You Are What You Watch: Shahrzad Rafati at TEDxVancouver (Full Transcript)

As the CEO of BroadbandTV, I live, eat, breathe, sleep video every day of my life, and my message today is we should watch more video, not less video because I truly believe we would be a better society if we watch more. So what do I mean?

As a child growing up in Iran, my viewing was rationed. We only had access to a handful of channels. There was the religious channel, all Imams all day – I mean look at these guys; they’re boring – and then there was the news channel, all war all day, and a variety channel with a range of shows: science shows, cartoons, and the occasional movie.

But for a real treat, my family would rent a video once in a while, and we would watch together, but the problem was if there was a romantic scene, my parents made me close my eyes, “Shahrzad, look away!” I’m telling you, I didn’t watch romance on TV until I was about 17. The content that I watched early in my life helped me become who I am today.

So what did I watch? Well, because of the war, there were a lot of patriotic movies with heroic people that accomplished amazing feats. Watching these heroic movies made me become more courageous and independent. At the same time, I found an escape from war by watching cartoons and animation. Oddly, considering the circumstances that Iran was in war, the same movies seem to be played over and over again. Movies like “Gandhi” taught me the true values of life, taught me how important it is to see the good in people, that how you must be the change you want to see in the world, and believe me, this really helped me, given that Iran was in war from the point that I was born until the age of eight.

So when I was 17, I decided to move to Canada, by myself, to see the change that I wanted to see in the world. TV was no longer rationed. TV was a good teacher for me. I spoke very little English when I was 17, so watching TV helped me understand the culture but also speak the language better, although it took me a little while to understand what that Jerry Springer Show was all about. That was crazy! But seriously, TV helped me, just like many other immigrants, to feel more part of a new community. I also came to better understand the power of freedom of speech.

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Watching movies like “Dead Poets Society” and “Braveheart” taught me how important it is to find your passion and to bring it to your life and make your life extraordinary. It struck me right in my heart, and in my head, and right in here that nothing in life is impossible, that if you do what you’re truly passionate about, it will not only impact you but it will impact all those around you.

Recent movies like “Avatar” illustrate it beautifully, how metaphysics and a spiritual science go hand in hand. It shows how everything on this planet is connected and pulsating with energy. The movie resonated with me – like many of you, I’m sure – that we need to treat Earth with more respect and love.

We’ve all heard the stories; stories about kids’ relationship with TV and video content, inspiring stories about kids, very young children, who can’t even talk that are watching baby eye sign and learning how to sign to tell their bewildered parents what they need and what they want. Or children in developing countries that are leveraging video so that they’re not left behind, so they can fully exercise their power. And there are other stories about the results when kids emulate the violent act they saw on TV.

These stories have evoked hundreds and hundreds of studies, studies that seem to be focusing on answering one question: is video good for children or is it bad for children? What is interesting is that different studies have generated dramatically different results. So who’s right? And who is wrong? Should we ration our kids’ viewing? Or should we just fix them up with some snacks and popcorn and let them watch whatever they like to watch? Well, in my opinion, these studies are asking the wrong question.

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Regardless of the side they choose, they’re missing the point. One guy who’s got it right is Professor Daniel Anderson; highly influential and widely published, Daniel’s answer is referring to what I believe is the most underrated aspect of our relationship with TV and video content: we choose what we watch. By judging TV and video, we’re only judging ourselves because we are responsible for what we watch and what we teach our children to watch. Let’s understand that we have control, that we are in control. There’s never been a better moment in our society to block and control the content that we view.

This is an exciting moment, a milestone in our society that we need to celebrate not to fear. We need to understand that we are in control, that we are what we choose to watch. Radical changes are taking place in every aspect of video consumption. What selection we have, how we choose, when and where we consume video, we are more likely to make a deliberate content decision now as opposed to before. We have more broadcasters both from traditional media and new constituencies, we have a channel just about every theme and interest imaginable.

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