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In Praise of Obscurity: My latest Wired column
How much TV do you watch? What’s the highest level of educational level you’ve attained?
According to data gathered by the web site hunch, these two aspects of your life are “almost perfectly inversely correlated”: The more advanced your degree, the less time you spend staring at the tube.
Here’s the background: Hunch is web site that gives you customized recommendations based on you answering questions about what you do and don’t like. (After parsing my replies to several questions, it advised me against buying an Apple tablet, for example.) In theory, the more people use Hunch, the more Hunch knows about our preferences and the smarter its recommendations get. So to gather even more information about people’s preferences more quickly yet, the site has a section called “Tell Hunch About You”, where you can answer oodles of survey-like questions about your demographics, your likes, dislikes, habits, patterns of consumption, beliefs, etc.
Over 66,000 people have answered questions about both their educational level and the amount of TV they watch. When the Hunch folks assembled the numbers, here’s what it looked like, according to their blog:
It turns out that increasing educational level is almost perfectly inversely correlated with daily TV consumption. Of the 22% of Hunchers who completed no more than a high school education, only about 12% of them watch no TV but a full 25% watch 4 hours or more each day. On the other end of the spectrum, of the 26% of Hunchers who have completed at least a PhD, about 17% of them watch no TV and only about 16% watch 4 hours or more each day.
Here’s another way to look at the data. For 3 the groups of Hunchers who completed no more than 2 years of college, about half of each group watches 2 hours or more of TV each day. But that’s true of just 44% of those with a 4 year degree, 37% of those with a masters, and 35% of those with a PhD or higher.
If you follow the links they have some nice graphs to illustrate the numbers. Of course, assuming these data hold up (anyone know how well it compares to other studies of the same thing?), it’s still an open question as to which is the chicken and which the egg. Does having higher education make TV somehow less attractive as an activity? Or are people who already don’t like TV more likely to pursue higher education?
Me, I stopped watching TV in college, largely because when I moved out of home and into a rooming house in dowtown Toronto, I didn’t own a TV — and there was no common room in my building, i.e. no dorm-like place where everyone would hang out and watch. Since you often solidify your leisure-time habits in your teens and early twenties, I never resumed watching TV regularly even after I left college. (The sheer metric tonnage of stuff I’ve missed is kind of amazing: I’ve only seen about three episodes of The Simpsons, for example.) It’s not that I don’t like TV; I actually love it when I do see it, in part because the quality of TV has become so spectacularly high in the last decade. These days, I usually follow one show at a time — Mad Men right now — so I watch an hour a week. (However, in a somewhat cosmic irony, I actually married a TV critic, so I also catch lots of snippets of different shows while she’s reviewing them.)
The point is, while I can correlate going-to-college with stopping-watching-TV, the relationship seems in my case to be entirely circumstantial. I don’t think there’s anything in my educational makeup per se that would turn me away from TV — at least not the sort high-quality dramatic or comedic stuff.
What about you guys?
(By the way, Hunch has so much data on its users that it has found all manner of other fascinating correlations, which they’re reporting on the Hunch blog. Check out their profile of “birthers”, what your video game system says about you, and what Hunch users think about global warming.)
(Thanks to Caterina Fake’s tweet for alerting me to this one, and to dailyinvention’s Creative-Commons-licensed photostream for the picture above!)
I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).
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