Keeping An I On Our TV Selves

Below is a quote from one of my favorite books, Pathology and the Postmodern.  It comes from chapter 5, a section of the book that deals with the effects of technology on the self.  This selection focuses on the alluring qualities of television.  The author describes her relationship with TV thus:

At times, I turn on the television and just leave it to chatter in the background, something that I’d never done previously.  The voices of the programs soothe me . . . I find myself sucked in by soap operas, or compulsively needing to keep up with the latest news and weather.  Dateline, Frontline, Nightline, CNN, New York 1, every possible angle of every story over and over and over, even when they are of no possible use to me.

–Maia Szalavitz (1996)
“A Virtual Life,” The New York Times Magazine, July 28, p. 50

as quoted in

Kenneth J. Gergen (2000)
The Self: Transfiguration by Technology


Dwight Fee, ed.
Pathology and the Postmodern: Mental Illness as Discourse and Experience
London: Sage Publications, p. 111

As we can see in the above passage, television continues to enchant us, so much so that, like many of us have done before, Szalavitz “leave[s] it to chatter in the background.”  Even though she may not be watching the “boob tube,” she still feels an urge to have it on, in the background.

Somewhere along the way, TV went from being a form of entertainment to a mode of existence whereby people lose their “selves” in the process of engaging in/with it.  We are lulled to sleep–both actual and metaphorical–by the white nosie our television sets create.  Rather than employing it to help us escape from reality (albeit briefly), we have given TV a special place in our daily lives, a place from we which we now have difficulty escaping.

Our eyes are fixed upon the screen, but broken lie the “I’s” with which we try to identify.