Cammie McGovern, a former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford who has written Eye Contact and The Art of Seeing, is one of the few literary types whom I have seen confess that her formative years were, well, formed as much by television as anything else. From Stanford Magazine:
... Then my sister cleared her throat, announced that it was time for "speeches." My stomach ice-skated a little when I saw her holding a Mickey Mouse notebook that bore my pre-adolescent handwriting: Diarysummer, 1974. After a sentimental introduction praising my book, she said she thought it might be "illuminating" to hear some of my "earlier work." She read aloud: "Dear Diary, I thought you might be interested in an hour-by-hour description of what a young writer-to-be's day is like."
Much to my mounting horror, this writer-to-be spends every day parked in front of the TV. Morning hours present themselves not as an opportunity to read a book, but as a choice between The $10,000 Pyramid and Family Feud. In the afternoon, the options pick up: there's Mary Tyler Moore with an exclamation point; Bob Newhart, with a period. Heading toward dinnertime, we get the novel pleasure of a complete sentence. "Today is Thursday which is good because that means Laverne and Shirley."
I'm sure I read as a child because I'll occasionally stumble on some lost treasure in the children's library Wednesday Witch, for instance and my heart will soften as I recollect it: the cover art, the witch riding her vacuum cleaner, the tiny cat traveling to school in a lunchbox. ... These days, when questioned by students, my stock answer is that I was a bookish girl who read more often than I went out with friends. New evidence sheds light on a thing I was doing more than either of these. So now I have to wonder: who was I as a child?
After my sister finishes, her friends reassure me that they did much the same thingwatched dreadful shows on black-and-white TVs with bad reception and no horizontal hold. It's a small comfort that such a diary entry isn't an exclusively American possibility, but what does that say about any of us?
Perhaps that TV was a child's escape, a way to pass time until life got a little better, with more interesting horizons. Maybe it wasn't the worst way one could travel through the brutalizing years of early adolescence.
As a child, I read new books and I read the same books over and over again, I watched new TV shows and movies as well as the same ones over and over again, I played with friends, I played by myself.
I just had more time back then. I think there was time to do just about everything.
And that's why watching television wasn't such a tragedy. Yeah, it could be a timewaster, but you could also learn something, you could also feel something. Having a binding around your words doesn't guarantee they're more meaningful than having them spoken on screen.