About 10 years ago my TV watching had dwindled to mostly one program, Star Trek.  It was then cancelled.  I liked the hopefulness, passion plays, and the futuristic technology.  My wife suggested that we just cancel the cable.  We had done that off and on over the last 30 years.  I agreed.  Why had we become so unattached to this ubiquitous entertainment?  

Two researchers at the University of California, Yalda Uhls and Patricia Greenfield hypothesize that TV is a medium that reflects our values back to us.  To show that, they sampled shows for the values they depicted starting in 1967 then every 10 years until 2007.  They looked at character traits such as benevolence, popularity, community feeling, financial success, tradition, and fame.  Community feeling, benevolence, and tradition were consistently displayed until 1997. After that, achievement, financial success, and fame rose to the top and community feeling, benevolence, and tradition had fallen to the bottom.  What was most remarkable was the drastic nature of the change.

Narcissism has been rising in our population.  12% of teens studied in the early 1950’s were shown to be narcissistic, by the 1980’s it was 80%.  From 1979 to 2006 scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory rose by 30% among college students to the point that as a group they had similar scores to typical celebrities.  (Jean Twenge, The Narcissism Epidemic:  Living in the Age of Entitlement)

Psychologist Sara Konrath showed that college students “empathetic concern” dropped 48% between 1979 and 2009.  “Perspective taking” dropped 34%.  In an age in which we are more connected than ever, we are losing our empathy for others?

There are many theories as to why.  Lack of discipline, the “self-esteem movement”, smaller families, shrinking community organizations, and the focus on self have all been suggested.  Regardless of the reason, TV is the mirror.  We didn’t recognize what we saw on the tube so we turned it off.  

Do you have a comment?


Background information derived from article by Frank Bures, The Rotarian, June 2013.