The speaker contends that people learn just as much from watching television as by reading books


The speaker contends that people learn just as much from watching television as by
reading books, and therefore that reading books is not as important for learning as it
once was. I strongly disagree. I concede that in a few respects television, including
video, can be a more efficient and effective means of learning. In most respects, however,
these newer media serve as poor substitutes for books when it comes to learning.
Admittedly, television holds certain advantages over books for imparting certain
types of knowledge. For the purpose of documenting and conveying temporal, spatial
events and experiences, film and video generally provide a more accurate and convincing
record than a book or other written account. For example, it is impossible for anyone,
no matter how keen an observer and skilled a journalist, to recount in complete
and objective detail such events as a Ballanchine ballet, or the scene at the intersection
of Florence and Normandy streets during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Besides, since the
world is becoming an increasingly eventful place, with each passing day it becomes a
more onerous task for journalists, authors, and book publishers to recount these events,
and disseminate them in printed form. Producers of televised broadcasts and videos
have an inherent advantage in this respect.Thus, the speaker’s claim has some merit
when it comes to arts education and to learning about modem and current events.
However, the speaker overlooks several respects in which books are inherently superior
to television as a medium for 1earning.Watching television or a video is no indication
that any ~ign~calneatr ning is taking place; the comparatively passive nature of these
media can render them ineffectual in the learning process. Also, books are far more
portable than television sets. Moreover, books do not break, and they do not depend on
electricity, batteries, or access to airwaves or cable connections-all of which may or may
not be available in a given place. Finally, the effort required to read actively imparts a
certain discipline that serves any person well throughout a lifetime of learning.
The speaker also ignores the decided tendency on the part of owners and managers
of television media to filter information in order to appeal to the widest viewing audience,
and thereby maximize profit. And casting the widest possible net seems to involve
focusing on the sensational-that is, an appeal to our emotions and basic instincts rather
than our intellect and reasonableness.The end result is that viewers do not receive complete,
unfiltered, and balanced information, and therefore cannot rely on television to
develop informed and intelligent opinions about important social and political issues.
Another compelling argument against the speaker’s claim has to do with how
well books and television serve their respective archival functions. Books readily enable
readers to review and cross-reference material, while televised broadcasts do
not. Even the selective review of videotape is far more trouble than it is worth, especially
if a printed resource is also available. Moreover, the speaker’s claim carries the
implication that all printed works, fiction and non-fiction alike, not transferred to a
medium capable of being televised, are less simcant as a result. This implication
serves to discredit the invaluable contributions of all the philosophers, scientists,
poets, and others of the past, upon whose immense shoulders society stands today.
A final argument that books are made no less useful by television has to do with
the experience of perusing the stacks in a library, or even a bookstore. Switching
television channels, or even scanning a video library, simply cannot duplicate this
experience. Why not? Browsing among books allows for serendipity-unexpectedly
coming across an interesting and informative book while searching for something
else, or for nothing in particular. Moreover, browsing through a library or bookstore is
a pleasurable sensory experience for many people-an experience that the speaker
would have us forego forever.
In sum, television and video can be more efficient than books as a means of
staying abreast of current affairs, and for education in the arts that involve moving
imagery. However, books facilitate learning in certain ways that television does not
and cannot. In the final analysis, the optimal approach is to use both media side by
side-television to keep us informed and to provide moving imagery, along with
books to provide perspective and insight on that information and imagery.

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