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Television vs. Book?


What do you think? Do you want to watch TV or read a book?

The purpose of television is this:

  • Information - advertising, news, sports
  • Identity - people to emulate and things to identify with
  • Social Interaction - as a basis for conversation or substituted for companionship to ease sense of isolation
  • Entertainment - escape, relaxation

The purpose of a book is this:

  • Information - story, how-to
  • Identity - to provide characters or a voice to identify with, to be identified with an author or book
  • Social Interaction - to create a basis for discussion and/or conversation between you and others
  • Entertainment - interacts with reader's imagination

One difference between television and a book is that television works from the outside in while a book works from the inside out.


Television distributes information in the moment whereas a book lets the information lie there for you to review repeatedly if you so desire. Information on television is communicated through voices and pictures that flash on the screen and are gone. Words sit on the pages of a book waiting around for somebody to read them.

If you walk into a room and there is a TV on, you may find it difficult not to pay attention to it at least on some level. The sounds and pictures are designed to attract your attention. It is an active, perhaps even aggressive, means of communication. If you walk into a room where someone is reading a book, you might not even notice.

One of the chief drawbacks of TV is advertising, however, more and more means of avoiding television advertising are becoming a available every day. So if you don't want to watch advertising, chances are you will be able to find a way to avoid it.

The temporal nature of the information television conveys means that the viewer has only a moment to absorb the information. In order to maximize impact, television advertising is usually designed to convey simple information:

  • "To look pretty, like me, [wear, use, buy] this product."
  • "To be successful, [drive, wear, invest in} this."
  • "This war is necessary because of WMD."
  • "Vote for change."

Sight and sound combine to drive the messages home. Music and interesting sounds and beautiful images of objects and people attract and hold our attention. Words are spoken by interesting-looking people in seductive, humorous or emphatic tones.

Because books convey information primarily through written words without benefit of tone or inflection, they depend heavily upon the imagination of the reader to fill in the missing sensory information. The smell, texture, appearance, and sound of a concept, person, action or thing are conjured up in the readers mind through precise description. Conjuring the readers imagination permits a deeper sensory experience that facilitates a much broader spectrum of nuance and detail - that is, more complex information.

Comparing apples for apples, a book might deliver messages more like:

  • "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you can control what is beheld by [wearing, using, buying] this product."
  • "The acceleration pushed me back into the leather bucket seat as the three hundred horsepower supercharged engine thrust the Ferrari smoothly from zero to seventy in less than four seconds."
  • "Upon examination of the satellite photos and analyzing information from our sources on the ground we have concluded that we must go to war to prevent the use of WMD against America or American interests."
  • "Vote for reform in education, health care, and foreign policy."

Another factor is overall time. Time constraints limit most television programs to an hour or less. When a reader begins to read a book, we expect that it may take hours, days or even weeks to finish. Books, therefore, have a lot more time to convey information than a television program.

However, the other side of the time issue is that people today are busy and may not have a lot of free time. Furthermore, they might be too mentally exhausted to enjoy a book. For these people, TV can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience that requires minimal effort.


Television and books both strive to give you characters that you can identify with and perhaps emulate or imitate. Both might have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Television, however, gives you actual people, actors, who play characters. They have an inherent or contrived appearances, mannerisms and other characteristics. In a book, the person is described with words rather than pictures, usually, leaving the reader to construct the character out of their own imagination.

Subjectively speaking, this is what made the Lyra character in Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials" a person I was able to fall in love with in the books, but someone I found vaguely obtuse and annoying in the movie ("The Golden Compass") based thereon.

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Because the reader is creating the character in their own mind, they are free to imagine the character as an ideal. Because this is so, readers are encouraged by the author to react to an ideal within their own mind, and finally, because it is in their own mind, it draws upon pre-existing ideals of the reader. One can identify much more easily with a character created from one's own ideals rather than someone else's ideals.

Television characters impose their inherent characteristics on the viewer as ideals. The power of television is in the projection of the image, therefore the image is cultivated and refined for maximum impact within a minimal time period. Actors are hired on the basis of their "attractiveness" and "beauty" as defined within the narrow parameters of that which gives the most impact in the shortest time. The result is often a person who would be impossible for the average person to emulate, and difficult even to imitate, which actually leads to self esteem issues among some viewers.

Social Interaction

Both books and television provide bases for social interaction. We tend to identify ourselves and other people by the shows we watch and the books we read, and we use our television shows and books as conversation starters in social situations. When we learn what show an acquaintance is watching or what book they've read and enjoyed, this knowledge changes our view and perhaps our opinion of them. We might categorize a loyal watcher of "Masterpiece Theatre" different than we might categorize a fan of "Lost", for example, just as we might categorize a person whose favorite author is Jane Austen differently than we would classify an avid reader of Stephen King. We humans love to categorize people, rightly or wrongly, and books and television shows give us the welcome opportunity to do just that.

Several factors contribute to isolation of individuals within our society. People work in one town and live in another. People move from community to community. Many people use television to ease their sense of isolation or to create background noise in their too quiet home environment. They interact with the TV in lieu of the human social interaction that they are finding in short supply. The attention-grabbing characteristic of television helps distract them from their loneliness and the stories of the characters help distract them from the emptiness of their own stories.

The television is also used as an electronic babysitter, keeping young children busy as their parents do other things. Some people say that this practice has led to increased attention issues in children.

Books About Television


Both books and television strive to entertain, and both have their advantages. Books challenge the mind and stimulate the imagination. Television is also at times challenging and stimulating, but generally people watch television so that they can just relax, think of nothing, and enjoy the show. Books are much more portable than television. Television can deliver a complete and satisfying story in an hour or less - something you're just not going to get out of a book, unless it's a book of poetry or short stories. The level of entertainment in books is arguably much deeper and more satisfying. The variety of entertainment available on TV any given evening is far greater than one could ever get out of a single book.

Certain kinds of entertainment are unavailable through books. One cannot watch a live ball game or performance in a book, for example. For live news, sports, and other events, the television is definitely the only way to go.

Weighing the pros and cons of books and television, a balance emerges. When you want to relax, have little time, and want not to think, watch TV. When you want to break up your entertainment over an extended period in order to enjoy a deeply satisfying story, a book is ideal. It is up to you to choose.


Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on January 12, 2015:

Thank you!

ks on January 10, 2015:

really helpful:):)

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on March 21, 2013:

I guess you must have read at least the title of this article or you would not have been able to comment, so I guess that you do it even though you hate it. Interesting.

katlen on March 20, 2013:

i hate to read

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on January 22, 2013:

Thank you. I love reading, too.

Ilovereading on January 22, 2013:

I like your page and I found it very helpful for persuasive argument I'm writing on books. I love reading and it's much more healthy than playing on ipods, ipads, a computer, or watching TV.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on November 25, 2012:

Thank you, Dariene. The most effective way I've found to get kids to read is to read to them. But it takes a long time. I read The Lord of the Rings and other works such as Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forrester and The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle to my daughters. Today as young women they understand that reading is more than a pastime - it's a value.

Darlene Brooks on November 25, 2012:

I liked this page and would like to get my grand daughter to read more. She likes reading bu if you don't insist it becomes a passing thought.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on September 16, 2010:

Lovely! I'm pretty happy not watching TV, tho. :)

Jill Herschman on September 16, 2010:

I love both. I'm an avid reader, but I'm a huge fan of television too, particularly television that, as others put it, makes me think. I'd argue with anyone that I can learn as much from TV--and not just channels like Discovery and History--than I can from books, as long as you gravitate towards the right programs (and, conversely, the right books). I think you need a little bit of both in your life, books to feed your imagination (because there's nothing quite like reading Bridge to Terabithia as a kid and picturing exactly what your Terabithia would look like), and television to show you things you would never normally have a chance to see.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 06, 2009:

All the time I was writing this I had to fight my own prejudice that TV is just plain bad. I know it is a tool the rich use to keep the poor down, but dammit, there are definitely shows I really like. I found it an unexpectedly difficult request to answer.

Artisan Walker from Springfield, Oregon on May 05, 2009:

Good stuff, Tom. I'm going to confide and probably get a raft of crap for this, but, don't care. When I'm reading a book, it is mostly done while eating or ion the pot.

Typically, I love multi-input while, so, while eating, I'm reading a magazine (preferably Discover) and got TV going at the same time.

Hopeless, I know.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 02, 2009:

Excellent, Paradigm. I knew I loved that guy for a reason.

ParadigmShift... from San Jose, CA on May 02, 2009:

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book" - Groucho Marx

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 01, 2009:

All I care about is what my hubber friends think of me, seriously, Blondepoet. Or if they think of me not so seriously that's ok too :0)

blondepoet from australia on May 01, 2009:

Yes I know you don't care Tom but we have to congratulate you as we all feel proud lol

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 01, 2009:

Thanks, Mdawson! Ya, I think if one is going to watch TV, best to watch public television where the commercials are less insidious and you don't have stuff like product placement poluting the production.

mdawson17 on May 01, 2009:

I also think books broaden your mind! Reading makes you think! To me television is a fantasy world! Half of the things we watch on television are doctored up so the network can make money! At the of three my eldest daughter was already reading at a first grade level! Thanks for another wonderful Hub!!!!



Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 01, 2009:

Thanks to your TLC Blondepoet. Altogether now:

one, two, three, four

we don't care about the score...

blondepoet from australia on May 01, 2009:

You look beautiful now amazing what a bit of a makeover does for you hey Tom. 100 wooooooooooooooooo

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on May 01, 2009:

Thank you, Blondepoet for your continued kindness and care. I can close my mouth now!

Shibashake, that's the truth. I found I could not write the piece without bias. Thank you

shibashake on April 30, 2009:

Hi Tom, Thanks for providing a thoughtful and balanced view between television and books. I really liked this line:

"We humans love to categorize people, rightly or wrongly ..."

That is so true. For example we categorize people who like reading books as being smarter than people who like watching television ;-)

blondepoet from australia on April 30, 2009:

Oh the TV can go, what is a TV, no time for that. Take a hike Mike I say. I am an avid reader, thank God or I would not be here reading this. Tom....I..err..think it is about time you had a makeover Poopsie,you are looking a little run down. Plus your mouth is hanging open is that cause you are happy to see me. Oh My. Anyway how does next Friday sound I can fit you in then?

You have a little bit of dribble on your chin, here let me tissue it off for you, oooooo, you are not looking well at all. I will fix you ok, so don't sweat about itx0x0x00x0x

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

Thanks for adding so much.

You can like TV, Storytellersrus! I like TV, too, and it does make me think, sometimes. In the article, I tried to talk about the external sensory input that is TV versus the internal sensation manufacturing process that goes along with reading. But the same distinction could be made between a book and drama, or movies and still art.

I have not kept pace with my kids' canon except where our tastes coincided. I really liked Pullman, but Rowling left me cold and I had no interest in Twilight. I had heard, however, that the Twilight books are good.

Barbara from Stepping past clutter on April 30, 2009:

Okay, I like tv.  There are lots of great channels on it that make me think, like the show I watched Monday on the Trail of Tears- it inspired a Hub.  BUT I returned my new iPhone today because it was keeping me from reading.  It had all sorts of toys for me to play with during times when I ordinarily would read.  So what category is this?  Now I can fly to California to see my son with Les Miserables in hand... no pressure, lol!

PS I liked the second Twilight book- I read the entire series so I could converse with my daughter. The second book contained some fascinating mythology and I eat that stuff right up. I also read the entire Harry Potter series due to my son. I thought the last book was brilliant... I try to keep an open mind.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

TV is a great sleep aid - but so, i'm told, are my first two novels!

Jerilee Wei from United States on April 30, 2009:

I'm a book-a-holic and seldom watch TV even though my husband in his retirement has it on 15 hours a day, every day. It puts me to sleep, reading never does. You make some good points here.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

We banned TV in my house, but the kids all eventually learned to watch TV on YouTube or whatever anyway. Up until senior year in high school we limit their surfing time to an hour or less most of the time. They'll still get around us some as they have a video going while they're typing their homework.

I always enjoyed science fiction stuff like the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, Space 1999. We borrowed a Twilight Zone DVD from the library a few weeks ago.

I have a very eclectic library and I would read more if I didn't write so darn many hubs!

Al Hawkes from Cornwall on April 30, 2009:

Well, me I like both. My library contains a variety of topics, mostly factual although I do enjoy a good tale from Dickens. The television is rarely on daytime, then I am reading the hubpages to gain more information. My evenings are often shared between the two, the soaps I watch caus I don't have to think, sad eh!

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

Ha ha Feewee.  It's great what we can learn from TV. 

SC, I meant to say that people often watch TV because they don't want to think, not that TV will not make a person think, and not that all people who watch TV do so for that reason all the time.   I dislike blanket statements and did not mean to make one. 

I like Star Trek because the premise of each story is, "What if."  A thought-provoking question, I think. 

S_C_Baker from California on April 30, 2009:

I think it can be a little dangerous to make blanket statements like "TV won't make you think." While it is unfortunately true that most network TV is utter garbage, that doesn't mean anything on TV automatically will be. TV, like books, is just another medium. The quality of the story, or the thought-inducingness of it, is completely separate from what medium something is published in. There are tons of books that are utter garbage, for instance. Twilight springs to mind.

I also find myself disagreeing with the idea that Books are somehow less escapist than TV shows. Much mass-market fiction certainly doesn't "create a basis for discussion and/or conversation between you and other"! It's just as escapist as TV.

So perhaps what this article is comparing is not "books" VS "TV" but "literature" VS "TV", which I'm not sure is a fair comparison. It's a little like saying "Yale is located in Connecticut, so everyone there is smarter than everyone in Texas."

To put this into perspective, I haven't had cable for about 10 years, and don't usually watch anything on TV. I'm also a librarian, so I do love books.

Thanks for the thoughts!

feeweewv from Between A Dream And Reality on April 30, 2009:

Yeah Bad Girls Club it awesome! I learn a lot :)

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

All things in moderation, Frieda, that's what I say.

I find movie versions of books almost always disappointing. How could anybody beat your imagination, GR8?

gr8archer45 from Pakistan on April 30, 2009:

I'd chose books over TV anytime! The programmes on TV can never win over my imagination :) Even when the bestsellers are transformed into movies, its always the book version that takes the cake as compared to the movie itself.

Frieda Babbley from Saint Louis, MO on April 30, 2009:

Lgali puts it well, "with idiot box I am stuck"!  Although I must say, it's nice to fold clothes to a bit of HGtv or an old Brady Bunch episode.  (Not that I would know anymore, I haven't watched but once or twice in over six months).  I read the most.  Radio (NPR usually) second.  Go outside third.  Clean fourth.  Watch a movie fifth.  Go out to dinner sixth.  ...  Can't knock the tube totally though.  I have to say ixnay the commercials, soap operas, and the reality tv and I do get a thrill.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

Yup. If one wants to veg out, meditation is much better than TV.

Lgali on April 30, 2009:

I love radio more than anything I can work with radio but with idiot box I am stuck

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

Radio is much less insidious than TV I think, Ivorwen. Thank you

Ivorwen from Hither and Yonder on April 30, 2009:

I love books and radio.

Tom rubenoff (author) from United States on April 30, 2009:

I watch Star Trek episodes on DVD and as a joke I got a season of The Greatest American Hero and my kids LOVE it. Ha ha. We banned broadcast TV from our house 7 or 8 years ago and do not miss it.

Hmm. Feewee. Bad Girls. Hmmm.

I love my books, too, Teresa. You packed them up? Are they in storage, or did you have to give them away???

Sheila from The Other Bangor on April 30, 2009:

I gave away my TV sets some time ago, and I don't miss them.  However, I had to pack up all my books (I'm talking A LOT of them) when I moved out of my house and into the camper.  I miss them -- from Jane Austen to Emile Zola.  I miss reference books, too; and my art books and history books and science books and technology books and philosophy books; novels in Spanish, in French, Winnie the Pooh in Latin; my books on the history of  the English language; all my textbooks; and I can't even remember what make or size the TVs were.

feeweewv from Between A Dream And Reality on April 30, 2009:

I think books make you think while television thinks for you... I don't watch much television, except for Bad Girls Club but if it were a book... I would sooo read it. Anyway, Good Hub

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