I don’t have a television. I’m sort of like the urban white buffalo: do I exist? Or does my appearance mark the end of human life on earth? Actually, I’m leaning toward the “do I exist?” thing. I want to be my own Urban Legend.
I suspect there aren’t too many of us around: white buffalo or urbanites without a TV.
This is the latest evolution in my effort to grab some evening sanity. It feels a whole lot like the 1940s around here minus the cool radio dramas. Why, God, would a modern woman who prides herself on “keeping up” ditch the tube? Read on…
In 2005 I had a cranky job that kept me on a pager 24/7/360. Not 365. Mercifully, I had five days off the leash. That was also the year I ditched cable. I knew I was in trouble when my dog, my pager, and I were spending way too much time with the Atlantic Paranormal Society and way too little on books and arty films.
My evenings were pretty predictable in those days: eat dinner, hope the pager doesn’t go off, watch some tube, hope the pager doesn’t go off, go to bed, really, really hope the pager doesn’t go off.
I should also mention that besides ghosts, I had developed an unhealthy fascination with extraterrestrials, fake FBI agents, and cooking shows with ingredients that cost more than my car. Something had to go.
I developed my own twelve step program. First it was a couple of days with the television silently glowering at me from the corner.
I couldn’t sleep. I felt disconnected. I got the heebie jeebies. I wasn’t ready.
A month later, I decided to go TV-less for a week. Cold turkey.
I looked like crap. Friends feared for my health; my family feared for my sanity; my co-workers just feared me.
Toward the end of that first week, it got easier. I’m still not sure why. After a night spent roaming around the living room, my hand twitching as I reached for the remote for the umpteenth time, I had an idea that I might be an addict. I reminded myself of that Japanese guy who died while playing too many hours of video games.
I grabbed a mystery from the pile of “one of these days I’m going to get around to reading that” books. I read. And I read for a solid week. I had no idea that you could actually do that: get a sense of a book’s plot just by sitting down and reading the darn thing.
By the end of the week, I was in pretty good shape. The shakes had stopped, and so had the midnight creeping down the stairs to watch just a wee bit of an infomercial.
I smelled victory. In fact, I extended my trial run to a month. When the next electric bill came in, it was down a bit. That’s when I decided to cancel the cable. It seemed that turning off the black box was putting money in my pocket.
The day I brought the modem back I was treated to a shunning by my fellow customers at the cable company that reminded me of one of those creepy Shirley Jackson stories, minus the stones. Stares, silence, sideways looks, was that hissing I heard? As I backed out the company door I realized that was it. And it’s been five years.
When I moved I left the television with a neighbor. One less thing to lug around.
If you’ve ever been tempted to step back in time and live without a television, here’s what you’ll discover: books, music, writing, getting to bed early, ownership of your space and time.
Here’s what you’ll jettison: the news, political commentators, commercials, flashes of light that play diddly with your brain, the over-hyped hormonal self-important franticness that passes for truth.
Gone too is egregious violence, loveable serial killers, commercials that whack you upside the head, reality shows with overheated bimbos prancing around trying to put several words in a comprehensible order, and, yes, some great PBS and general silliness we all need.
We’re a year shy of the anniversary of Newton Minnow’s famous “Vast Wasteland” speech when, as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he warned us that television would become an arid desolate landscape without conscience or art:
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”
Minnow gave that speech in 1961, imagine what he would say now as we approach 2011.
But just in case you had me assigned to the nutpatch, it’s not all serious and scholarly around here.
I confess to making merry with the Internet. “High speed Internet” has taken the place of “cable” here at the ol’ rancho. Do I watch whole series and favorite shows? You bet.
But here’s the difference: by not having cable I’ve limited my options and limited my choices. And I’m not paying for those options.
Here’s my contribution to your post-holiday List of Great Expectations to mull over: ditch the cable. If you have one of those expensive, ballyhooed “packages”, you could easily save a thousand dollars or more in a year.