Something momentous happened to me this week. Actually, it happened to you as well.
I am, of course, referring to the new fall season of television.
The beginning of a new season of television is an important social and personal event. New people enter our lives through these new shows, and we also get to see the same faces that have been coming back for years.
We are emotionally invested in the lives of these fictitious characters. It tugs on our heartstrings when Jim asks Pam to marry him, and we cry and laugh with real emotion because of the events in the lives of “our” characters.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers Jaye Derrick, Shira Gabriel and Kurt Hugenberg study feelings of loneliness and how they relate to watching a favorite TV show.
They say that people self-report fewer feelings of loneliness when they are watching a favored TV program.
In the opinion of the researchers, we experience feelings of closeness to the characters because they act as our surrogate friends.
And I would say they do a good job. TV characters are always on time and they are always cheerful, sad or funny. They match our expectations.
They never ask anything from us, either, so we’re free to just use them for our own benefit and then turn them off when we don’t need them anymore.
This one-sided relationship might sound unhealthy. TV is easily accessible in this technological era, and maybe if you can just see your television friends, you’ll have no need for the ones on whom you’ve relied previously.
That isn’t true though.
In my experience, television characters only really shine as surrogate friends in the hours where my real-life friends are busy or asleep.
The increased value of television friends is based on their ease of use.
In economics, price is modulated by many different considerations, but one of the most important factors is transaction cost.
Transaction costs are, as you might assume, whatever money or effort you might have to expend in the process of transportation, storage and delivery of a product.
For the purpose of this column, though, think about that Thursday night when you know you could go out to your friend’s house, but you live on South Campus and they live in an apartment off campus.
Television friends have no transaction cost. Many network Web sites legally show their own programming online and Hulu collects selected ad-supported programming from different sources.
If you have a computer, you can watch TV— and if you go to school here, you probably have a computer.
Does this mean that we should neglect our real friends so that we can hang out with Bauer, Grey and Griffin?
And is there anything wrong with calling television characters our surrogate friends?
The answer is, again, a resounding “no.” Just embrace the warm feeling you get when you watch one of your favorite shows.
Your real friends will understand.
Reed Watson is a junior psychology major from Raleigh. Contact Reed at email@example.com.
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