Unplugged: Life without television
Author: Linda S. Hopkins
I recently discovered that I am part of the 1 percent. Not that 1 percent—the people who control the majority of our country’s wealth—but the 1 percent of people who do not watch television. At all. Period.
When friends find out, they look at me like I have a missing eyeball or perhaps just fell off the turnip truck.
Don’t worry. I can assure you that I’m not lonely, bored or uninformed. News of world events is available in many other formats, including newspaper, radio, Internet and word-of-mouth. Meanwhile, I don’t know or care who shot JR; I’ve never had to schedule my life around an episode of Downton Abbey; and I honestly don’t give a flip about televised sports. I can get up-to-the-minute scores online if I’m interested, and I would much rather be outdoors playing or attending a live event. As for entertainment, I am amused, awed and inspired by the world around me. And when I need an escape, I prefer reading. (Why would I want to watch “reality” TV when a good book can take me away?) The advantages of living without television are many, but the greatest is time to spend on other activities that are more satisfying to me.
Why I tuned out
Ironically, I didn’t set out to free up my time. In fact, I never realized how much of it was being consumed by television until I unplugged, and suddenly, a whole new world opened up—hours of productive time, play time and leisure time I didn’t even know I had. But that’s not where it started.
Up until the late 1970s, I enjoyed television. I grew up on a cast of animated characters such as Popeye, Casper, Roadrunner, Tweety Bird and Top Cat. Back in the day, we were entertained by a flying nun, a talking horse, a detective with a phone in his shoe, a genie popping out of a bottle to grant wishes, and witches disguised as ordinary housewives with special nose twitching powers. Equally endearing were iconic characters such as Andy Griffith, Mary Tyler Moore, Gilligan, Gidgett, Carol Burnett, Archie Bunker, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Perry Mason.
As a child, I’m sure I was negatively influenced by Tony the Tiger, Captain Crunch, and the Oscar Meyer kid, but I lived to tell about it. The most dangerous images were the ones that portrayed smoking as the cool thing to do (think Marlboro Man, Tareyton’s “I’d Rather Fight than Switch” campaign, and the “Winston Tastes Good like a Cigarette Should” jingle). The most risqué ads were for Playtex Cross Your Heart bras (my first introduction to the concept of lifting and separating) and Tampax (something I didn’t quite understand but somehow knew was private)—soooo embarrassing! Nobody was talking about ED, although I’m sure it existed; the actors and actresses were fully clothed and went to bed separately; and the closest thing to a curse word ever uttered was “golly gee.”
Watching television was a family affair. We could all gather ’round without Mama having to set parental controls or keep a finger on the remote. In fact, in those days, we had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel, and there were only three of them.
By the early ’80s, I began to notice a change. As television became more available and viewing options multiplied, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with programs that were more “adult” in nature, i.e. scantily clad actresses, explicit sex scenes and graphic violence. Looking back, what got past the censors in the 1980s was tame compared to what is accepted as normal television fare today. (I can hardly pass by a flat screen in a public venue without being exposed to the overly-exposed.)
In 1981, I began to feel that television was an unhealthy influence in my life, and I decided to turn it off. At first, I missed a few of my favorite shows, but I didn’t miss the overall experience of sitting on the sofa and staring at a screen. If I wanted to see a movie, I went to the theater and made it an experience, but that soon became a rare choice as well. Even today, with all of the modern movie-viewing opportunities, I find myself disinclined to spend my time watching when I can be doing. When I need to relax, I can lose myself in a book, a jigsaw puzzle or a sunset.
As a result of tuning out, a wonderful side-effect was a more intimate marriage. My husband and I played tennis, paddled our canoe, went bike riding, walked on the beach, and actually talked to one another. On cold rainy days, we spread a blanket in front of the fireplace where we played Scrabble and Monopoly and munched on a bowl of popcorn. At night, we cooked or went out to dinner, read books together, played card games, had sex…
When he passed away in 2001, I was pretty sure that I would never find another man who would be willing or able to live without TV. Fortunately, though, I did. My husband Tom keeps up with news and football scores, and we sometimes watch videos. But the big screen in our bedroom is not cable connected, and we don’t have a dish or a Netflix subscription. Overall, he says he doesn’t miss TV, and we’ve been together 12 years.
I don’t judge others who choose to watch television for entertainment or relaxation, especially the elderly or infirm or the lonely who say they “need” it for company or background noise. Nor do I suggest that tuning out completely is for everyone. I recognize that some good programming exists and that television can also be educational. I just don’t care for it.
Once in a while, someone will tell me they admire me for “kicking the TV habit.” I don’t consider it a badge of honor. It’s simply a way of life and choice that works for me.
HOW TO UNPLUG
For many people, the mere thought of living without television is unimaginable. But for most of us, it’s really just a habit. And like any other habit you wish to break or modify, to succeed, you need a reason and a plan. What might your reason be? Is it that you need to find time for exercise or to go out with friends? Maybe you need a break from the constant feed of negative news; or perhaps you are concerned about what your children are viewing.
I suggest that you initially go cold turkey rather than weaning off. You can decide later how much viewing time to add back in and what types of programming are worth your time and attention. Commit yourself to a specific time period with no television—say a week, or a month if you’re brave. At first, you may feel uncomfortable and unsure what to do with yourself. You may also be tempted to fill the time by staring at a different kind of screen (computer, notebook or smartphone). Resist. Check and respond to e-mail, conduct any necessary business and put a time limit on social media. I promise, it won’t kill you.
Prepare yourself mentally by making plans to get together with friends in a non-television environment. Break out a deck of cards or some board games for your family, set up a jigsaw puzzle, or immerse yourself in a good novel. Talk to someone (now there’s a novel idea!). And for goodness sake, go outside and play.
THINGS TO DO FOR FUN AND RELAXATION BESIDES WATCH TV
Ride a bike
Play a sport or learn a new one
Set up a game of badminton, horseshoes or
bocce ball in your yard (or at the beach)
Go for a walk
Phone a friend
Meet a friend for lunch
Listen to music
Play a musical instrument or learn how
Attend a concert
See a live theatre production or comedy act
Get a spa treatment
Take a bubble bath
Take a nap
Visit a museum or art gallery
Take a tour or nature tour
Work a jigsaw
Play word games or board games
Cuddle with or play with your pet
Visit a park or amusement park
Go for a ride around your neighborhood
Pick some wildflowers
Dance and/or take lessons
Build a sandcastle
Plan a day trip or future vacation
Draw, paint or color
Visit a craft store and discover a new hobby
Sign up for a class at TCL or Lifelong Learning
Read, write, cook, sew, skate, swim, garden,
sail, fish, ski, waterski, jet ski, parasail, skydive
Spend time with loved ones
GET THE FACTS
As an adult, you may or may not be aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle influences television has on your daily life including your attitudes, buying habits, energy levels, food cravings, sleep patterns, relationships and self-esteem. Beyond the obvious, many subliminal messages are imprinted on your brain through sneaky, hidden advertising agenda you may never notice on a conscious level.
If you have children, here are a few additional reasons to limit television viewing in your home:
-By the time the average American child is 18, he or she will have witnessed over 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television.
-10 percent of all youth violence is directly attributable to viewing violent television.
-Over 90 percent of children say they feel scared or upset by what they see on television.
-Over 81 percent of the time, children ages 2-7 spend in front of the television is time unsupervised. Most parents have little or no idea what their children may be exposed to in their day-to-day media experiences.
-The average child spends 900 hours per year in school, yet over 1,023 hours per year parked in front of the television.
-Studies show that watching 10 or more hours of television a week negatively impacts children’s school performance.
-Children exposed to television on a daily basis show significant drops in their creativity, problem-solving ability and their reading levels.
-One in five American children is overweight and half of those are severely overweight. This hasn’t been the case all along. In 1965 only 5 percent of children in this country were overweight. Television has come to replace many of the activities that children participated in generations ago. Instead of playing outside, participating in sports or outdoor activities, the average child today spends four to five hours daily in front of the television.
-Television promotes poor nutrition and eating habits. In an average four hours of Saturday morning cartoons, your child will view over 200 advertisements for junk foods and candy.
-The average family spends four to five hours every day watching TV but only 35 minutes having a meaningful conversation.