Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ballroom Babies

I just had a look at the latest in reality dance shows: “Ballroom Babies”. about prepubescent children in an Australian dance competition where the object is to be the best ballroom dancing couple.

Dancing and music are about people enjoying themselves. And the more often people actually get out and play music or dance the greater their enjoyment.

Just watching people sing and dance on television eventually becomes boring. That's why reality dance shows are obsessed with winning. Like a heroin addict who develops a tolerance to his drug so that he has to keep taking bigger doses, television programmers are always upping the ante by emphasizing the drama – the highs and lows, the losses and the triumphs, and the more risque subjects. But this obsession with “winners” and “stars” denigrates all the rest of the participants who were eliminated.

This isn't the the case in real life. If we go to a dance every week we can enjoy ourselves in spite of our imperfections because we get involved physically. Meeting people and getting to talk are added benefits.

Think for a moment about the neurological disorders of autism and attention defecit. ADDH kids and autistic kids love watching TV. But in real life they have major difficulties with other kids, their siblings and their parents. It's harder for them to get a sense of reward from paying attention to other people.

An autistic baby doesn't respond to facial expressions. But a normal baby appears to catch our smiles. The autistic brain gets no reward from interaction with people.

A normal person feels pleasure from talking and interacting with other people. That's because our brains are wired that way. We grow to love our immediate family, in part , because of the pleasure we get from being with them over a period of time.

But television short circuits our reward system and lets us feel pleasure with no effort on our part. What happens when your brain is wired differently is that television provides that reward if you can't get it from being around other people. It constantly changes scene and subject so that it keeps you from getting bored. It does all the work for you.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a world expert. If you devote three hours a day for ten years than you can become a recognized expert. Devoting time to a subject increases our mastery. But people aren't going to devote time to a subject if they don't get pleasure from it, and,or, they spend their time watching television. Do we really need to spend our lives watching TV shows about how winners eliminate their competition?

I hear there's a trend today for parents to let their babies and toddlers watch TV. They say it' educational. In fact, this practice is taking away vital experience from the formative years in childhood.

Children's play is physical. It can be risky and it can be messy. But it is vital because it shows children how to derive pleasure from doing things and interacting with other people. By contrast, the more television they watch the more easily they are bored because they have less ability to derive pleasure from just living.

When we spend our time doing things we get better at doing things and we get a deeper, more satisfying appreciation of the world. This, in turn, makes it easier to enjoy spending time with families, working, and playing sports. What I don't like about the “Ballroom Babies” is that the pleasure that one can get out of dancing is drilled out of these little children so that they can win a contest. What a shame.


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