THE BLOG

Britain's Most Popular Drug

19/02/2015 11:54 GMT | Updated 20/04/2015 10:59 BST

I've never been a big TV fan. At least that's what I thought until recently. My parents were fairly strict about my time in front of the screen - and anyway, it didn't matter as I was always out playing sport and the like. At boarding school, I was always more interested in failing to chat up girls and thinking I was smarter than my teachers. In halls no one watches TV, and we were all busy failing to chat up girls, and proving that we were not smarter than our teachers. If I ever wanted to watch a television programme, I would simply watch it through one of the on-demand services now offered. In my mind, the TV was dead: an out-dated relic soon to be consigned to the history books of usefulness.

I have spent a couple of months in India, and one thing I noticed while out there, was that almost every household will have satellite television, despite not being prepared to fork out on a basic toilet for the family. At the time I railed against this; I could not get my head around what I saw as a very confused set of priorities exhibited by some in the developing world. However, with hindsight, this should have set alarm bells ringing, and made me appreciate how crucial a TV could be towards achieving happiness - artificial or otherwise.

This confusion of ideas was probably responsible for me deciding not to buy a television for my one-bed flat. When I invested in a swanky sound system instead, I thought I was the peak of hip post-modernism - my friends thought I was mad. The average person my age in the UK watches just under three hours of TV a day, and I thought: 'imagine if I could utilise that time into doing something productive, something active rather than passive...'

Whilst my intentions could be seen as admirable, real life has now caught up with me. As I languish in a town where I could count acquaintances of a similar age on one hand, working a zero-hour contract which my degree and successful school did little to prepare me for, the real world has somewhat lost its rosiness. And whilst I wobble between frustration at every organisation that fails to acknowledge my increasingly desperate pleas for employment, and misplaced self-pity at my often enviable middle-class problems - I get it, I really do!

The comforting brainlessness of turning on the television and endlessly absorbing, not only comforts us in our loneliness, but is also by far the most accessible drug our society indulges in to make us forget our problems. It is no surprise that only those aged 55 and over clock in at over five hours a day of television. Yes many are retired and therefore have more time to fill in their day, but as described so well by John Irving in his novel 'A prayer for Owen Meany', for those so often forgotten, the remedies of television, and the relationships that form, can seem like the only escape.

Unlike any other drug, television can be applicable to any problem. We come back from our office jobs and watch Secret Eaters or Biggest Loser to reassure ourselves we're maybe not as unhealthy as we thought. That it could be a lot worse than that ready meal we just put in the fridge. We watch Shameless and suddenly your dysfunctional family and that dinner table argument don't seem so bad. The mound of unwashed clothes in your room seems acceptable to what you see on Hoarders; and you comfort yourself that there is still time to flee suburbia with Escape to the Country. If you've got a problem, you can almost bet your license fee that television will have the medicine for you. My personal fix comes from Ben Fogle's New Lives in the Wild and George Clarke's Amazing Spaces; keeping my small dream alive that adventure and travel can still be a lifestyle choice, despite not having the confidence to commit to this.

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Not what you want...

Some will believe, as I did, that in a world of 'iplayers' and 'on demands', the laptop and tablet has rendered the humble television defunct. But what people forget is that this requires active thought. I don't want to actively plan and search for episode 17, series 14 of 'Come Dine with Me', because I know deep down that it's tosh. I do, however, want to collapse on the sofa and turn on the TV to find it already there. I then have an excuse to sit and watch four people cook dinner, and console myself that I'm at least more interesting than three out of the four diners.

So here's a tip: if you're moving out and are considering not getting a TV to save a couple of hundred quid- think long and hard. It's probably cheaper than the alcohol addiction you may well end up with to quell your loneliness, and definitely cheaper than counselling when your own inadequacies no longer pale in comparison to those of the Kardashians. Stay tuned!

(Image: Tom Beetham via www.channel4.com/on-demand)