Interviewer: What would happen if you could shut off television for 30 days in the entire United States of America?
McLuhan: It would be a kind of hangover effect, because it’s a very addictive medium. You take it away and people develop all the symptoms of a hangover. Very uncomfortable. It was tried. Remember a few years ago, two or three years ago they actually paid people not to watch TV for a few months? It was in Germany, [and] in the UK. And they discovered they had all the withdrawal symptoms of drug addicts. Very uncomfortable. All the trauma of withdrawal symptoms. TV is a very, very involving medium, and it is a form of inner trip, and so people do miss it.
Interviewer: The thought just occurred to me that possibly if you turned off television there would be a lot of people who would say at the end of the thirty-day period, “We will not permit you to turn it back on.” Do you think that could happen?
McLuhan: A great many of the teenagers have stopped watching television. They’re saturated. Saturation is a possibility. About the possibility of reneging on any future TV, I doubt it. I doubt that, except through saturation. The TV thing is so demanding and therefore so soporific that it requires an enormous amount of energy to participate in. You don’t have that freedom of detachment.
McLuhan delighted to say something preeminently counterintuitive and then not deign to explain himself. TV takes a lot of energy? Well, in my experience it is certainly not refreshing. And I think that the statistics make it apparent that Americans have no freedom to detach themselves from it.