Over the years, I’ve gone through phases where I experiment with cutting the TV cord for a while. Each time, I notice several areas of my life improve. Inevitably, though, I become weak and TV slips back into my life like some recurrent addiction that I cannot shake. Recently, however, I’ve gone the longest ever without TV. It’s been about six months now since I let it go. This time it feels like the breakup may be permanent. Even the start of a new television season hasn’t tempted me to go back.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy TV or film. I do, and I do not deny that we are living in a golden age of choice and decent programming. Television has come a long way and many shows are quite well done. Some even have educational value. The problem, however, comes when I let it consume and control my life.
Sooner or later, I notice that I’m scheduling my nights around what’s on. “Oh, I have to be home by 8:30 to watch such and such.” Even if that means leaving some other desirable event early, or not going to said event in the first place. “We’ll have to put off that board game until tomorrow because the season finale of [whatever] is on,” is not a great thing to say when you want to improve your relationships with friends or family and they’re waiting to play with you.
(And, yes, I know about DVR’s, but I’ve always resisted them because I know how it would go for me. I’d load the thing up with stuff to watch “someday” only to always have my time taken up by what’s on now. The stuff on the DVR would never get watched, thus making the having of the DVR pointless. Yes, it’s a sad way to live, and sadder to admit, but there it is.)
This time, though, I’ve really paid attention to the things that changed in my life after TV disappeared. And it’s been eye-opening (and a little alarming) to see the difference in a life with television and one without.
The Good Things That Happened:
Improved attention span.
I have a flaky attention span. I’m easily distracted. I didn’t used to be; I used to be able to focus. But as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten more difficult. Some of it is age, yes, but a lot of it is my environment. When I was younger (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), things like the internet and TV either didn’t exist, or were not nearly as pervasive as they are now. That left a lot of open mind space for concentration.
Now with information everywhere 24/7, it’s harder to shut it off and focus on a single task. It’s too easy to switch tasks, hit the back button on the remote, cue up picture in picture, or work on the laptop while watching a show. Plus, the hyper nature of many talking heads, endless scroll bars on screen, and commercials makes me jumpy. Getting rid of that has enabled me to regain some of my focus. It’s easier now to be quiet in my head and do my work or focus on a hobby or other task without fragmenting my attention into a million pieces. Ahh, peace.
Yes, there are times when a good movie or show can refill the creativity tank. More often than not, though, too much of what’s on TV saps mental energy and creativity by being boring, scary, aggressive, or infuriating. Better to fill that creativity tank selectively, using great books, movies or shows you consciously choose, or other hobbies. When I’m off the boob tube, my creativity skyrockets.
Without all the time taken up by television (or the anxiety created by news, talk shows, and even the weather) I get a lot more done each day. It’s amazing how much time I really have in my day when the latest show or mindless surfing isn’t a part of it.
I never was a huge TV snacker, so that’s not where the loss came from. What caused me to lose weight was hiving more time in my day to exercise. Instead of going from work to the couch, now I go from work to some form of exercise. Since my life is no longer scheduled by the idiot box, my time after work is mine and a workout or stretch is the antidote to a day of writing.
Before, both of us would retreat to our separate rooms to watch whatever we wanted. (Our television interests don’t overlap all that often.) Now we spend time together walking, playing games, working on Lego projects, or doing something else fun. I also have more time for (and interest in) other social activities like book club, game meetups, or nights out with friends.
Depression & anxiety lessened.
I’ve noted before that I’ve battled depression and anxiety all of my adult life. It’s amazing, though, how much not having TV helps. There is no news spouting doom at me for hours. (I can turn to the BBC online, glance at a few headlines to stay informed, and get out before the fear mongering and hype get me down.) Doing more active things keeps me healthier and that also improves my symptoms. And working at engaging hobbies like Lego and board games keeps my anxiety at bay by giving me relaxing, fun things to focus on.
I got smarter.
I’m not kidding. Without television, my interests turned to things like reading more non-fiction, going to art and other museums, learning languages, and taking courses on free sites like Coursera. I haven’t learned this much since my school days and it’s been enjoyable to experience so many different things.
The good stuff got done.
I’ve written before about my tendency to put off the really good, fun stuff until “later.” That book I’ve been looking forward to, the awesome jigsaw puzzle or Lego set I bought, etc. all sit waiting for that “perfect” day for me to enjoy them. Since there’s never a perfect day, these things pile up until I look around one day and wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Why am I putting off the cool stuff, yet tending to all the crappy, less important stuff? Well, without television, much of that went away. Now, even on non-perfect days, I still have big blocks of time begging to be filled by cool stuff. My backlog of cool, fun stuff is now non-existent.
The Bad Things That Happened:
(Okay, I missed out on a little small talk when people asked, “Did you see such and such last night?” But a quick change of subject seems to have sufficed.)
I do allow a little passive entertainment into my life, but I’ve learned how to control it. I watch DVD’s/stream now instead of live TV. There are no commercials and I control how and when I watch. And I choose things that I am really interested in, instead of just hitting whatever is on. (Surprisingly, there’s not that much.) I watch a few sporting events but they are big deals, not an every day occurrence. (Think the Olympics, the soccer world cup, the grand slams of tennis, etc.) TV is now a special occasion, not the default entertainment choice.
Control is back in my hands and the television isn’t running my life. Without that monster dragging me down, so much of my life has improved. Try it for a couple of weeks. If you don’t feel better, the box will be waiting for you when you return. But if you do feel better, congrats!
(Photo courtesy of Free-Photos)