If you are a television watcher –and statistics say that if you are an American, you spend about 20 percent of your day doing so — but you feel like there’s never anything good on TV, you might have me to blame for that.

If the advertisements that interrupt your favorite shows seems decidedly geared toward middle-aged, females, then you wouldn’t be out of line to point a finger in my direction there, either.

I am one of America’s Nielsen families.

During the most recent sweeps week, I meticulously marked my relationship to my television every hour of every day. As one of 2 million diary keepers, my choices of American Idol and Big Bang Theory will be recorded, analyzed, and ranked to determine future shows, to set ad prices, and to further our country down the path of sound bites and decreasing attention spans.

Ironically, most of my Nielsen diary had an X next to “TV set off.” The week I was tracking, I watched an average of only .71 hours of television each day. Maybe I’m not the “average American.”

So, I decided to put myself to the test. How did I stand up next to Nielsen’s averages.
  • Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99 – YES, I quality there.
  • Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24 – NO, I have only one.
  • Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 66 – NO, I have only one.
  • Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes – NO, even with my sister here four of the days, the TV was on an average of only 1.64 hours per day.
  • Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66 – OK, sometimes.
  • Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion – I’ll take credit for only about 300 of those.
  • Value of that time assuming an average wage of S5/hour: S1.25 trillion – I guess that’s about $1,500 for me, though I value my time more highly than that.
  • Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV: 56 – NO, I have rabbit ears.
  • Number of videos rented daily in the U.S.: 6 million – I rent an average of .05 videos per day.
  • Number of public library items checked out daily: 3 million – I have two things checked out right now.
  • Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49 – YES, even .71 hours per day is probably too much..
It wasn’t lost on me that the same week I was recording my television watching in my Nielsen diary that I was supposed to be reading Neil Postman’s anti-television screed, Amusing Ourselves to Death, for book club. During that episode of Glee I regretted, I could have digested the history of public discourse far more easily.

Eventually, I did get most of the book read in time for our discussion. Postman’s primary contention was not that television is all bad, but that seeing television as a serious medium, allowing it to be our primary form of cultural discourse, dumbs us down sufficiently so that all problems and all solutions must be framed in 22-minute segments – the amount of content in a half-hour segment after commercials.
He writes,
The problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch. For I believe it may fairly be said that we have yet to learn what television is . . . . the point I am trying to make is that only through a deep and unfailing awareness of the structure and effects of information, through a demystification of media, is there any hope of our gaining some measure of control over television, or the computer, or any other medium.
In other words, the diary I should have been completing for the Nielsen Ratings company should have been more about whether or not I am thinking about what I see on television, if I walk away from the set and read and engage in my community, and what would motivate to give my TV away all together.

I don’t think the Nielsens could generate ad revenue and determine fall programming with a diary like that, though.