Television produces couch potatoes not just physically but also mentally and intellectually
Probably one of the most prominent, pervasive, and powerful products of this age is the media, and especially the television. Its control over our thoughts and actions is mind boggling. Among its corrosive effects is that on physical health. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported results of a six-year Harvard study: watching four hours of television a day increased risk of obesity by 50 percent and of diabetes by 30 percent. It referred to the couch potato syndrome, the damaging combination of junk food diet and inactivity, which is a serious public health hazard.
But the television produces couch potatoes not just physically but also mentally and intellectually. It entertains, it captivates, and it dictates what we will think and talk about. And like superbly programmed robots, we act on its cues. We worried about Somalia when the media talked about famine there; although that was a couple of years after the famine had set in. And we forgot it the day it was replaced by other hot news. We worried about Bosnia and Kosova when they were in the headlines. Not a day before or after. Afghanistan concerned us when the media producers decided it was important and to the extent they dictated. Atrocities in Afghanistan did not provoke the same reaction as those in Iraq; the difference was not in the seriousness of the atrocities but in the cues issued by the media machine.
Even when we do focus on the latest hot spot, what do we do beyond talking about it? Do we work on solutions for any of the problems about which we are so eager to get the latest reports? If that were the case, just one day’s news might be sufficient to keep us busy for a whole year. But every day we are ready to receive another batch of headlines, while quietly trashing yesterday’s reports like stale produce in a grocery store. Imagine a company president who receives reports about problems throughout his company and about changes in the economy that will affect him. He reads them with interest and talks about them with passion but does nothing. Of course such a president will not survive in a business. But are we not doing the same thing? We seek the latest news but the question, what we will do with that news, does not bother us. As a result of this divorcing of “information” from the possibilities of action, our interest in it is so superficial and fickle. The modern media machine has turned life into a spectator sport.
But life is not a spectator sport and it is a terrible mistake of incalculable proportions to treat it as such. Information is valuable but only if it is sought for action. Ultimately the value of our life is to be determined not by the "information" we gathered but by the actions we performed. The Holy Quran says: “He has power over everything, the One Who created death and life that He may test which of you is finest in action.” (Al-Mulk, 67:1-2). This is a central message of Islam and it changes our entire outlook on this life.
Further, we must remember that every one of us is responsible for his or her actions and inactions. We will not be able to blame others for our failure to act. Nor shall we get credit for actions in which we had no part. The paramount question then becomes, what are we doing to change the situation? Did we do everything we could? Or were we too busy complaining about the darkness to light our own little candle. A million gripes will not remove darkness but a single candle will. Inaction breeds frustration and despair. Initiative, personal responsibility, and action, on the other hand, can dramatically change our condition.
Imam Hasan Basri (RA) said: “O son of Adam. You are a collection of days. When a day passes, a part of you passes away with it.” None of us knows how many days are left in us. Can we afford to live another of those days living the miserable life of a couch potato?