Monday, April 28, 2008

One Year Without TV

This last week was national Turn Off TV Week. It happens to mark the one-year anniversary of my family being without TV. It's hard to believe that it's been only a year, and a year ago I never would have thought that it would last.

Let me clarify, though. My family does own a TV. But we've tamed it. We haven't had or paid for service for a year, but we can watch movies on DVD and shows on AppleTV, should we choose. The virtues of this are found in having no commercials and in being properly mindful about what we watch. Still, we can over do it so things like Turn Off TV Week come along at great times.

We decided to downgrade our TV to monitor status at the end of last year's Turn Off TV Week. It was an eye opening experience for us that made us a stronger family. Without shows to watch, we find ourselves with extra time. We find ourselves spending more time with each other and paying more attention to the family in general. Without commercials, we've cut begging for things out of our family experience altogether. While this year's experiment wasn't nearly as elaborate as last years--as we have cut our watching down to about 10% of what it used to be--we still took some time to ourselves to celebrate not having a light-and-sound-box communicating with us. Last week, we went to the zoo, played outside, read more, spent time at the library, fixed the A/C unit, and took care of my wife while she fought off the worst flu-sore-throat-combination-nightmare of all time. Yes, it can come at bad times, but we managed fine.

This last year without a TV has been nothing less than liberating. No longer do we watch shows that we don't enjoy, or flip channels, or have to sit through commercials while waiting to see what's going to happen to Ben on Lost. No longer do we make plans to be home by a certain time or go to bed at a certain time in order to accommodate the schedule of the small-screen. Our daughters have no idea what Bratz are, who Miley Cyrus is, or just how annoying Elmo can be. They are free from the marketing of those things, free to make a choice that has nothing to do with conformity or acceptance from people who don't know you as anything but a consumer of their products.

We are free of celebrity news. We are free of investigative reports about child predators. We are free of nasally narrators on Swiffer commercials, and Truck Month, and Gwen Stephani, and political ad campaigns, and whatever other forms of Hell that are lurking around out there.

While discussing TV as a medium of popular culture, I offered my students the idea of going without TV for a week and writing about it. Not one student took me up. They laughed and scoffed at the idea that a life without TV was somehow better.

And maybe it's not inherently better. But it's more yours. You manage time differently; watch less and do more. Your thoughts are unencumbered by commercial jingles and Family Guy reruns. Television time is time that you surrender to someone else. It's time that you give up and let someone else live for you. And, my students are right, it doesn't have to be a bad thing.

But shouldn't someone be willing to try going without it for one week? The fear that they expressed over the idea was enough to show the virtues of the project. What is wrong with us that we can't miss a week's worth of shows? What's wrong with our lifestyles if that is frightening to us?

The week may be over, but it's not too late. Try it yourself. Don't shy away from having some extra time for your family this week.


Michael said...

Excellent article, we've done the same. I have no regrets, and while I miss watching soccer, the effect on the family is worth it.

One of the things I miss least is the mindless bombardment by advertisers, and we've noticed a significant drop in needing the latest toy (for both kids and adults).

Keep up the great writing!

Jenny said...

I didn't do no-TV-week but I have cut back. I noticed that when I leave the TV on "for background noise" I end up watching it and not my daughter, who is the important one. I try to turn on music instead while we're hanging out, and it's fun because Suzi will hold onto a table and dance! It's going to be a nightmare when she gets old enough to start watching commercials for things she wants. Elmo is not coming into our house, so we may have to re-evaluate our TV situation soon. We stopped going to Wal-Mart and that's been nothing but wonderful.

ackie said...

Brilliant post!

Although I've lived more than a year without watching TV, I'm stuck at my PC in a whirling vortex of infotainment.

Now how do I get out of that one?

eddie said...

I get all those benefits you mentioned through the use of my TiVo.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. We have a television, but do not get any channels on it. I have one or two shows that I watch online, free of commercials, and I am amazed at how much time I used to spend on flipping through channels. I also worry about my family's future, and the blatant marketing to children that I just do not want in our lives.

Mama Grizzly said...

We have never had cable and with children, that has been such a blessing! We have a tv and we let the children watch videos occasionally but as a general rule, the tv is always off. And we do NOT miss it!