When I was growing up there was no TV in the house. I used to hide the fact because it was so out of the ordinary.
‘But what did you do?!’ I hear you cry. Well, I was bored some of the time and was rubbish at general knowledge quizzes, but mostly I read. I curled up on my bed with an apple sliced in four and I stepped into a different world.
I’m fairly certain that I’m an author now because of that; I grew up not being fed images but creating them. When a book got scary, I controlled the pictures in my head, something that isn’t possible when they’re flashing at you from a screen. Handsome heroes were painted by my imagination, unspoilt by hooked noses, big ears or, heaven forfend, bad teeth. If I wanted to be in the story a little bit I could step in through my imagination. There are no spaces like that on TV.
There is a slight downside however. I cannot ever watch an 18. When I saw the villain Jaws in James Bond, or the chariot race in Ben Hur when I was younger, or Shallow Grave as a teenager, I had terrible, recurring nightmares because I couldn’t filter the images like I did with books.
Of course now there is a TV and an XBox at home and that makes me sad for my children. Thankfully they both read a lot and write too but the default for all of us is to switch off our imaginations and turn on the screen.
As a society we are more informed (or misinformed) than ever before, but I worry we’ve lost the ability, or the space, to imagine and create.
And without that, the world just seems a bit flat…
‘So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.‘*
*Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory