That divot in your couch where your ass usually sits got even bigger in 2010. According to the New York Times, which mined data from Nielsen Research, the average American watched 34 hours of television each week last year. That's an increase of one percent over 2009's record-setting numbers.
If that number seems a bit steep, it should. Simple math reveals that it shakes out to almost five hours of TV per day, and all told it's just six episodes of Lost shy of a full-time job. Plus, 34 hours is just an average. Somewhere out there at the far end of the Bell Curve, someone is boob-tubing for 60+ hours every seven days.
I'm guessing that television as a background distraction is becoming pretty commonplace, and has helped to inflate the numbers. Case in point: Even when I'm not watching one of my many programs I follow, my TV is on—usually with something like CNN or ESPN. And what of all those folks who've become unemployed over the last calendar year? They'll get right back to working on that job application as soon as they finish a few hours of Oprah and get through some Big Bang Theory reruns.
But the real reason that we're spending more hours in front of the warming glow of our screens is the abundance and availability of content. Cable continues to grow, and devices with which we can consume shows are more portable than ever. Instead of flipping through four or five channels like our Mammies and Pappies used to do, we have hundreds of networks at our disposal, many of which are aimed at niche audiences. There's really no excuse for not watching television, because there's a network out there for you no matter what kind kinky stuff you're into (how else would TLC survive?).
What's more, those who make television (specifically the studios) are more attuned to the show-creating witchcraft that helps grab our attention. Sitcom writing has been reduced to a formula after decades of tweaking what works, dramas have been dumbed-down to attract the biggest audiences, and reality programs, still in their infancy, have developed a lethal combination of crafty editing and car-crash personalities that not only sucks us in, but can be made on a shoe-string budget. That's not to say that all television is bad. With cable surviving more on licensing fees than ratings, quality programming has departed the major networks, drawing yet more people to their screens.
You can try and resist television, but it won't be easy. More so than other forms of major media, television has adapted to us, and the result is that we are watching more and more of it. We'll probably hit an average of 35 hours per week in 2011... even if it's only because we can't wait to see what will happen on the next episode of The Bachelor.
How much television would you estimate you watch per week?