“The media have become an essential part of feeling hospitable about man. The television and the movies (the ‘popular’ ones) distract you from the harshness of the daily life – it’s the price you pay for feeling safe.” — Mexico


  1. TV is all about escape: Students from all over reported that they were pretty agnostic about what they watched on television.  While a few spoke of favorite shows, almost none spoke about ‘destination TV’:  TV shows that students made an effort to watch religiously.  Students most commonly mentioned ‘finding something to watch’ – which could be sports, popular shows, or classic programs (e.g. ‘Friends‘) – when they wanted to relax.

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  2. TV is a group sport: The fact that TV, especially via a television set, is a broadcast medium – the audio goes out to an entire room – meant that students most frequently mentioned watching it together with friends or family, often over dinner or with snacks.  One person would flip on the TV and others would gather around. As a side note: Very few students mentioned TiVo or other ways to record programming – most students spoke about watching TV via a television set, although students did mention that to watch a specific program, they tuned into television via their computers.

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  3. TV is background noise: Students frequently used the words ‘routine,’ ‘habit,’ and ‘instinctively,’ to characterize the way they typically engage with television.  Many, from Chile to China, Lebanon to the UK, spoke about how it had become a reflex to turn on the TV when they walk into a room, to have it on as they eat their meals, and to have it on as ‘white noise’ as they go to sleep.

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TV ‘on’ for relaxation: Overwhelmingly, students reported that they watch TV to relax, especially toward the end of their day.

Students around the world wrote that they rewarded themselves by watching a favorite TV program or sports game.  If they had had a relatively productive day, they would watch TV before they went to bed.

  • USA: “Until about 8 o’clock I had done very well and had work on my mind so was not very tempted. It was when I got home and just wanted to relax and watch TV.
  • China: What a pity that I can’t watch the TV film, which is my most favorite activity before I go to the bed.”
  • Slovakia: I am addicted to television and for me it is the best relaxation.”
  • UK: “I had studied all day and felt I needed something to relax myself.  Usually an episode of ‘Friends’ would do the trick.”

It was sitting there, right in front of me: Other students noted that TV was most often a group activity; they would only watch the TV when others were.  Those students reported that for themselves they could take it or leave it, but if their friends or family were sitting down and watching, it was hard for them to avoid.  Rarely mentioned, however, was intentionally turning to watch the news.  Sport, weather and entertainment programs received much greater mention.

  • UK: The television is hardly ever off. My mum comes home for lunch and my dad works from home two days of the week and it’s the first thing anybody in our house does when going into the living room. Turning the television on.”
  • USA: “My friend’s 50-inch television sitting right in front of me (fully equipped with a DVD and Blu-Ray player) tempted me all night long.”
  • Slovakia: “The last thing I wanted to do was turn on my TV. But my roommate turned it on her side to an opposite corner of my bed .”
  • USA: Television is an integral part of my family, even if it’s just for background noise.”
  • Lebanon: I took little breaks to go and sit with my mother for a while but she was watching the television, so I wasn’t able to sit. It was difficult not being able to even sit in the living room with the TV on.”

Watching TV as a habit: Many students noted that they had become so habituated to having a TV on that they didn’t even realize that they had turned it on upon waking up or while eating.

  • USA: “Sure enough, when I woke up I instinctively grabbed the remote to flick on ESPN as part of my typical morning routine.”
  • UK: “I began the period by eating lunch, but I usually eat with the television on in the background so immediately the routine was changed.”
  • Chile: “I couldn’t make it because all the time there was someone watching the TV at home, and also I’m really used to watch the news every day, so I started doing it as a routine and then remembered I shouldn’t have been doing that.”
  • USA: “I did mind not having the TV when I was falling asleep. I always fall asleep with the TV on and I guess I never realized how much I depend on media throughout the day and night because I couldn’t fall asleep.”

“I watch for hours every day and can watch almost anything from ‘Top Chef’ to ‘Desperate Housewives.’ Television actually amazes me more than it entertains me.

I’m proud to say on that day I did not turn on my television on as I always do before bed – and instead chose to take an Ambien [a sleeping pill] and pass out for 10 hour.” — USA

Tuning in, Turning on: Students, no matter what country, rarely spoke about missing television news; what they missed was the soothing background that the TV provided. It was a way to relax without thinking too much, it provided familiar entertainment, and quite simply, it was another presence in the house. But what does it say that at least one student had to turn to prescription medicine to get to sleep without the background noise of television?

  • UK: All I kept thinking about the whole time was how I wanted to turn on the TV.”
  • Lebanon: “I remembered that the latest episode of one of my favorite shows was airing and I literally had to force myself to get back into the book I was reading.”
  • Mexico: As I could not turn on the television I went a little crazy. Every time I’m at home I watch TV as a way of having company, and I was quite missing it.”

Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.