Monday, February 18, 2008

Not Willing to Give Up TV? 10 Ways to Tame it.

I’ve had a lot of response for my post, Giving up TV. In fact, on a normal day, the “hits” on that post register about 100 times more than hits on any other post. What’s the deal with that? Are we so fascinated by the idea that we actually can live without TV that it deserves to be met with such curiosity and excitement? Are there really people out there who haven’t thought about giving up their TV addiction? I don’t pretend to know the answers, but as long as I have the attention of a pretty large number of people, I want to encourage this movement away from media-dependence. You’ve probably noticed how pervasive the TV is.

With the TV on in our houses, our day is not our own. We make our schedules around it. We make decisions based on it. We give corporations a window into our houses. We hand out kids over to the corporate culture without thinking about it. And we pay for most of it.

And yet…

We are so fascinated with what they have to say about the weather that they say it every six minutes on morning. Then, after they’ve told us about the weather, they promise more about it in another six minutes. And we tune in again. Why is the weather so important to people in the morning? Bring a sweater! Put an umbrella in your car or bike! You don’t need to know what the day has in store! They’re probably wrong and you probably have a pretty good idea yourself.

We alter plans and possibilities of human interaction because of what’s on TV. They have molded your day when this happens. I once had a date tell me that she had to go home because TGIF was on ABC. Okay, it probably wasn’t the “quality” programming that was driving her away, but it seemed like a logical excuse to her. It seemed so because this isn’t uncommon. A friend of mine in college said that he called his mom because he was having a rough time adjusting and she said, “Let me call you back after Big Brother.” We establish and nurture relationships with the characters on TV even at the expense of our own friends and family.

The corporations that have us pay for their service make money not only from us but from the channels and advertisers on the other side of things. We are paying to watch ads. The shows are really just unfortunate side effects for the TV companies (unless, of course, they present good places for product placement). And we willingly sit our kids down to watch shows that leave them desiring cheap, useless merchandise that they don’t really want. Kids, especially pre-teen and teenagers, feel worse about themselves after watching commercials.

And I know what you’re thinking, “I’m not affected by commercials.” Then tell me why advertisers pay $200,000,000,000 a year for advertising on TV? You’re telling me it doesn’t work? You just don’t see the big picture like they do. It works. Trust me. Or trust them, at least.

But there are ways that you can help these strange events happening under your own roof. For one, you can get rid of the TV. But many just won’t do that. Luckily, there are other ways.

So. You’re not willing to give up the TV?

Big deal. This doesn’t mean you can’t join the fight against it. What the TV’s function is in most households is really the acknowledgement that you’re there, you’re alive, you’re awake. People wake up and turn the thing on as a symbol for “clocking-in” for your day. It will remain on, even if muted, for the rest of the day as long as you are in your house. For some people, this even means turning on TVs in multiple rooms. This TV being on is comforting for us. We were raised that way. We may even perceive our pets to prefer the presence of the all-knowing box. There are some very solid steps that you can take to tame the beast.

1. Mindful TV Watching
TV doesn’t have to be mindless. Only watch TV when there is something that you want to watch. Read that last sentence again. Make it a mantra. There is no reason to flip through channels seeking you-know-not-what. And don’t turn on the TV just because the kids want to “watch something” or “watch TV.” Ask them what they want to watch. Turn it on if you think that’s a good idea. Don’t offer suggestions, make them discern what it is they want to do with their time; this shouldn’t be just to waste time.

2. Impose Time Limits
I use to really make fun of friends of mine who said, “My mom only lets me watch an hour of TV a day.” But first, let us look at that statement. What, besides TV, does a parent let their child do for more than an hour a day? There just aren’t that many activities that we do that beg for four or five hours of our time every day. And those that do should hopefully give you some sort of product, like a backyard deck or a new guestroom, after a certain number of days.

3. Flexible Limits
You don’t have to stick with a certain amount of TV every day. I know parents who give their kids tickets to watch shows. This often results in siblings coordinating TV watching plans. Or, you can sit down on Sunday and map out a plan for the week—which shows are “important” to watch or a special movie night or some such.

4. Time Frames
Or, maybe TV watching is free in the morning, when little kids wake up too early and parents follow suit, but then goes off after everyone has had breakfast and gotten dressed for the day. That would at least encourage a view of TV watching as having a docile purpose in the day rather than a dictator of it.

5. Keep kids away from certain shows
What shows? Shows that are nothing but commercials masked in plots. Shows like Dora, Power Rangers, and the like. If there’s a huge amount of products associated with it, you should urge them in a different direction. These shows created misplaced desires and they direct those desires by changing characters, adding characters, encouraging collection, etc. And when you kid does collect them all, they will only see how unfulfilling it is when the movie comes out and all the old characters become irrelevant. Instead, shows like Arthur that are more closely associated with books can be a better alternative (but don’t fall for something like a Dora book—those things are like poison put to print when your child wants you to read it again and again).

6. Get Rid of Cable
And I don’t mean “buy Dish!” I mean, get rid of all those damn channels. How many of them do you watch? They spread the good channels out within their three or four strata of service options so that you have to get 150 channels to watch five good ones, but 200 channels to watch nine good ones. And having cable really detracts from the idea of mindful TV watching. Maybe you have a good antenna and can get the local channels. But I don’t recommend getting “basic cable” because a) they’ll talk you into getting a bigger package at less money and b) because you don’t need to send their kids to college—stop lining their pockets.

I have no experience with TIVO whatsoever. But I have a few problems with it. 1) you’re paying for a service; 2) you probably still have cable; 3) You have to fast-forward through commercials when they should be automatically blacked-out. So, instead:

8. Get an AppleTV
I swear they’re not paying me to say this again. But with one of these expensive systems hooked up to your TV, you can only watch shows that you decide to pay for. You will automatically limit TV to shows that you actually want to watch and you will cut out commercials altogether. Plus, you never, ever have to change your schedule around a show (though you’ll often have to tell your neighbors not to say anything about Survivor until that weekend). I would happily rather pay for a show that doesn’t have commercials than watch a show for free that does. I’ve been saying that for at least 10 years before the AppleTV came out.

9. Get a DVD player
Oh, you have one? What’s it there for? I’ll tell you what it’s there for: mindful watching. Only shows you want, no commercials. This is especially helpful with the increased presence of quality TV shows being put on DVD compulsively and online things like Netflix getting them to you.

10. Get a blanket
To put over the screen. Make it hard to turn it on. Only take that blanket off when you really, really want to watch something. Bonus points if it’s a pretty blanket or a tapestry.

And, as always, there are plenty of alternative to watching TV at all. You will find yourself with more time, more energy, and more room for your families. Such are the things that being a badass dad are all about.


cesca said...

I love your blog, Sol! I came here via Steve Olsen, and now have you on my feed also. :-)

I went cold turkey with the TV in our house one day - I was worried that the kids would revolt but they were surprisingly not bothered. They asked for it the first couple of days, but after a week they stopped asking.

We've now introduced TV back into our lives, and I have noticed that our watching is quietly creeping back up to mindless levels again. Time to go cold turkey again, I think!

Sol Smith said...

Thanks! It's great to have feedback, cesca. Feel free to "favorite" me, etc. I'm trying to build a strong blog and it's great to know that people are reading.

Anonymous said...

I use a TiVo so I don't have to be a slave to my TV. I only watch it when I want to and if I have something else to do I will just let my TiVo record what I want to see and watch it when I have a chance to see it.

Meg said...

I agree with the TIVO thing- we have dvr through dish and I think it's the same. It's tv on our terms. It eliminates commercials and shortens the time in front of the tube.

I can watch an hour long show in 45 minutes.

My kids have appropriate shows available any time we need them. This came in handy at 3 am when my son awoke sick and needed a fruit pop to soothe his throat and a distraction.

Good Post!

Wynnie said...

We haven't had cable or Dish in years - about 4, I guess. It's a decision that neither of us regrets. We watch what we want when we want to without ads. Ryanne thinks that only hotel TVs have ads - she was startled when we watched the Thanksgiving Day Parade and it had ads. "It's just like a hotel TV," she said.