By Ethan Maurice | March 28, 2016
A couple weeks ago, my younger sister was telling me about her weekend at the yearly Arizona Student Council Convention. One thing particularly stuck out for me from our conversation. A guest speaker at the convention brought up the vast difference between the amount of time we spend learning and the amount of time we spend watching TV:
In the United States, the average person spends 1.6 years learning and 9.3 years watching TV.
I found this absolutely shocking. So I did a bit of research and checked the math... If you count the total amount of time spent in school as learning and use actual government research that found we spend 2.8 hours per day watching TV - it's totally true.
School: 6 hours x 180 days x 13 years = 14,040 hours = 1.6 years
TV: 2.8 hours x 365 days x 80 years = 81,760 hours = 9.3 years
While I found the thought that most Americans will spend more than 10% of their lives watching TV quite tragic, it also excited me. Everyone's so busy and always short on time. However, if we chose to not watch TV, we’d have an extra 9.3 years of free time in our lives, which is almost as much time as the average U.S. citizen works in their entire lifetime (10.3 years)!
Going beyond free time though, what if we decided to use that time productively? What if we chose to learn and tackle awesome projects instead of watching TV for those 2.8 hours each day?
Think about how much we learned from kindergarten through high school... those thousands upon thousands of hours in the classroom amount to a brief fraction of the time we spend staring at a TV screen. In those 9.3 years in front of the TV, we could probably become fluent in a couple languages, master Brazilian Jujitsu, get a doctorate degree, learn to code beautiful websites, become great marathon runners, and develop world-class level skill of some obscure hobby – on top of everything we already do.
We could trade our time in front of the TV for the skill set of a real life James Bond or rock legend Bruce Dickinson – the lead singer of Iron Maiden, who is also a college graduate, DJ, author, scriptwriter, actor, Olympic quality fencer, commercial pilot, and owner of his own aviation company.
If we took those 2.8 hours per day to become better, more talented human beings, we'd be capable of virtually anything we set our sites on. Yet, we continually choose to squander that incredible amount of time staring at a TV screen and not being like James Bond or Bruce Dickinson.
Why do we spend more than 10% of our lives in front of the TV?
I think it's about comfort and convenience. When choosing between the difficult process of learning or watching the newest release on Netflix, it's so much easier to passively stare at characters on screen as they experience life for us.
It's not as comfortable to be the real life James Bond or Bruce Dickinson, so we watch them live interesting lives instead.
Though we may feel like binge watching Netflix or spending Saturday watching college football, we have to choose the more difficult path of learning, of stepping outside of our comfort zones, and go through real conflict ourselves instead of letting those on screen experience it for us. To be James Bond or Bruce Dickinson, we must continually choose this higher road over and over again. And frankly, that's hard to do.
Almost everything is more difficult than watching TV unfortunately. However, it's also important to note that there are varying degrees of difficulty and effort involved with any undertaking we must overcome. While action and deliberate thinking are the most effective ways to live and learn, to expect ourselves to have such energy and drive all the time is a bit unrealistic. Sometimes we just need passive activity.
TV is most appealing in the evening when we're often tired from a long day’s work. So to start choosing learning or real life action over TV, it's best to begin with something less demanding to make the decision easier at first. For example, instead of watching TV, watching an online college lecture might be more manageable than attending a jujitsu class after a ten hour shift at work.
So here are a couple passive alternatives to TV:
1. Online Classes. You can take free online classes on just about any subject from the best colleges on Earth. And that's pretty damn amazing. However, with a bunch of websites offering thousands of courses, it's often paralyzingly difficult to choose one, so start with this incredible list of the 50 most popular free online courses of all time.
2. Podcasts. The Tim Ferriss Show is nothing short of enlightening. Tim interviews top performers in a wide variety of fields (entrepreneurs, athletes, philosophers, doctors, actors... etc.) and attempts to uncover the ideas and tactics that make them the best at what they do. It’s applicable to all of our lives and hugely motivational. A couple of my favorite interviews are Derek Sivers, Kevin Kelly, and Jimmy Chin.
3. Books. There's an unbelievably vast array of knowledge and useful information stored in books, but with seemingly infinite books to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Let me help you narrow down the list. I'd love to send you to my Bookshelf, but it's quite underdeveloped in comparison with this incredibly useful list.
4. Skillshare. I ran into this website a few weeks ago and it's friggin awesome. Skillshare is a collection of thousands of short classes that can teach you about anything from time-lapse photography to Facebook marketing to the basics of men’s haircuts. They have a couple hundred completely free classes and thousands of "premium" classes that are accessible with a $10 monthly fee. You can give it a 3 month test run for 99 cents.
I think that we should try to lower the amount of TV we watch to under an hour per day, at most. Watching TV isn't doing much good for us, and spending 9.3 years of our lives this way is hugely excessive. Think of the incredible things you could do with those 81,760 extra hours!
Once we break the ritualistic habit of staring at the TV so often, we can move on to bigger things - athletic endeavors, real world projects, badass hobbies, or even business ventures - but it’s important to start small as we break away from our habitual dependence on a TV screen.
Don't be like the average U.S. Citizen and waste 9.3 years of your life passively watching TV. Make Bruce Dickinson proud and experience life for yourself.
Be awesome. Learn stuff. Create things. Do.