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Twilight of the Idles

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By Joseph T. Scarry

According to Nielsen Media Research 2000, the average American watches four hours of television per day: a solid day every week, and then some. That’s a whole day average Joes could spend making friends, reading or even losing a little weight (Americans are also pretty fat, if you haven’t noticed).

But, luckily, here at Harvard we are protected from this gurgitation of electronic imagery by one simple measure; our rooms are kept cable-free. Network television ranges from banal to mediocre, and outside of the most hardened reality-TV junkies and Antique Roadshow fetishists, you will find few people who can stomach more than an hour a day.

The lack of cable is most important for those, like me, in their first year. College is a time of great freedom and little structure; less structure, in fact, than most of us have had in a decade or will have in the decades to come. Freshman year is a transition into this new atmosphere, and the essential time to develop effective habits of study and relaxation. Freshmen, having neither seven classes to attend during the day nor parents at night, are now learning how to husband time as their most precious resource.

If the advocates of cable brought dozens of channels into the Houses it would be no great thing. But the arrival of cable in the Yard would be horrible. At least upperclassmen have already had a chance to order their chaotic lives.

Cable television, especially for us newly-minted residents of the Yard, creates the illusion that you might find something good to watch, as long as you keep flipping through the channels. We are mesmerized for hours. This process doesn’t just devour the couch potato’s time, but that of his roommates, too. Even if roommates aren’t drawn in by the TV’s hypnotic power, few students can study effectively with MTV blasting in the next room.

Cable advocates point out that many colleges of Harvard’s stature give students cable and advance that Harvard should sink to their level. This reminds me of the grade inflation brouhaha; wasn’t it said that Harvard students should have grades similar to those at similar institutions, like Princeton or Yale?

The answer, then, is right in front of us. Of course, some of those poor kids drain their academic abilities while prostrate in front of the TV. If Harvard students want to remain smarter, more articulate and better at everything, then they should stay cable-free.

And to those who still insist that their cable problem is under control, who complain of their need to watch this or that show, who rail in favor of personal liberty and free choice—well, there’s always the junior common rooms. You’ll have time to recover from the exertion of walking thither as you sink into cable-induced Nirvana.

—Joseph T. Scarry is an editorial comper.

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