Life is way better than TV. I recommend it to anyone who has forgotten they have one. —Jasmine Guy
If I had my life to live over again . . . I would have cried and laughed less while watching television . . . and more while watching real life. —Erma Bombeck
You were put here to . . . explore and create. Stop putting it off. The world has much more to offer than what’s on 15 televisions at TGI Fridays. —Jason Mraz
When televisions were the shape of smart cars, Mildred Montag replaced her walls with movie screens and spent every day captivated by characters she knew and loved so well she called them family. Before personal computers and cell phones—much less streaming, video chats, and social networks—Ray Bradbury knew we’d take human contact any way we could. Hell, in Castaway Tom Hanks was so starved for company he confided in a basketball.
But technology alone can’t fill all the spaces it’s created. Movies, television, commercials, games, and news have become more interesting to us than our own lives. Sure, they tell intimate stories. But you and I have loved, lost, struggled, survived, traveled, reached beyond ourselves, and triumphed, too. Why do we prefer others’ stories to our own?
There’s editing, of course. Fiction has been described as life with all the boring parts taken out. Taking out the trash, missing the bus, fighting with friends, and quiet frustration don’t make headlines. Like movie marquees, news headlines and commercials spell out climax after climax in oversized text and glossy pictures. Athletes don’t train out-of-shape bodies for years; they quest, fight, and triumph—or suffer glorious defeat. Hit after hit of vicarious adrenaline.
Movies, sitcoms, news, and commercials aren’t just enticing for the tedium they scrap, either. Every story you see is neatly structured—even if, like a whodunnit, careful misdirection keeps you guessing. But life doesn’t unfold itself cleanly. Most of the time we have no idea what’s going on.
Then there’s resolution—pre-packaged stories all resolve themselves by the end of their time slot. Lovers get married, the killer is caught, an underdog triumphs. Even tragedies offer closure: mourners glimpse fresh flowers as they leave a gravesite, survivors work to prevent more suffering. But life has no closure; it just goes on as long as you do. So a twenty minute sitcom broken up by ten commercials of self-contained microfiction? How deliciously bite-sized.
Sure, distraction can relieve tension. But creation can relieve tension, too. And stories do more than distract us: we grow by imagining ourselves in others’ shoes and learning new things which give us more choices. You can learn from telling your own stories, too. The next time you want to immerse yourself in a juicy tale and talk about it with all your friends the next day, why not make it your own? Conversations, dreams, and epiphanies sparked by your stories are waiting to happen.