Don's Diary: telly addict

April 27, 2001

Week one

I blame it all on Dave Harvey. Having agreed to give up television for Lent, it is already beginning to hurt. Dave, the producer of Radio 4's The Message , has chosen me as an ideal person to go "cold turkey" as part of his media-deprivation experiment. Three other regulars have agreed to abstain from their favourite media: radio, news-papers and the internet. As a media academic specialising in visual culture, I openly admit to enjoying television, but my parting moment is watching an emotional Vanessa Feltz telling "Big Brother" to "**** off". It seems an entirely appropriate time to pull out the plug.

Week two

Giving up TV is a bit like having someone die. It is not so much the awfulness of the event itself as much as the way people behave around you. After dinner one night, the conversation inevitably turns to television, and people begin to enthuse about some programme or other that is clearly wonderful. Then someone catches my eye and the conversation stops cold. "I'm sorry" (after a suitably reverential pause and a sad and sympathetic smile). "You must be missing it terribly."

Week three

Missing sport and am tempted to cheat by lurking outside Radio Rentals. The boat race, England soccer internationals and the Grand National - none of these is half as good on radio as it would have been on TV. I understand in theory about radio creating "pictures in the mind", but, for me, sports events, like Victorian children, are best seen rather than heard.

Meanwhile, all four of us "abstainers" are writing about our experiences on the BBC website. I thought that writer Val McDermid had the easiest option giving up the internet, but she makes a persuasive case for the potential of this new medium. Could the internet help a return to "the public sphere"?

Week four

I am chastened by some of the emails that The Message has been receiving about my TV fast. Here are listeners from both sides of the Atlantic who have given up television not as a brief experiment but as a matter of longstanding principle. The record is 35 years. Everyone who has written so far is full of reports of how their lives have changed for the better. There seems to be an assumed incompatibility between television and intellectual virtue. But for me there is no Damascene conversion. My Easter promises a swift return to the remote control.

Week five

We gather in the studio with presenter Jenni Murray. I conclude that my knowledge of news and current affairs has improved by sourcing my information from other media. What I have missed most from TV is being mindlessly entertained. Television excels at this: I confess to having yearned for Neighbours much more than for Newsnight . There seems no theoretical reason, though, why this should inevitably be. The medium is not necessarily the message. Television's mind is just on other things.

Richard Howells is a lecturer at the Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds.

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