Mashing up TV tires your brain

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

When there's nothing remotely interesting on TV, channelling your inner collage artist is not the answer, writes Liz Breslin. 

Channel surfing - innocuous, inevitable, incendiary - it drives me up the flipping wall. So during a particularly argumentative patch of TV zappery at home this week, I had an idea. Rather than write about channel surfing, I thought, I'll write all the channel surfing words down.

Except that didn't quite work. The transcript was almost unreadable; like over-pretentious poetry or the inner workings of a genius. Except it's neither poetry nor genius. I'll give you a paragraph-long excerpt. It was a Saturday night. You might recognise some of the shows. Try to get through it ...

"Watch the marker. Nothing up my sleeves [surf] say about yourself. Wardrobe is extremely important. Leather and spikes. Glitter and harnesses. What kind of gay man are you? [surf] They are global entertainers. Professionally trained athletes. WWE superstars. But they are not invincible. They take real risks. [surf] a winner in a race that was so close it will take a post-race investigation to deliver a final result thinks that this is a stepping stone towards what they want in next year's world cup which is [surf] to love, to be open to be very present with the children. But it's hard. We're home. We had so much sugar. My allergies. Mum. Muuum. [surf] Nga korero mahinga mai mokopuna, rangatahi, pakeke te tu mai i te haka. Ki nga. [surf] And the garden seat, it is actually a very nice one. I would be thinking close to a thousand. Really!? [surf] Well, Bart's been acting very strangely. And that pizza delivery truck has been parked across the street for two weeks. How long does it take to deliver a pizza? [surf] I find, I always tell people if you want to treat a girl. The most singular thing you can do to it is cut it. Cutting it will. [surf] what you do yourself is sensational. You need to be in the finals."

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Are you with me? Did we make it through? On a purely linguistic level, that's what our brains have to cope with every time they're subjected to a zapfest. Lauri Nummenmaa of the Human Emotion Systems laboratory at the University of Turku, Finland, has done some fine research into this by getting people to watch interspersed clips of Star Wars: Episode IV, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Golden Eye (great movie choices) and noticing how their cerebellum, dorsal precuneus, posterior temporal and dorsomedial prefrontal cortices constantly reorient to the interruptions, trying to make narrative sense. That seems like a lot of brain work for very little reward. No wonder watching TV makes me tired. And little wonder we're turning away from scheduled programming in droves.

Once upon a time there weren't that many channels. I remember that time. It was easy to keep a handle on what was on where and a lid on the fomo. We all watched the chat shows with the plummy speakers, the same sitcoms, the same old films on a Friday night and I wasn't allowed anywhere near Dallas. How things have changed. As a young student, channel flicking characterised, no, monopolised my first visit to the US of A. Sitting in the student dorm with a massive tub of Cherry Garcia [ice cream] and 57 channels and nothing on. I can't bear to think of how much of my existence since then has been spent indecisive, in between one media hook and another.

With links to both laziness and ADHD, channel surfing has also been studied for its impacts on mental and physical health. On family dynamics. It's even been cited as cause for divorce: "Your honour, he wouldn't give up the remote ..." As the saying goes, men channel surf, women endure. I didn't make that up, I got it from The Baltimore Sun, who also reckon that the Village Voice reckons that channel surfing was the artform of the 1990s. And indeed, since 1989, RaiTV, an Italian channel, has been broadcasting its own daily 10-minute zapped-up mash of what's been on screen in the past 24 hours. It's called Blob. It's still on today. And tomorrow. And every day. A channel doing the channel surfing for you. A model for modern consumption.




Surfing For The Elderly.

Gillette. The blade that really/Hertz. All you need is your licence/to kill a mockingbird with Gregory Peck/ish. Peak Freans by Queen Anne/dy, Dandy, where you gonna go now what you gonna do now/Soames! Irene. Go away Soames!/Island in the sun, given to me by my Father's hand CLICK..

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