I haven’t had a TV set in my house in about a decade. Last weekend, for about 10 minutes, I wished I did.
We had some guests in town for the various activities in DC. One of them really wanted to watch Meet the Press. We tried various websites, apps and sign-ins before realizing you can’t do that in real time without a television or a cable account. Oh well. The clips would be online later.
Life without a TV: how it happened
Some years ago, before becoming parents, Lindy and I covered up the television set in our living room. We found it was on too often, and we were watching it mindlessly regardless of what was airing. We had already gone rather painlessly from paying for satellite TV to using just an over-the-air antenna. But we also found ourselves sitting in the living room staring at the screen when it was off. So we covered it up. And after we covered it up, we discovered we rarely used it at all.
So out the TV went during one of our Goodwill purges. We became cord-cutters before there were cord-cutters. And I became the rare former television reporter who didn’t own the box that made his profession possible.
Life without a TV: what we do instead
We do watch video content pretty often. We’ve got a projector and an Amazon Fire TV Stick downstairs, a Netflix account and we can plug in a laptop to watch DVDs if we want to. What this means is a little setup time, and an active choice of content instead of flipping channels. The Meet the Press example aside, we’ve rarely found things we wanted to see but couldn’t. Most of the series we’ve enjoyed in the last few years have been digital anyway: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, One Mississippi, just to name a few. We watched every single presidential debate and some of the Election Day returns online using the projector too.
Life without a TV: what we’re missing
What we don’t have in our lives these days is commercials. That’s a good thing if you’re trying to keep consumerism at bay. As Frank Trautmann defines the phenomenon in Empire of Things,
“… people have been made to desire and buy things they do not want and which they neither have the money for, nor the time to enjoy. ‘Artificial wants’ have replaced ‘authentic needs’. People are overwhelmed by too many choices and increasingly short-sighted. Like a hamster on its wheel, they are trapped in a spend/work/consume cycle, leaving them unhappy and lonely, mentally unstable and deeply in debt. Years have dulled their hearts and minds to the plight of others. Private, self-centered hedonism has killed the public spirit.”
Seems like a lot to lay at the feet of a device Edward R. Murrow once called “wires and lights in a box.” And I do think people should get more credit for their own choices. So our choice is to avoid being bombarded with messages about what’s wrong with our bodies, our homes and our cars in an effort to get us to spend more money.
Life without a TV: parenting
One of XY’s favorite books is “The Berenstain Bears and too Much TV,” in which the eponymous family rediscovers the art of conversation and the joy of the outdoors. She recognizes the danger of too much of a good thing. But what about raising a child with no TV at all? After all, her favorite Saturday morning pastime is to wake up early and watch Sophia the First on my iPad. And anytime she’s in a hotel room, you can guess the first thing she wants to do.
It’s true she might be missing out on some of the cultural zeitgeist. But I’m very pleased about what else she’s missing out on. An entertainment landscape that is still, sadly, lacking in many people who look like her. And a blizzard of commercial messages promoting everything from junk food to gender stereotypes. We try to live a curated life, in possessions and experiences. It’s hard to do that when advertising pushes in you in the opposite direction.
We do enjoy plenty of movies together, both at home and outside. We watched the Inauguration together last week because it’s a moment in history. We just watched it on my laptop. And as I write these words, she is enjoying the Reading Rainbow of my own youth, recast as an iPad app.
Life without a TV: options
As a follow-up to the Meet the Press scramble, I did discover something interesting. It’s possible to buy a couple of gizmos to bring over-the-air television into our projector. So if we ever found ourselves wanting PBS, or a Super Bowl more than once a decade, we could pull it off without having a dedicated TV set. It’s not that we don’t have the space or the money to get one — they’ve never been lighter or less expensive. It’s just not what we choose to do.
Interesting side note: Roxanne came equipped with both a microwave and a TV — neither of which we have in our actual house. But we’ve never used the TV in the van either.
What are you watching these days?
Also published on Medium.