Monday, October 8, 2012

Can Television Be Educational?

At the beginning of “A Way to Think about Information Reception”, two different viewpoints about television watching are mentioned. Some scholars claim that” television involves a transfer of information that enriches the viewer’s store of knowledge”, while others “emphasize that television provides viewers with much deeded entertainment, relaxation, and escape (1).

However, I always doubt if television can really be a source of knowledge, even though some channels and programs are labeled as educational.
In “The Political Origins of Modern Communications”, Starr distinguished between information and knowledge. According to him, information is “data relevant to decisions”, while knowledge refers to “more abstract concepts and judgment” (Starr, P17). I do agree television can provide people with information. But can the information provided by television be transformed into knowledge?

According to “A Way to Think about Information Reception”, attention plays a vital role in the process of cognition and knowledge acquiring.(2) As is believed by many people, watching television doesn’t require much attention, and most people regard TV watching as a way of relaxation. As for myself, I used to spend a lot of time watching television, especially TV series. At the same time as I watching TV, I eat, make phone calls, do my homework, surf the Internet and sometimes just daydream. Most people watch television on their sofa rather than at their desk, and the place provides the relaxing condition rather than asking them for attentions. Few people really try to focus on the TV programs, but many of us do so when reading a book. So even if the content of some programs are educational and including many valuable information, people just don’t consider themselves studying while watching it. Without attention paid, those educational programs are just background sound and meaningless images to these audiences.


When analyzing the information reception, the authors discussed two dimensions of communications: order and complexity. Order refers to a subjective state in which a person experiences no substantial conflict among the elements of consciousness (4), and complexity depends on how much effort it will take to process information (7). I tried to use these two dimensions defined by the authors to establish a model as below. NQ stands for negentropy quotient. The higher the NQ is, the less conflict exists between the information and the audience’s goal. CQ stands for complexity quotient. The higher the CQ is, the harder it’s to attain the information. According to the authors, information with low NQ and high CQ would be the most negative and unpleasant one, and that with both high CQ and high NQ can be positive, for it leads to learning and growth, and provides people with enjoyment. Education falls into this quadrant, for it asks for effort, but also produces psychological growth. From my viewpoint, most television watching falls into the quadrant of high NQ and low CQ, which ask for little effort or attention, and provides people with pleasure but not enjoyment. The difference between pleasure and enjoyment are argued in the article. While pleasure generally comes from processing “messages” that genetic inheritance has made congruent with the biological goals of body, such as the sensations we get from eating when hungry and from sex, extra investment is needed to turn a pleasurable experience into an enjoyable one which produce a positive inner state. (8)I guess this is why when talking about the function of television, most people will mention entertainment, but not information obtaining and education attaining.


  1. People do strive for high NQ and a low CQ when watching TV. I think that can easily be seen by the type of TV most people watch. Learning generally takes effort, focus and critical thinking that most audiences don't care to give after a long day of work, TV is used as a getaway where the mind can wonder mindlessly if that's what the viewer wants. This explains why most people prefer to watch Entertainment Tonight, some comedy or reality show over the news. They don't want to work their mind after being mentally and physically drained through a hard day of work.

    TV can definitely be used as a great source for knowledge, but it must be sought after. People must also be in the right mind frame. I normally just put on TV to get entertained mindlessly or for white noise to lull me to sleep. For me, entertainment can be knowledgable when I watch Sports Center to get caught up on what happened in the sports field. Besides that I rarely use television for knowledge. I think televisions massive flood of bad, similar, trash TV is to keep the standard down and keep the uniform system in line keeping people to believe the way things are supposed to be by keeping people uninformed.
    (funny poster that I felt was appropriate)

    1. I think Matthew's comment about TV as white noise helping him sleep speaks volumes to the attention being given to TV shows. A lot of my friends play episodes of shows to fall asleep, meaning there is an expectation to NOT pay attention and go to sleep in the comfort of familiar voices and sounds. I'm guessing that this offers a sense of security and relaxation but at the same time, this also implies the content of the show matters very little. The audience cares more about the environment provided by just the sounds and the images when sleeping, studying, working, or doing chores. This reminded me a lot of Christenson's article about popular music and how one of its' important factors to teens was the environment/atmosphere a song created.

      P.S. Thank you so much for that NQ/CQ chart! As a visual learner, that definitely helped make sense of all the NQ's and CQ's being thrown around.

    2. Sorry. This is Anne from the 8am discussion, by the way. My Google account is showing up weirdly.

  2. I know we already discussed your post in class, but I just wanted to reiterate how great this contribution was, Jessie! I am really quite impressed that you made your own chart with CQ and NQ as the axes. Your quadrants look about right, though the "maybe a disaster" corner has me wondering. You've made some very smart and subtle distinctions here between information and knowledge (using Starr), pleasure and enjoyment (using K&C), and what we could call deep attention and hyper attention (multi-tasking), borrowing from Kate Hayles's work.

    Re: Luke's and Anne's comments, I think I must be an outlier because I could absolutely never, ever fall asleep to a TV program playing. And while I do my share of "vegging out" in front of bad TV, I have also been known to sit attentively and watch an entire hour of science programming (just recently, I learned about skunks on Nature and quantum mechanics on Nova. But then again, I almost became a field biologist because I love watching animals for long, quiet, still periods of time, and I love reading, which is much the same.