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Living Without Television

child watching television image

I consider myself to have been a lucky child. I was raised in a household where our evenings didn’t revolve around the television set. I was rarely allowed to watch TV while growing up and whenever I begged, pleaded, screamed, whined, moaned, pouted or put up a major hissy fit because my request to watch the idiot box was heartlessly rejected by my mother, she would inform me that I will all the time in the world to watch television when I’m an old man and too feeble to do anything else. She then would chase me outside.

She was right, of course. I was raised on a 180 acre mostly wooded farm located only a mile from Lake Superior. Instead of being constantly spoon-fed entertainment from the TV, I was forced to create my own amusement. Sure, I would be bored at first. Then, I got bored with being bored. In the process, I had to actually become creative and come up with something to do. So I would spend my time romping through the woods, fishing in nearby creeks, playing ball with the neighbors, playing with my two dogs, camping with friends, learning to cook, swimming in the lake, writing stories, inventing games with the neighbor kids, exploring abandoned buildings, selling night-crawlers and worms to the locals, picking wild berries, digging tunnels in the hillside, growing my own garden, and listening to music or radio events – generally enjoying my childhood. Instead of lamely staring at the artificial glow of a piece of furniture and engrossing myself in the lives that someone else was living, I had to get out of the house and create my own life.

Being without TV also turned me into an avid reader, which I still am to this day. The highlight of my week would be the trips our family would take every Saturday to the local public library about 10 miles away. I never failed to walk out with an armload of books and would then spend my days accompanying Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys on their latest chilling mystery, or floating down a lazy river on a raft with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I wonder how much of that I would have missed had I spent 7 hours a day (the average time the television is on in the typical American household) mesmerized by the TV? Rather than being able to recite every episode of Bewitched, I have cultivated lifelong interests stemming from the near absence of television during my childhood.

It’s possible that growing up with limited television viewing is the reason I don’t miss it so much now in my life. Although there was a short period during my college years when I fell into the zombie-like trap of television viewing — and found my evenings planned around which shows were scheduled on which nights. Not coincidentally, this was also the time when “spendthrift mentality” dominated my life. I do not find it coincidental that television is the avenue that delivers the majority of advertising to us. The advertisers convince us that if we buy their products, we can be more attractive, more popular and more accepted by others. But in fact what television ads create is an insatiable appetite for more and a general feeling of discontent with our lives. We’re presented with the latest plastic gizmo from China and we end up feeling that we absolutely must have this in order to be a better person, a more prestigious person, or a more popular person. Television’s sole purpose is to sell us products and convince us that we actually need this junk. Television molds our minds and manipulates us in order to make us think the way the corporate advertisers want us to think.

I personally have found that when I watched a lot of TV, my spending increased along with the sentiment of being unsatisfied with what I already have. It’s amazing how this feeling of dissatisfaction with our present lives and this desire for “more” is slowly instilled into our minds without our realizing it. Television creates in us a consumer who is perpetually dissatisfied, anxious, envious, bored and left with a feeling of wanting more. Television tells us that if we live in a fancy house, buy expensive clothes, have a flashy car, a face without zits, and an iPhone, we will be better citizens. It tells us that in order to live rich, happy lives, we have to “consume.” When I nearly eliminated television from my life, I no longer had the urge to rush to the mall on the weekend and buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t need. I no longer felt that I had to consume to feel that I was a valuable human being and have stopped comparing my lifestyle to the fictional characters represented on television. In limiting my exposure to advertising, I now have no idea what the latest gadget advertisers are trying to push on us and convince us that we can’t live without. So if I don’t know it’s out there, then I can’t possibly want it.

My goal in simplifying my life has been to only introduce those things which I feel are positive influences in my life. In doing so, I have decided that watching hours of violence, murder and rape is indeed not a positive influence in my life and absorbing myself in sitcoms every evening whose annoying laugh tracks tell me when I should laugh (as if I am unable to determine for myself what is amusing) does not add freedom to my life or make me a better person. Does having an advertiser literally scream at us every 10 minutes to buy their products really add an element of simplicity and inner peace to our lives?

I find that TV also makes us boring. Whenever I hear a bunch of people gathered around discussing the television shows that were on the previous night, I am almost always amazed. Rather than finding these people lively and interesting individuals, I find them and their topic of conversation to be dull and tedious. Is that the only thing we have to talk about these days – what happened on Lost, Dexter or CSI? Are the lives of fictional characters really relevant to anything? Do we truly care what happens to these people who don’t even really exist? Could you imagine if the shows we watched featured all of our favorite television characters sitting alone in their own separate rooms staring at the TV then gathering together later to discuss the plots of the sitcoms they just watched? We would probably find the whole concept idiotic and boring. But that’s what a lot of us are living. Rather than create our own interesting experiences, we live vicariously though imaginary television characters.

When I tell people that I don’t watch TV the first question I get is, “What on earth do you do in the evenings then?” Many people find it amazing that someone doesn’t pass their evenings in front of the tube, as if watching TV was a natural part of our existence. Think about it – our grandparents had full, satisfying lives without television and so can we.

I recall a conversation recently where I mentioned that I had just finished a second novel and am coming only smashingly with the learning the harp. My companion said, “how do you find the time to do all of this?” It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you have an extra 4-5 hours every evening.

I came up with a few ideas for activities that do not include television which I will post tomorrow. In the meantime, why not create your own personalized list?

Image courtesy of Aaron Escobar

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