Television Abstinence

I had a conversation with my family recently about some of the reasons I don’t have a TV. A lot of them, I admit, are ex post facto. The actual reason is that I’ve just never bought one. And the one that I’d want is hella expensive.

In explaining why I’ve chosen not to fill this void in my life, I said that I often visualize outcomes with this kind of long view of repeated action. So when it comes to TV, if I estimate watching 3 hours of TV a day (apparently the American average is more like 4!), I end up imagining the accumulation of all that time spent watching TV over a year. The effect for me is quite visceral, which continues to turn me off from the idea.

Now I don’t usually do any math when I’m thinking like this, but if I did, I’d find that 3 hours of TV a day amounts to over a thousand hours a year, or 68 straight days of TV watching from the time I wake up til the time I go to bed (with no pee breaks!). That’s more than 2 months!

It’s even more dramatic taking into consideration the aggregate effect of a population doing the same thing. My anti-TV stance seems almost political from this perspective. Think about the human cost of every American watching more than 2 months of TV a year. If you consider TV watching to have an essentially passive, if not pacifying effect, what is it doing to our collective productivity, our intellectual capacity, our ability to act independently and make informed decisions? What is it doing to our memory? How is it changing us?

Or more interestingly, how am I different by not watching TV?

I’m not denying TV any educational or theraputic effects. In fact I’ve written before about how TV or a movie can effectively distract my conscious mind while the subconscious gnaws on more challenging problems. But in that case I was talking about the hypnotic effect of watching a movie on the order of once a month or less.

Ironically, it was the The Matrix that really drove home the idea that we do a lot of things wholly unaware of their effect in aggregate or over time. How a little bit of TV can be a transformative experience, but a lot seems like being plugged into the Matrix.

16 Comments

Dude, just choke down that red pill ;-)!

Naw, don’t take either pill and kill the Buddha if you meet him on the road. My point… is that I’m totally with ya. I’ve supplanted my addiction to the cathode ray tube – and now the LCD – from the passive TV to the active computer screen. Not doing much of anything zonked out in front of the tube can be relaxing. But in the big picture the choice not to consume but to produce is a radical idea. Not bill and ted radical but active change radical.

Hell yeah.
I put my TV in the attic because I didn’t like what it was doing to my kids, and I realized I’d stopped watching months before because I just got bored with it.
I’m not anti-passive entertainment myself…the kids do get to watch DVDs pretty frequently. I just like having control over what they watch, when they watch. And I’ve started watching movies (thanks netflix!) myself again. And it seems these days that anything I’d want from the TV – music videos, news analysis, weather – I can get from the Internet, that vast and shiny thing.

Stay TV-free. Telly is evil and will rot your brain. I hate my TV and would shoot it if my husband would let me. (I didn’t even have a TV when I met him.)

i’m on the same boat with you on this subject! I’ve been TV free for over 2 years now and don’t miss it one bit. I still watch occasional DVD’s … prob 1 or 2 a month…but i feel much more independent and capable w/o the influence of TV.

good article…

I just get TV shows from Netflix. It’s the commercials I hate. TV shows are often my friends. Family Guy, The Shield, Six Feet Under = friends!

Brian, I agree that “the choice not to consume but to produce is a radical idea” in fact that’s the environment I hope I’ve created by not watching TV.

Robin, I was at first quite worried about Netflix, but the time it takes for a single DVD to make a round trip (about 4 days) has been enough to throttle my viewing—and since the holidays, I’ve just had no interest in watching movies (read: no time). I’m thinking about pausing my subscription.

Mush, shoot the TV.

Richard, glad you enjoyed.

Marcia, so have you seen the last season yet?

Yeah, I do the cheapest Netflix too, and I like it…I get 3-4 movies a month, which is still wham-dammy cheaper than renting them or going to the cinema, two things I never have time for anyway. And what’s not to love about making lists online! The queue thing they have is just brilliant!

I gotta say…I’m not with you on this one, Justin. :-) I have an intrinsic issue with the implications that there are “good” and “bad” forms of entertainment. If you posted “I decided to give up books” you’d be drawn and quartered, and I would argue there’s as much merit in a good TV show as there is in a good book. The real problem is that there is far to few of both.

This is not to say there isn’t drivel on TV, but to limit youself by cutting off an entire form of information/culture seems…odd to me.

So, now I have to weigh in. People choose to “give up” media in a less explicit way all the time. Until our TV broke this fall, I had never seen my husband read a book before. He just didn’t see anything that applied to him in the bound format. Likewise, my inlaws didn’t get a computer until last year, and still don’t feel like there is anything on the internet that they will find useful. Not owning a TV is different than not consuming it (as TV on DVD demonstrates), and the real issue is choosing to not own another thing. I expect you spend plenty of time sitting, glazed, in front of the computer actively thinking “Why am I not yet in bed?” I do.

I’m not saying good or bad entertainment, I’m saying good or bad channels for accessing entertainment.

I think a movement that actively tried to dissuade people from putting a TV in every room, building a home theater system, watching TV in bed, sitting children in front of TV, installing TVs in the headrest of the family car, etc. would be healthy. TV is so pervasive I think maybe it’s a good time to think about putting the brakes on—and not just by telling people to watch less, but by saying “I don’t watch TV at all, and I’m surviving.” Which is really I think what my post was musing on, though it may have come off a little preachy.

And yes, the number of hours I spend a day in front of the laptop with access to the internet would put all the average hours of TV consumption to shame. I spend anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day online. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Webb

Todays technology is a massive reformation of Hitler and The Nazi Party ideologies! The T.V. being Hitler himself! We should all be given cameras to use thru out our life but not be allowed to view the media until we retire

Ells

Hey good more people without TVs. I’ve not had one for a few years, but in England you get treated like a criminal by the ever charming TV licensing people who assume you must have a TV, and must be a criminal for not paying your license. This is extremely annoying. They want to come search my house every time my address gets chucked up by their systems. Nice.

oasisob1

My family and I gave up our TV’s connection to the outside world on 11 November 2005. We adjusted rapidly and are much happier for it. We still have a lot of DVDs, and have bought more. But we aren’t spending $70 a month for nothing.

zdenek

totally concur, yes life is a bit different, since we kicked our tube 7 years ago. Sure we spend our time on the internet having 2 computers in house – that is one for myself, and one for my wife. But as Justin says – you are the driver in search for the info, you re not being fed the bull. HAPPY Surfing !

Kathy

Today is my first TV-free day. I took the cable to work and can’t watch the TV here at home without it. I’ve been searching all over the Internet for conversations about giving up TV. I used to go on the message board of tvturnoff.org but their message board is always down. It evidently hasn’t been fixed since 2005. I used to get so much inspiration and encouragement during my battle with myself to give up TV. This little blog has been very helpful and I hope more people will post to it.

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