TV? Don’t waste your time, says Stanford prez


A waste of time? Who sez?

“TV is a waste of time,” said John Hennessy.  The Stanford prez added:

“Let’s face it. No one really loves watching TV, though we may do it occasionally.”

He came to that conclusion when he was interviewing, years ago, for a full-time faculty gig at Stanford. His interviewer was Donald Knuth, the “father of computer science.” Hennessy wondered if he was up to the job.  He asked Knuth how he managed his time.  Knuth confessed that he never watches TV.

“It was a great insight about using your time and doing what you really love,”  Hennessy’s told an audience at the Stanford University’s dedication of the new “Jen-Hsen Huang” Engineering building.  His comments were picked up by the Forbes blog here.  And boy, did they hit a pocket of resistance.

This, from Kym McNicholas of “Kym’s Faces of Tech”:

Those of you who bash television, you may talk about books on Picasso or Gauguin with people you want to impress. You may make sad sounds when people talk about the decline of the newspaper industry.  But no one is pulling the plug on TV stations. They’re thriving.  And guess what? We’re thriving online, too, on Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix. People love video! …

I also know of several Stanford graduates and Harvard graduates who never miss an episode of “Family Guy.” I hear it’s now preferred over the “Simpsons” for techies looking for a little humor as they decompress after a long day of programming. But are they any less intellectual because of that? No. Everyone needs an outlet. …

And one more thought. If television is such a waste of time, why are some of the largest companies such as Google, with Google TV, and Apple, with Apple TV, investing so much money it? Yes, to make it better. And yes, to make it more relevant for today, in terms of our Internet-centric world – a world that brilliant Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and other University graduates (or drop-outs) are helping to create.

So, I can imagine that the argument that “TV is a waste of time” is only going to get harder to defend.

Whew!  I guess John Hennessy really stirred the pot with this one. I caught “Family Guy” for the first time while waiting for my sons at their apartment about five years ago. I didn’t know what I was watching, but I was astonished at the crudity of the animation and appalled by the sexism and stereotypes. Do people really “decompress” with this stuff? The episode I watched included a veiled, seductive Arab woman snatching the father away from the mother in some sort of polygamous arrangement, in which the husband was mindlessly acquiescent.  Talk about stereotypes!

As someone who learned to “manage my time” the same way, many years ago, I can only say yes, John, yes, yes, yes, yes!

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3 Responses to “TV? Don’t waste your time, says Stanford prez”

  1. Elena Danielson Says:

    We let our frail, snowy, black and white TV die a natural death in 1981 when our son was born, and he grew up without TV. We do have a big flat panel thing now. And the difference seems to be more stations with less content. Most of the viewing hours have been repurposed for advertising, partisan political propaganda, and vulgarity beyond belief. I still watch Jeffrey Brown on the PBS News Hour, and am addicted to one show (Hercule Poirot, 7pm Saturday). But my time really goes to the internet, that is an addiction that I cannot control, and the time just evaporates. And it is not always wasted.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    The best BBC stuff can be viewed on DVD later — that way you don’t have to be roped into a whole bunch of worthy programming you didn’t mean to watch, but that winds up eating hours and hours of your time. And print or onscreen media is still a far more comprehensive way of taking in the news.

    As for internet addiction, you got me. I don’t know how to deal with that one, either. One can’t just throw out the computer — it’s the way I work.

    Nice not to have to deal with the clutter of paper, anyway. I remember years ago when I subscribed to the NYT. It got ahead of me — days and days ahead of me — with the papers stacking up everywhere.

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Isn’t it funny, Elena? More and more channels, less and less to watch.