Longtime readers of this column – now barely two weeks from its 1000th column anniversary! – know that this is the time of year when I usually make sport of something called TV Turnoff Week, a call for voluntary TV denial organized by the Washington DC-based Center For Screen-Time Awareness. Now in its 14th year, the campaign has apparently been tweaked a bit, according to a story in Illinois’ Northwest Herald this week, and stripped down to the much more ambiguous Turnoff Week.

While the new name makes me, at least, recall the quizzes given to Playboy centerfolds – I’m imagining a week where we’re being asked to be especially dismissive of the rude people, phonies, liars and hygienically challenged among us – it’s supposed to signal a broadening of the CFSTA’s campaign to include videogames, e-mail and the internet – virtually everything with a screen, in other words.

“Twenty years ago, television was the key element in people’s real use of personal electronic media,” said Robert Kesten, executive director of the CFSTA. “That has changed dramatically, and continues to change as more devices are created and more people are financially in reach of those devices.”

“We’re looking for things that fulfill our needs and if our needs are not being met in the real world, we’ll try to find substitutes in the virtual world,” Kesten added. “The idea that children will spend as much time as allowed playing with Webkinz didn’t exist before. Instead of encouraging children to play with other children, or go outside and ride a bicycle, we’re allowing them to become solitary and sedentary individuals.”

Before I go any further, I’d like to repeat here what I tell everyone who asks me how much TV I have to watch to write this column. The answer – and it’s a truthful one – is “as little as humanly possible – that stuff’ll rot your brain!” I don’t want to sound like a scold, however – not like Bob Kesten and the folks at the CFSTA – because I believe that life is about choices, and if you choose to watch TV all day, or let your kids do it, then you’ll have to live with the consequences, from obesity to vitamin D deficiency to a cultivating your own bespoke strain of Asperger’s syndrome.

During TV Turnoff Week, however, I try to encourage my readers to watch as much TV as humanly possible – turn the set on as soon as you wake up, keep it on all day, and if you’re really feeling like a rebel, leave it on all night and sleep bathed in its cool, ever-changing strobe effect. Now that the CFSTA has broadened their target, I’m encouraging you to multitask and play Halo, watch reruns, write e-mails, surf celebrity skin websites and text bad jokes to your friends all at the same time. Give the folks at the CFSTA something to really feel sad about. And trust me, by the time the week is over, you’ll really know the meaning of the word Turnoff; you’ll be ready for that long, slow novel and those CDs of rain sounds.

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