My home has a built-in cabinet for our television. By design, the architects of our fairly normal home decided to ensure a built-in place for a television. The assumption was that whomever eventually lived in that house would bring with them a television. And that television needed a place to be.
And so we placed our television there.
But also, it made us arrange our living room furniture around the television. To be fair, the built-in cabinet is above the fireplace, but the fireplace is used maybe once a year, twice at most. Many homes in our area are built with the same built-in cabinet, so the design of our living room is quite normal.
Which leads to an interesting, philosophical point. Life is now situated around a television.
And if you doubt that statement, analyze your own living space in your home. The furniture you own is probably also arranged so that most pieces clearly face the television.
So, if that philosophical statement is correct, then the opposite is equally as powerful. To live life, without television, would be a mark against those who hold television dearly.
I will not judge your preferences. Understand, though, that ours were, and scrutinized most severly by those closest to us. We were labeled, marked, if you will, as rebellious, and disdainful of culture and the status quo. Labeled, also, as “crazy homeschoolers.” Some made an issue of our daughters’ lack of knowledge about cool toys because they hadn’t seen the cool commercials.
Perhaps we are a bit rebellious. Making a conscious decision to remove the anchor of our life away from television is not quite normal. But the decision was not made without repercussions, especially for my wife and myself.
We knew our girls could survive with some other sort of visual entertainment. Through the years we had amassed a fairly extensive Disney DVD collection, and if they needed something to watch, any number of those would do nicely.
But for my own personal experience, removing my life from a telelvision screen was very similar to experiencing withdrawal pains from other, more powerful addictions.
We cancelled our subscription right before the NFL playoffs in 2010, and that was very, very, very tough. (And, to be honest, if I had thought about it, I probably would have waited until the playoffs ended.) Not only was I doing without the sport that had dominated my every autumn for as long as I can remember, I was also withdrawn from the local (and national) conversation of the sporting event itself. That may seem mundane to you, but as a fan, it was rough to not watch. And with lots and lots of people watching these games, I soon felt like I was left out of the conversation. And it hurt. I scrambled to listen to talk radio to familiarize myself with the story lines, so I could talk at a moment’s notice about the game I never saw.
There were also moments, late at night, when everyone was asleep, that, before, I would run through the channels, and later, the viewing schedule, to find something on television to watch. Late hours after long days, spent in mindless watching, was calming to me. So calming, in fact, that I grew dependent upon it — or, at least, grew dependent upon knowing I could watch if I wanted.
Or, if nothing entertaining was on, before we cancelled our subscription, I would access an earlier recording. I rocked my babies to sleep, at night, watching programs recorded earlier. And while they slept in my arms, I watched.
Unplugging cable took those moments from me. I missed the games. I missed the late-night carefree watching.
In the first few months, then, after we cancelled our TV, I began to understand a core thought:
I was addicted to TV.
It wasn’t a serious addiction. But the television was a member of our family. A portal. A way to be entertained. A way to calm down. It was always there. It was always ready to be turned on. It always received signals, even when I didn’t need it. And when, for some crazy reason, the cable was not functioning, I hastily called the cable company to ask why I couldn’t receive a signal.
When we decided to unplug the cable for good, we were really telling a member of our family they could no longer live here. My initial decision was powerful, good, and serious, with good intentions. (See my previous post.) But once you ask someone to leave, it’s hard to ask them to come back. Because by doing so, you admit that you were wrong before.
Hence, I was addicted to TV.
It’s probably safe to say that most of us are addicted to TV. I don’t believe it is too far a stretch to say that our society is addicted to TV.
- There are commercials for the latest televisions, during the shows you watch, to make you feel guilty for not watching your favorite program with the latest technological advancements. I was under constant persuasion to buy HD televisions, and then subscribe to HD programming through my cable operator, so I could actually use the HD television to its full potential.
- I paid an extra $7 a month to record my television programs, because there just weren’t enough hours in the day, or week, to watch everything I wanted to watch. Lots of people have done the same. It’s so prevalent that early in the DVR/TiVo market, there was general concern that “ad skipping” would hurt television advertisements. Now, studies are beginning to show that ad skipping hasn’t hurt shopping at all.
- In 2010, Toshiba announced that it will produce, and market, the world’s first 3D television that lets the viewers watch without glasses.
- The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, of Japan, announced in August, 2010, that they have developed the world’s first 3D television system that allows you to actually touch, and feel, the images you see on screen. Yet those images will float before your very eyes, seemingly in mid-air.
- And, if those aren’t enough, in my own Walmart, the redesign of the store lets you walk in the front doors, and immediately see down a long aisle to the back of the store, where the latest televisions are displayed, with their hypnotic, crystal-clear screens.
The irony of that was immediately apparent to me.
Our culture, our society, is slowly being seduced to buy televisions and DVDs and cable services, so that what we watch on a thin screen in our living looks more real. In order for it to be an amazing entertainment experience, what we see must look as real as possible.
We are being persuaded to buy entertainment options that look more real … essentially, to look more like real life.
So the next logical statement in this train of thought is, as a society, we would rather watch life than live life.
That may not be representative of your opinion. I am not judging your personal preferences. But to innovate technology so you can actually see the wrinkles and skin spots on a coach’s face during his press conference, because you are watching the press conference in HD is, without judging preferences, an interesting concept at best. Are our lives so vacant of reality that we pursue it through a screen?
That was just one of several philosophical questions that were being asked in my home. I want to share these with you. Be warned, though — if you enjoy television, these questions may be hard to read.
So here are the questions I constantly asked myself:
- How much time was I spending on television programs with similar plots, just recycled for the current year? (In an interview, Alfred Hitchcock once said that plot lines of any movie are essentially the same: boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. That quote probably isn’t original to him, but him saying it gave it serious credibility. That quote, and formula, has proven true time and again, and kept me, even at the end of having cable, from investing time in new programs. If every show is exactly the same, just with different people in different areas, then what’s the point in watching?)
- How much time did I spend watching a game that would eventually end in three hours or so? And what if my team lost? What would I have to show for that time? And what if they won? Would that propel me to watch another game, with their chances of winning being exactly the same? Is the emotional high really worth all of that? Really? (My wife and I spent an afternoon watching the Razorbacks lose, in the final seconds, to Tennessee, in an SEC football showdown with national polling implications. Tennessee was ranked first. Arkansas had a chance to win, but the quarterback fumbled the ball, with Arkansas in the lead, thus giving the ball back to Tennessee, who scored in the final two minutes. Three and a half hours wasted on that November afternoon in 1998.)
- How much of my day was spent arranging what I would watch that night? (And what about all of those apps and websites that let you schedule your DVR even when you aren’t at home? What does that say about our relationship with our televisions?)
- How much time did I spend trying to censor and filter my shows so my children couldn’t see them or hear them?
- And what about that little voice in the back of my head that said if a show isn’t fit for my daughters to watch, is it really fit me for me to watch? What makes me so different? Or so special? And does spiritual discernment actually apply to television shows?
Those questions are quite thought-provoking, and they provoked several thoughts in my own home. It quickly became apparent that I could not, in good faith, answer these questions without serious selfish implications. Television was fulfilling a desire, an escape, that kept me from a life that could be much richer, and much more meaningful, if I would live it, instead of watch it.
I have two more short posts to share with you. In one, I’ll give you some of the moral reasons that led to this decision, and how our relationship with visual entertainment has completely changed. In another, I’ll share with you how we’ve filled our time in the meantime.
Thanks for reading. Click here to read the next installment. Warning: it may convict you.