eckhart tolle oprah winfrey tv watching television insanity

Eckhart Tolle on the Insanity of TV

In the Media Collusion course we talk a lot about how advertisers and marketers (across the web and the TV screen) go to great lengths to compete for our attention.

With music, storytelling, high-chroma colors, weblinks, hashtags  and dramatic structure, they use every conceivable strategy known to the science of persuasion to suck us into their product stories.

Young people need to know how all this works in order to navigate the increasingly complex media landscape they’re faced with.

And remember, just because today’s youth don’t watch traditional TV doesn’t mean they’re immune or sequestered from these techniques.

YouTube has morphed into the same advertising format as TV, and there are even more subtle ways for advertisers to pitch their messages through popular online stars.

Youtubers, vloggers, gamers on Twitch and online “thought leaders” are the new sitcoms and dramas of the day, and they’re handsomely rewarded by advertisers for their efforts.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth has to say about the effects of TV on consciousness.

Eckhart Tolle and the Promise of Peace via Media

Tolle is primarily concerned with developing more present consciousness in individuals. Google him if you don’t know what he’s about. He’s got excellent, although esoteric, videos on YouTube. His explanations of psychology, mysticism and the human condition are quite accessible. It’s why Oprah Winfrey has showcased him so heavily over the past 20 years.

Here’s his take on TV and inner peace:

“So does TV watching create inner peace? Unfortunately it does not. Although for long periods your mind may not be generating any thoughts, it has linked into the thought activity of the television. It has linked up with the TV version of the collective mind and is thinking its thoughts. Your mind is inactive only in the sense that it is not producing thoughts. It is, however, continuously absorbing thoughts and images that come through the TV screen. This induces a trancelike passive state of heightened susceptibility not unlike hypnosis. This is why it lends itself to manipulation of “public opinion,” as politicians and special-interest groups as well as advertisers know and will pay millions of dollars to catch you in that state of receptive unawareness. They want their thoughts to become your thoughts, and usually they succeed.”

You can see this same trance-like state when people are locked into the activity and conversations on their phones. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who decided to engage their phone instead of you? Have you asked your a kid a question in the car while they’re watching a YouTube video on their phone or iPad? They don’t answer you, right? They’ve departed the present moment and entered into another world where their mind is subject to someone else’s thoughts.

Eckhart Tolle continues:

“. . . when watching television, the tendency is for you to fall below thought, not rise above it. Television has this in common with alcohol and certain other drugs. While it provides some relief from your mind, you again pay a high price: loss of consciousness. . . Once you are hooked, the more trivial, the more meaningless, it is, the more addictive it becomes. If it were interesting, thought provoking, it would stimulate the mind into thinking for itself again, which is more conscious and therefore preferable to a TV-induced trance. Your attention would, therefore, no longer be totally held captive by the images on the screen.”

Some TV and film productions, like documentaries, are interesting and thought provoking so your mind participates in the narrative. Some YouTube channels engage your intellect. The majority of programming, both online and on the boob tube, don’t allow this.


“Most of television, however, is as yet controlled by people who are totally controlled by the ego, and so the TV’s hidden agenda becomes control of you by putting you to sleep, that is to say, making you unconscious.”

Tolle’s advice:

“Avoid watching programs and commercials that assault you with a rapid succession of images that change every two or three seconds or less. Excessive TV watching and those programs in particular are largely responsible for attention deficit disorder, a mental dysfunction now affecting millions of children worldwide. A short attention span makes all your perceptions and relationships shallow and unsatisfying. Whatever you do, whatever action you perform in that state, lacks quality, because quality requires attention.”

Here’s an interesting experience I’m sure you’ve come across that directly relates to Tolle’s ADHD issue. When you go back and watch old movies from the 1980’s, 1970’s or even further back, you notice that the pace is slower, and the music is typically less provoking and dramatic than those same story mechanisms in today’s movies.

Even though the movies are excellent and quite nostalgic because they hold a special place in our hearts, it’s easy to recognize that the technology for audience engagement has improved vastly over the decades. Movies now employ a wide range of techniques for pulling in the attention of the audience and moving it along the plot arc. These include:

  • Fast cuts
  • Fast zooms and pans
  • Higher fidelity audio tracks (remember the old synthesizer themes from movies like Beverly Hills Cop?)
  • CGI events that defy reality but look very realistic
  • Bayhem (Michael Bay) – “The use of movement, composition and fast editing to create a sense of epic scale.”
  • Rapid violence sequences that get the heart racing (no more Clint Eastwood slowly saying, “Go ahead, make my day.”)
  • Larger than life characters with powers and personalities way beyond previous caricatures (compare the 1978 Superman movie to the Marvel characters of today’s movies, and you’ll see)

As part of this exercise, you might like to Google “Zen TV experience.” I’ll have an audio post on this topic up soon with the link to the experiment.

Here’s a little taste:

“Marshall McLuhan says TV opens out onto an electronic global village. It would seem, rather, that it gives us only the illusion of being. It reinforces security by presenting danger, ignorance by presenting news, lethargy by presenting excitement, isolation by promising participation. The media confines reality to itself. And it limits knowledge by giving the illusion of knowledge. In the same way that the most effective way to deflect, diffuse and terminate a social movement is to announce that it has been achieved (the feminist movement must contend with this on an almost daily basis), the most effective way to deflect inquiry is to present it as fulfilled. TV acts in this guise as a thinking presentation device which offers non-experience as experience and not-knowingness as knowing.

“In the words of Mat Maxwell, “Television becomes the world for people…. The world becomes television.” The overall and cumulative effect of the media is to heighten our insensitivity to reality. Rather than breaking the chains of ignorance, political domination and illusion in our Platonic cave, something insidiously similar yet different is going on. Instead of actually turning away from the shadows to see the realities, instead of actually leaving the darkness of the cave and going up into the sunlight, we merely watch an image of ourselves doing this, we fantasize about doing it and think it’s the same.”

Stay tuned.



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