On the blurry definition of giving up television

The definition of television is changing so quickly, that although removing the physical device that is a television from our home is somewhat unusual right now, in five years time we may have many homes without traditional TVs, but where as much ‘television’ equivalent is consumed as it is today. So I thought it was worth exploring what it really means to give up TV, and how to stop it creeping back into your life in some shape-shifted form.

Firstly, people interpret giving up TV as losing out on something good, like giving up on their dreams. I think it’s more like giving up smoking. While the physical device itself isn’t the problem, keeping it in your home is like trying to give up smoking and pointing all your furniture at a stack of cigarette cartons.

I don’t have a TV at home anymore, but I still become a zombie when I’m visiting family and friends. I still stare at screens at train stations and in bars. I’d like to think I was immune but I’m really not.

So for me, giving up television is a work in progress, and not a lone activity; my wife makes her own decisions, and still enjoys TV a lot more than I do. But for context, we used to have a TV in every room. Our sitting room was a four-seater sofa pointing at a 42 inch HD fancy-pants LCD TV with Bose surround speakers, Xbox etc. If we were awake, it was on, and everyone in the room sat facing the same direction. When we moved into our first home, we had a TV before we had a bed and for roughly the first four years of our relationship, we slept with a TV on all night as Pheebs needed it to sleep. So we’ve come a long way to where we are now.

Even getting rid of our TV became an ethical dilemma. I took months to decide between sending a perfectly good machine to landfill, and passing along a device that I’d decided was inherently bad to have in our home to another human being. We sold it in the end, to someone who already owned a TV, who was buying a TV anyway. So I only felt 50% guilty.

Now, we have a laptop on which I write things like this, and sometimes we watch DVDs or download films. We sit the laptop on a small chest right in front of the couch. At that distance, the screen fills as much of our field of vision as the 42 inch TV did on the far wall. For some time we rented French language movies from Love Film to help learn some French – but mostly the stories were so good I’d get lost in the subtitles and my French didn’t get any better. Besides that, Pheebs watches iPlayer, 40D etc on her iPad. I tend to avoid this, but I’m not immune.

Now, we have two sofas that face each other, a wood burning stove and a radio. First and foremost, our living room is setup for people to interact with each other, and you’d be amazed at how much this has panicked some of our guests; they honestly don’t know where to look. They get used to it, but it says something about the raising of Generation Y when they struggle to sit in a room with someone face-to-face. Older guests I note, are more immediately comfortable. I’ll get on to write something about TV as a frame of social reference later, but in the home, TVs have become an obstacle to meaningful social interactions. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless.

So while I’ve rambled somewhat, you may have noticed that my objection with TV is not related to moving pictures – it’s specifically the content delivered on scheduled TV and most importantly, the advertising that funds it. And though it seems hypocritical to some, it is a considered choice to give up television but still watch films and other video based content on other mediums. Removing the physical TV device (then plastering, sanding and painting the holes from your mounting brackets) makes the passive consumption of advertising a less immediate option at the points in the day when you are most susceptible to weakness. And it sets the tone when people come to visit your home.

I’ll leave you with this: Our living room is now setup to welcome to thoughts, opinions, hopes and dreams of our guests. And I like it much more like that, then when we all sat facing the television.

1 comment

  1. I have said for years that when I move out of my parent’s house I won’t have a TV set and I won’t miss it. Yes I will still watch DVDs on my computer but won’t be on the Internet either. I am wearying of multi-channel digital TV & 24 hour Internet access anyway. Not having a TV means I won’t have to pay the licence and these things use electricity. If no-one watched Coronation Street or EastEnders they could probably shut down at least two power stations!

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