough hours in a day to accomplish all that we need to. Multitasking, or completing two tasks at the same time, allows us to increase the number of productive hours in a day without sacrificing valuable sleep.

However, multitasking must be done properly. In some cases, our attention is split incorrectly. This could have devastating consequences. An example of how multitasking doesn't always work is described below.

Psychology studies have come to mixed conclusions about the human capacity to multitask. Most studies conclude that our brains are wired to focus on only one or two things at a time. These researchers agree that while we BELIEVE that we increasing our productivity by splitting our focus across two tasks simultaneously, more often than not, we are only doing both things poorly.

We live in a rapidly moving society that values accomplishments, and there is a seeming ever-present pressure to "get stuff done." Study after study insist that multitasking is not a preferred strategy. In fact, a majority of time management articles I have read propose that multitasking is an inefficient waste of time that makes us dumber, rather than a method to accomplish more with your limited time in a day.

But, despite this research, I still remain a strong believer that proper multitasking is an effective time saver. Your success will depend on identifying the RIGHT pair of tasks. They should use a different type of attention - either physical attention or mental attention. You will waste your time when the two types of attention used overlap too much.

An article written by Douglas Merrill gives us some insight into why multitasking won't work for every pair of tasks. The article narrates a vignette from Merrill's life, as he describes a personal experience of how multitasking can go wrong. Trying to text while driving caused the author to rear-end another vehicle on the road. Luckily, no one was injured, but the costly incident caused the author to rethink multitasking. Merrill blames multitasking for the accident, but the truth is that this fender bender was a result of improper multitasking. Merrill had chosen two tasks with overlapping uses of attention, resulting in a double-booking of attention. His attention was split when it should have been focused.

When multitasking fails

Let's examine how our attention is double-booked when we drive and text by making a Venn diagram (If these Venn diagrams seem like an alien concept, check out this post that explains how we can visualize multitasking.)

As with other Venn diagrams used to understand multitasking, we use colored circles to represent the attention that each of the two tasks requires. Red circles on the left represent physically demanding tasks, while a blue circle on the right represent mentally demanding tasks.

The attention used by driving falls in the middle of the spectrum, with a slight lean to the left: driving requires heavy use of your entire body, from your hands to control the wheel to the feet to control speed. At the same time, driving requires constant awareness of your surroundings, including responding quickly to erratic drivers, being aware of the cars surrounding you, being cognizant of the speed limit relative to your speed, etc. Driving is a predominantly physical task, but requires a great deal of mental attention as well - especially when driving in difficult conditions such as traffic or inclement weather. Compared to running, an almost purely physical task, the red circle in this case no longer falls at the far end of the spectrum, but rather in the middle.


On the other hand, texting falls slightly more on the mental attention side of the spectrum. It requires reading, comprehension of the contents of the message, and thinking of an appropriate response. Texting also requires the use of some of your physical attention: namely, moving your eyes to read the text, moving your hands to hold the phone, and using your fingers to tap out your reply. And so, the blue circle does not belong completely on the right end of the spectrum, but also somewhere in the middle.

The Venn diagram above is the result of what happens when someone opts to do these two tasks at the same time. Both tasks require a fair amount of both types of attention, represented by the red and blue circles overlapping in the middle - hence, the large purple area. This region shows the double-booking of attention that can have negative consequences. 

(As a side note, you'll also notice that there are small slivers at the edge of the Venn diagram that are red and blue. These areas represent the capability you have to use 100% focus on one of these tasks. For example, the red crescent on the left is when you are merging lanes on the highway during lunch rush hour - full focus on the road and all the hangry drivers surrounding you. The blue crescent is when you get stuck at the red light in front of your destination restaurant, where you sneak the time to fire off a quick "be there soon" text to your waiting lunch partner.)

When you multitask your way through your day, think about the pair of tasks you have chosen. If you are driving and listening to an educational lecture, can you recall the major concepts of the lecture when you arrive at your destination? If not, most likely you are spending your mental attention on driving. You are better off learning at a time where you can spend all your mental attention on the lesson.

These articles related to multitasking may also be interesting to you: