I wonder how many self-help groups, shrinks or psychiatrists advise their clients that the single most effective way to improve their life is simply to press a button. That's it... just press a single grey button and switch off the television - permanently. It's too good to believe... but absolutely true. If you spend the bulk of your free time idley saying nothing, doing nothing and achieving nothing then it's not really a surprise if your life seems to amount to nothing. A fulfilling life with friends, adventure and excitement (the kind you watch on telly) requires time and effort which is precisely the thing television steals. Write a list of things you don't have time to do; visit/phone family, play with the kids more, set up that business venture, learn a language, learn to dance, learn anything. Now you're ready to make that first step to getting what you want from life. Step up to the machine, find the power socket on the wall and pull the plug out. Watch the television die and savour the moment... your freedom. Now you, if you're an average person, have, at the flick of a switch, gained an extra 24 hours a week of free time to achieve all those things from life which have been passing you by!
Well, it's just turned February and I started this thing back on December 6th last year and, to be honest, I didn't expect to get through the first week. Still, here I am and with no serious side effects I've expunged television from my list of must-have items. Saying that, as anyone who's read my previous posts will know, I've not gone completely tv-free as I still use it for a quick news update from time to time but it's really not a must-have item any more. When this TV finally gives up the ghost I'll be reluctant to splash out £300 on a new one just for the odd news update though it is nice to watch DVDs on occasion. I have to confess to having a minor slip for a couple of days last week when I caught a political programme and got kind of hooked on ParliamentTV (!) which is nothing more than a few static cameras broadcasting live from the Houses of Parliament. They were debating and voting on changes to the gambling laws which, although of no great importance to me, was still fascinating to see the country's laws being shaped and decided... something that's usually hidden from view until after it's all down in print. The other thing I caught the end of was a programme showing the workings of the human body using live subjects and a real autopsy. I know you're thinking that's a bit grim but it really brought home the complexity of what's inside us. There was another episode to be shown on the following day but I opted to not watch it and wait for it to come out on DVD when I could view it at my leisure.
Anyway, apart form those slips I think I've managed to control it more than I ever imagined I could. I simply have little or no desire to switch it on so it's no longer a conscious effort to avoid it. I must have come out the other side of the abstention and my body/mind no longer craves it to fill the voids.... the voids just don't seem that way any more. I think they were a figment of my imagination induced by the barrage of unrelenting adverts from the television. Not the adverts for commercial junk but the adverts for even more television programming that's "coming up", "unmissable" and "must see new series". It was those adverts which kept me hooked, telling me (if the TV was off) that I was missing out on something fantastic... that without these programmes my life was not complete.... that these "pretend friends" on all the soaps, sitcoms and comedies needed me there to enjoy their new "pretend experiences" with them. If I didn't then I would miss out. The analytical side of me knew all of this was not essential, that I wasn't really missing anything that wouldn't be repeated a hundred times and even if I did miss it then "so what?!". The problem was that tired, after a day at work, the emotional side of me over-ruled the analytical side sufficiently that I turned on the telly without thinking... it just felt comforting and nice to have the TV on. Then, once on, I was hooked by yet more advertising for more unmissable telly and was swallowed up in a sea of emotional broadcasting knowing that I would feel terrible if I turned it off with nothing specific to replace it with.
So, I'm really pleased that I'm free of it's grip. As I said before, I'm reading more and getting out more but also I've been working on a new business venture which I hope to get up and running this month. I don't imagine for a second I would've got as far with it as I have if the TV was still ruling my evenings and weekends so I really feel I have liberated myself and the future is looking positively wide-open.
PS. Thanks for your positive comments.... it's nice to know there are other people out there who're at all stages of the giving-up process and knowing their lives will undoubtedly improve just as mine has.
Well, no follow-up courtesy call from Sky to check I was of sound mind and spirit when I cancelled so that's good. Just a short note thanking me for all my "past support" and they look forward to me joining them again in the future! Do they know something I don't? Hmm, a little presumptuous but you can't blame them for trying. The first line of the letter says, "We're sorry to see you go"... I'll bet they are. £240 for a year's subscription is an awful lot of cocktail sausages at the Sky 2005 Christmas buffet. I'm sorry minions of Sky, I apologise in advance if the festive buffet is not as fruitful as years past. On a plus note, I will be able to use the money to buy more cocktails sausages then any man dare dream. Hurrah for my cancelled satellite TV subscription!!
Only a short waffle tonight. I must confess to having allowed further televisual feasts to pass my eyes in the last couple of days. Well, Sunday at least. My moment of weakness was while my girlfriend was here. We'd been out all day and flopped on the sofa with some dinner staring at the blank TV screen. I resisted but then I've been practicing for over a month now, however, she couldn't resist it's lure and activated the beast... what delights would it reveal? What wonders would it share?
BEHOLD... the last 15 minutes of The Antiques Roadshow, 30 mins of Coronation Street (soap) and a 14 year old "edited for US-TV" film, Bird On A Wire with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn. Lavish entertainment for a sunday evening I think you'll agree.
So, anyway, that was sunday and it was only a couple of hours out of the past week. Still keeping it in moderation and keeping it in check. It's not running my life as it used to and I'm enjoying the lack of force-fed advertising. It's really great to savour the bliss of sales-free time... no more in-my-face, in-my-head adverts for soap, Coke and hope. They sell dreams.. If only I had that deodorant, that razor blade, that soft drink, that pair of jeans then everyone would love me. No, really they would.. the TV says so. Anyway, it's off and I'm loving the silence.
Do you think the adverts are there for the benefit of the programmes or the programmes for the benefit of the adverts?
I cancelled my subscription to Sky this evening and will soon be losing 400 channels that I no longer watch. I had to give 30 days notice so it'll go off (and the direct debits cease) early in February though I believe there will still be a spattering of free channels remaining. Still, I'll be £240 a year better off which can only be a good thing.
The customer advisor at Sky seemed particularly confused with my cancellation request. I don't know if it's his job to talk me out of canceling or whether he was simply confused by it but either way it made for a mildly interesting phone call. I expected him to ask why and try offering me reduced subscription for a limited period but I don't think my answers fitted neatly into any answer boxes he needed to fill.
A number of times he asked if I was really sure I wanted to do this. Don't I watch anything from xyz (long list of channels)?! I had a feeling he was looking at a list of channels I used to watch, as reported to him by the Spy-box (satellite decoder) connected to the phone line. I explained that I didn't any more, that I'd turned it off a month ago and found life to be much improved.
But surely I'm interested in the music channels and how about the movies and sports.... No on all fronts.
How about anyone else in the house, don't they like to watch Sky programmes... I explained that's not a problem as my girlfriend watches the odd soap when she's here and they're terrestrial channels (ie. free).
I kept saying that I want to save £240 a year and I've no interest in telly any more.. it's mindless and dull. He then went on to explain how he likes to relax with a few hours... doesn't watch it much but it's nice to have it there with all of Sky's exciting progra..... Thanks but no thanks!
I asked him if cancellations are unusual and he said that normally people only cancel when they're going abroad or their decoder has packed up. But, no, they don't just cancel like this. I explained I'd had an epiphany and no longer need television to fill my life.... to be blunt, there's far better things to do than be slumped infront of a television all night. He didn't ask any further questions or try to convince me of the error of my ways, thanked me for my call and advised a letter will be in the post. I expect I'll be contacted by a "customer quality control executive" in the near future to convince me I've made a mistake.
bizarrely, I've started staring vacantly at the blank tv screen again in some kind of day dream until I snap out of it and realise what I'm doing. It's tricky to beat some habits but on this occasion the problem is solved, I've just spent 3 hours a the pub with some friends. Much better than a night with the telly.
Just a quick post this time as I've finally managed to bring myself to cancel my Sky subscription which currently stands at about £20 ($38) a month.... well, at least I phoned them up with the intention but that department closed at 11pm and it's 11:30pm now. However, a friendly Scotsman working a late shift at Sky confirmed something I'd heard about today, that they're now offering a free package. It's not advertised on their website but apparently if I cancel my paid subscription it'll cut down to about 30 channels and some radio stations in competition with the new digital Freeview boxes which are now available. I'll still be able to get BBC News 24 which is handy on occasion and my girlfriend will still be able to watch her soaps. So, I'll do that tomorrow and save myself £240 per year.... that'll take the sting out of next Christmas!
At the start of this experiment, one month ago, I had half-heartedly considered getting rid of the television all-together but I don't think my girlfriend would forgive me.... also I still like to watch the odd DVD and catch the news and weather from time to time. Apart from that, I'm pleased to say it's pretty redundant. Unfortunately, in the UK it seems that physically removing the TV from the house is not as simple as one might think.
Every household that watches television must pay for an annual TV license of £116 ($218) and as soon as I cancel the bank's direct debit I'll get a threatening letter with a demand for payment. The Television licensing Authority (TVLA) are there to collect this tax and assume, wrongly, that every house in the country has a TV and is liable to pay. If you genuinely don't have a TV in the house or only use it for playing DVDs / console games you don't technically have to pay but the TVLA will send threatening letters on a weekly/monthly basis, followed by doorstep visits from Enforcement Officers demanding to search the property and failure to allow this will result in a court summons where you need to prove your innocence.
That's right, with no evidence of a crime being committed, they will demand to be allowed to search your house (the living room, kitchen, bathroom, dining room and bedrooms) for any illicit device or court action will follow!
As one person put it : "I have refused entry for the search, which means that harassment is constant: a letter every other month and two separate visits from Enforcement officers within the last six months. I strongly object to this invasion of my privacy: I believe that to enter someone's private property uninvited requires a compelling reason to do so. The "Well if we didn't inspect, everyone would say they didn't have a TV, and then where would we be?" response from the licensing authority simply isn't good enough. There are many activities in this country that require a license. Yet I have never received letters from the local authority asking why I don't have a license to run a pet shop, I have never opened my door to find a police officer asking to search my house for an unlicensed gun, and I have never been threatened by Customs and Excise for not possessing a license to import and sell tobacco. But these authorities would be quick to inspect if they had REASONABLE suspicion that I was doing any of those things without a license. Why should TV licensing be any different?"
So, despite the fact it might make for a more interesting blog, I can do without TVLA harassment for the rest of my life and I think it's better just to keep the TV and keep paying my tax.
On a completely different note, another interesting fact from the book I've been reading (thanks to all the spare time from turning the TV-off) follows: "Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe."
Well, nearly 4 weeks and unfortunately TV hasn't been extricated from my life, just marginalised. Now, it's something I use when I want to watch or find out something specific. So, aside from the initial TV news in the days immediately after the tsunami, this week has been very good. The TV did go on to provide music (and Big Ben midnight chimes) for a New Year party though I'm not sure why we didn't use the radio... strangely that didn't even occur to me.
Even though I'm wasting £20 per month on subscription television that I'm not watching, I still can't bring myself to phone up and cancel it. Interestingly, when I think about canceling, I get the same nervous feeling in my gut as when I first thought about switching the box off, 4 weeks ago. I suppose that switching off the television is easily reversible and I can just flick it back on again in a moment of panic. It's not so easy to reverse a cancelled subscription when I have to phone up, choose a package, set up direct debits and wait for a replacement Sky-card to arrive in the post.
Anyway, I have to focus on the plus points that minimising TV has had. For a start I seem to be thinking more as I have a greater time to ponder my thoughts where-as a month ago, the only quiet time I had was the 40 min drive to work sans-radio. I also feel as if my vocabulary is improving which I can only put down to having read 330 pages of that book. Obviously, taking in 8-10 hours of articulate, coherent writing is going to have a more positive effect on vocabulary than 10 hours of dumbed-down waffle from reality programmes, quizzes and soaps.
So, I've finished the book, Pompeii and now up to chapter 4 of Bill Bryson's, A Short History of Nearly Everything. which is a fascinating book. Every page, so far, has made me stop and think, "wow, I'd never thought of it like that" or "well, there's something I didn't know". An example would be this paragraph on how amazing it is that you exist : "Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favoured evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely -- make that miraculously -- fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you."
I think I'm safe in saying, you simply don't get material like that from the television. Switch it off, read a book.
A mild television confession to make. I couldn't help switching on the television to get the latest news from the Indian Ocean disaster and have seen quite a lot of news footage. Some of the camcorder video was hard to watch and I ended up turning off the television again after a while. I'm not sure I can cope with seeing another revised estimate on the number killed on that morning. I remember thinking something similar in September 2001 when the WTC was hit and hearing the death toll rise to 3000 but here it's approaching 40 times that number. I don't know if I would've been stirred into donating money (www.dec.org.uk) if it hadn't been for the video footage I've seen these last few days... the images are burnt in so, maybe TV can be used in a positive way too. If advertising can get people to part with their cash to buy things for themselves then it seems logical it can also get them to give their money to something more worthwhile.
I also flicked through the international news channels to see how America was covering the story and it was strange to se a difference. While the UK and European news networks seemed to dedicate about 50 mins in an hour to the story, Fox News was giving it only 10 mins in an hour. Maybe they have given it more coverage since and that's given them time to get some new sensationalist "KILLER WAVE" and "WALL OF DEATH" graphics together... plus they needed time to prepare the ubiquitous "It could happen here. Why you should be afraid" story.
Something else that concerned me in my short glimpse into the world of Fox News was the biased coverage to news items. For example, there was a piece on Michael Moore's new project (something about drug company price fixing) and the news reader/anchorman/presenter went into a tirade attacking his films, condemning the content and saying they were out-right lies plus a personal attack on Moore himself saying he was scruffy and fat. Well, all that may or may not be true but surely that's not the place for the newsreader to air his personal opinions. Even if our tabloid newspapers sink to that levels in attacking people at least our TV news doesn't and it offer the events in a neutral and un-biased fashion. You'd never see Andrew Marr, Anna Ford or Trevor McDonald going into a rant about someone they didn't like. You might see someone like Jeremy Paxman saying antagonistic things but that's invariably to politicians and in trying to break them out of their fixed monologue of soundbites. Anyway, it's slightly disconcerting if the majority of USA really does get it's news on world events from Fox.... I wonder what they would make of BBC News.
Oh well, at least I don't have to watch it, I've turned it off and no other programming has passed my eyes in the past three days.
If you want to help the surviving millions who suddenly lost everything a few days ago, there's information here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4136545.stmwhich links through to The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) at http://www.dec.org.uk/ who are co-ordinating the UK donations. Apparently it's raised £5 million in donations in the last 24 hours and is providing 3,000 telephone lines. You can donate over the phone by calling 0870 60 60 900 or through their website.
Boxing Day. Well, I've not managed to read the rest of the book as I'd hoped in my last post. Never mind, I'm getting through it but I've been slowed by the onslaught of Christmas festivities, namely friends, relatives, food and alcohol. Still those things are higher up my 'priority ladder' (ugh, that sounds like I've been reading too many self-help books!) than books so that's ok. I'm sure that in the new year my socialising will return to more manageable levels and the book will get the time it deserves. Also, having been away from works of fiction for so long it's taking me a while to get my reading speed to improve. I've just had a quick look and can see I'm managing about 40 pages an hour but bear in mind I only read for about 45 mins before sleeping (time I used to spend watching telly) so you can appreciate why it's taking so long to finish the book. Anyway, I want to speed through this one now as I've just been given another book for Christmas, 600 pages of Bill Bryson's "A short History of Nearly Everything". Mmmm I just opened it and got a whiff of that 'new book smell' (not unlike that 'new car smell' but less plasticy)... I'd forgotten such a thing existed, it must be the ink, and it just triggered flash backs to my childhood when I got a new book on dinosaurs or such like. Ha.. A scary quick dip into the oddities of my mind.. you're lucky to have got only a toe wet and don't have to live in there!
Aaaaanyway, on the TV-front, I've watched a few programmes again this week probably totalling five hours but in my defense, they were planned or unavoidable, I turned off at the end of the programme and didn't go channel hopping. Two hours were at my girlfriend's house with her mum on Christmas evening while they watched two extended episodes of their favourite soaps. Although I've not interest in them, I couldn't help watching but we all commented throughout how the plots are just so unbelievable but then Christmas wouldn't be the same without some of the main characters arguing, fighting, running away together or trying to kill each other. Anyway, when a third programme, The Vicar of Dibley (makes me shudder!) came on it took 15 mins to reach a general agreement that it was rubbish and nothing on the other channels so I suggested some games. There was some inertia towards the idea but we dusted off some games that hadn't seen daylight in decades (Kerplunk and Yahtzee) and two hours (10pm to midnight) whizzed by more enjoyably than two hours of television could provide. The other three hours of programming I watched this week consisted of : - a live House of Commons debate/vote on the introduction of ID cards - local news and weather forecast - part of a programme following Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) trekking across the Himalayas - Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on DVD which I got for Christmas. I imagine this will be broadcast on mainstream TV next year.
Still going well. I've experienced no TV since my last dose on Sunday. Missed my favourite programmes again but this time I completely forgot they were on anyway. I think I was out Christmas shopping anyway. Unfortunately I've not managed to bring myself to cancel my Sky subscription which is mad when it's costing me £20 a month. I've taken the card out of the machine so even if I do switch it on then it's a pain as most of the channels are missing so I'm not entirely sure why I'm having difficulty phoning them up. I'll try and do it tomorrow.
I didn't intend to write until Sunday but I've had some thoughts relating to my last post and discovered some interesting material today so it seems like a good idea to jot it down before I forget. I've got a terrible memory... not sure I can blame that on TV, or can I? Anyway the jist of the end of my last post was that I was struggling to see the difference between reading a book, listening to the radio and watching television as they're similar in many ways. Why had TV been singled out? (I posted this question to an internet message board, so maybe someone will comment on it. I'll cut and paste that message below)
With both books and radio I'm invariably sitting, alone, in a poorly lit room by myself, inactive with my eyes transfixed and either absorbing media messages through the radio or living out someone else's experiences in a book. These are some of the main complaints with television but I'm sure no-one is going to advocate burning books.
Perhaps the principal issue with television is the screen's frame frequency which obviously doesn't affect someone reading a book or listening to the radio. I've read of some experiments where TV viewers were wired to an EEG machine to monitor their brain activity. It suggests the screen flicker causes a hypnotic state where the analytical side of the brain virtually shuts down. Subsequently, the viewer is open to suggestion (as in hypnosis) and the visual bombardment of imagary from the screen is simply absorbed having bypassed any critical analysis of content. Higher levels of endorphines are also released into the body making the experience relaxing and therefore difficult to turn it off or if the TV is off then there's a desire to turn it on. The result is a pleasurable off-switch for the mind.
I'm wondering if the frames per second affects the level of the hypnotic state as TVs in America and Europe run at different frequencies and now there's new widescreen TVs available in the UK at higher "flicker free" 100hz. Also, with the advent of LCD flat panel television which refreshes in a completely different manner, will there continue to be the induced hypnotic state and endorphine release? Maybe this will be the beginning of the end of TV's grip on society.
Well, that's two weeks passed and this one was easier than the first week. This week I survived on only 30mins of television, that is until this evening when I watched a film with some friends and enjoyed an hour of that programme I taped (Are we real?). Hmm.. this really feels like I'm confessing!
Anyway, despite not being absolutely tv-free, I don't think it's so bad as I've got plenty of other things done instead. Again the week feels like it's slowed which is really weird for a fortnight before Christmas, maybe it's because I've been able to plough through so many tasks without having to make up for time lost to the telly.
I've just finished watching the programme I taped and it was a bit of a let down, which is often the case. I suppose the nature of existence and reality doesn't fit nicely into a one hour slot with three advert breaks. Maybe I was hoping for too much and I guess I can get vast amounts more from a book. TV offers tantalising bite-size amounts of new information but never giving me enough.. like a taster so I then have to find out more information myself. In that way I suppose it can't be knocked as it can stimulate a hunger for knowledge though it can never feed it.
(Sorry, this part's a bit off topic) This programme, I watched, mentioned the idea of the universe and subsequently our reality being nothing more than a massively complex simulation in a far superior intelligence's "computer". Literally. It's the stuff of sci-fi, I know... nothing new there but unfortunately that's where they left it. They didn't get to the real profound bit which, if you follow the logic, means that is almost certainly the case. Maybe they wanted to keep it dumbed down a bit or maybe they would've had to sacrifice an advert break to fit it in. I've detailed the 'missing' and profound bit below : If you accept the notion that one day (in 100 years time or maybe 100,000 years time) we will have been able to create artificial life and simulate thought processes in a computer then it doesn't take a leap of imagination to picture a whole world/universe for those intelligences to inhabit. So, if we accept that one simulated universe could exist then why just one? It seems likely that many thousands, millions or billions of these worlds would be created by anyone and everyone for research on everything from evolution to physics to history and even for recreational use. So, if you accept the above as being likely then there would be billions of simulations running and what you're experiencing right now could be one of those simulations. Infact, the chance that this is the real-deal, the original reality out of all those billions is literally that, one in a billion. The odds that your reality, right here, right now is a simulation are pretty overwhelming. Despite this, I'm still agnostic but could you wish for better odds in favour of there being a creator? A slightly worrying thought but then, hey, maybe 'he' just loves agnostics! All being well, I'll find out one way of the other in about 50 years time. So, the programme although interesting, didn't give me anything new, but I felt I had to watch it just to find out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I seem to have wandered a bit off-topic there, enough of the mental gymnastics. I wasn't going to use this blog to document my thoughts on life the universe and everything but the tv programme did stir up all those profound thoughts which had lain dormant for some time. Anyway, I think I've got them out of my system for a bit so I'll try and keep my future posts on the task in-hand, ie. switching off the television. Still, I'm pleased to say I did turn it off after watching the programme and didn't go wandering into the abyss that is late-night tele-shopping. Instead I continued reading my book which I'm now half-way through (something of a personal record for a book of fiction) and I'm really enjoying it. I had literally forgotten that my imagination could be fired in such a way to bring to life the chacters in the book without any visual aids as there is with tv and film. What's more, I'm really enjoying getting stuck into a book and the escape it provides, even if it is to a time of imminent apocalypse for Roman Pompeii (not somewhere I'd choose to be to unwind). Maybe "escape" is a poor choice of words as I don't have anything to escape. I think that saying "it provides a refreshing change of pace from my bog standard existence" would better describe the experience than escapism. Thinking about it, could you not say that fiction books also hinder people going out and experiencing things for themselves as a television does? Afterall, the excitement and fear of being on the side of a volcano which is about to explode (admitted, this book offers an extreme example) is only the figment of someone else's imagination. Wouldn't it be better if I'd relied on my own imagination to come up with this or better still to get out there and find a "safe-ish" volcano to climb. After-all, one of the main criticisms of television is that people sit in front of it being fed someone-else's experiences rather than getting outside and experiencing things for themself. Have I not simply swapped one medium for another? Anyway, I'll stop there otherwise I'll never end this post. Hopefully, when I write the next post on Boxing Day, I'll have finished the book and be browsing Amazon for a new one.
Sunday.. Day 7. I think I'll update this blog weekly from now on. Well, not so much of a tv-free week but more like a minimal-tv-week. Down from about 25-30 hours a week of switched on television (ie. tv is on even though I'm not watching it) to 7 hours. Of those, 5 were at a friend's house and were pretty much unavoidable unless I imposed my ideals on to them in their own house which wasn't going to happen. The remaining 2 hours were when my girlfriend was visiting and one of those was a fairly intellectual programme discussing the meaning of life.
The programme was stimulating, interesting and not really dumbed down for me at least. Obviously it's all relative, as I'm sure an astrophysicist would've dosed off but for me it had some interesting ideas which have got me thinking and subsequently I might buy some further reading on the subject.
Next week's programme is on the nature of reality which I'll probably watch too... Extract: There is a fundamental chasm in our understanding of ourselves, the universe, and everything. To solve this, Sir Martin takes us on a mind-boggling journey through multiple universes to post-biological life. On the way we learn of the disturbing possibility that we could be the product of someone elses experiment. On that note (the nature of reality), and this in nothing to do with TV, you may want to read this. If you manage to get all the way through I think you'll have to admit that the conclusion plays on your mind, especially when I can't think of a single good counter-argument to the idea that nothing around us is real in the conventional sense of the word.
Well, anyway, that's a week of controlled television over with and it was quite refreshing and liberating to realise I don't need it on all the time I'm at home just for the background noise it creates. Infact I've found I prefer the peace with having it switched off. That said, I'm not going to be able to give it up completely just because there are some genuinely interesting programmes on British TV. I don't know about the rest of the world but here it's not all reality programming, chat shows, make-over shows and mindless sit-coms, there is some really good stuff amongst the dross.
The key is being able to watch only the occasional programme that is worth watching and then switching off afterwards. I do have the will-power and self-control, I'm certainly not helpless. After all, I can do it with other things like food and alcohol, I don't just eat and drink until I pass out, I just consume as much as I need.
So, things that have changed: 1) no tv in the morning 2) no tv when I get home from work 3) only watching the occasional planned programme in a week 4) canceling my 300 channel Sky satellite saving £20 ($40) per month 5) not being late for work 6) started reading books again 7) going to start getting a newspaper delivered 8) getting to bed earlier and having a good night's sleep 9) finding more time for other jobs 10) more relaxed, time is going more slowly and subsequently I'm less stressed
Well, that's Saturday over with. I didn't watch any television and had no inclination to do so.
Ha! Doesn't make for interesting reading does it! I spent the evening at a pub with some friends one of whom also switched-off at the beginning of the week. He said he's got no desire to turn the box back on again as he's found plenty of other things to do instead. We had a bit of a rant about reality programming but it doesn't feel like a big deal now so the conversation didn't last long.
The original plan, last Sunday, was to see how a week without television would be, what we'd do instead and whether we'd be able to resist. Following the range of emotions experienced initially, I'm not really bothered now. I must mention that I've got a lot more things done and that the days have passed more slowly. Even this week which is a busy one (2 weeks from Christmas) has passed at a leisurely pace where-as all those before it have raced by. I'm sure this can't be a coincidence. Maybe TV really does steal your life by making you less aware of the passing of time. Combine that with constantly rushing to get things done because of the time wasted infront of the box and you've got a much more stressed life... precisely what someone watching television is trying to avoid. It's a Catch-22 situation where you then feel the need to unwind and watch more television. A vicious circle.
My girlfriend is not so keen on the idea of tv-free life. She uses it to relax and and unwind after a hard day at work which I guess I do miss as well. I use my brain all day and need to switch off at the end of the day. I think I'll have to accept that the television is an inescapable part of life so I'll try and use it in moderation. After-all, I don't think it's fair to say that all television is bad when newspapers, books, DVDs, films, theatre, opera are all other forms of media where you are obliged to absorb someone else's thoughts and principals. So, it really comes to using something to excess. If I was to read books constantly at the expense of a social life and regardless of their contents or whether I'd read them before then that would suggest I've a problem. Most things in moderation is the best policy. The main problem would be getting sucked back into the loop of watching all the crap. Well, so long as I can break the cycle and not NEED television then I'll be happy. If you don't think you NEED television then try a couple of days without it and observe the impulse you have whenever around the box. There's a deep set desire to switch it on. No reason, you just need to. Anything that you need to do for no good reason is clearly an issue to resolve.... sounds very similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder.
On a different note I found the lyrics to a great song, Television, The Drug of the Nation by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. It's quite long on the page so I'll link to it.... must read it though.
11:30pm and I've just got back from visiting some friends. The television was on when I arrived and still on when I left so the conversation was more often than not based around what we were watching. Does that make the television a bad thing when it was the seed for so much conversation? I wonder if it hadn't been on then maybe we'd have run out of topics. Who knows? Anyway, after flicking through about 300 channels of re-runs, AbMasters, PowerJuicers, virtual horse racing, sex, gambling, old films and infinite repeat shopping channels it was mutually agreed there was nothing of interest, save for a 1 hour documentary about honey badgers. I recall someone once saying that it doesn't matter what time of day you switch on you can always find at least one programme about nazis and another about sharks. You're never more than 30 mins from nazi-sharks. We watched a DVD instead.
So, I've had an extensive 5 hour fix of television but just because I've decided to avoid it at home doesn't mean I'm going to make anyone else do it. Live and let live. It's only day 4 and I think it's safe to say it's near impossible to avoid television in the course of day to day socialising. It's so embedded into all aspects of life that it has become as important as religion once was. Infact I'd estimate that there's a direct inverse correlation with church attendance and television ownership since the 1940's. It seems the country has swapped one emotional prop for another. Personally, I've never needed religion to tell me what's right or wrong and how to live my life (it's not that difficult) and now I don't need TV too either.
Someone today said that giving up television, while only being a psychological addiction, is not unlike giving up the chemical addiction of smoking. He said he feels the desire to turn on the telly first thing in the morning, during/after a meal and whenever he's at a loose end. It's uncanny.
I suspect that although I want to give up television and not turn it back on I will be missing some great entertainment and so it will be detrimental. Some of the funniest things I've ever seen have been on television. British programming is often mentioned as being some of the best in the world and I must admit that some of it is really great. A few comedies that spring to mind are The Office (BBC), Alan Partridge (BBC), Red Dwarf (BBC), Fawlty Towers (BBC), Little Britain (BBC), Phoenix Nights (Ch4), Spaced (Ch4). The first five on that list come from non-commercial, government funded stations so they don't even have adverts or sponsorship cut through them which is one of my main gripes. (Note for anyone reading this outside the UK: BBC stations are non-commercial and are paid through compulsory tax of about £110 ($211) per year by every household that owns a TV set).
So, I'm thinking that I might allow myself to watch selected programmes that're recommended to me as being fantastic though it'll be a matter of will power to turn off at the end of the show and not go skipping around. I'm sure my life would be less rich without the memories of those programmes listed above.
Another TV-free day done and dusted. Well, it was as free as I could make it. Unfortunately televisions are everywhere and I'm spotting them now more and more. They've got one muted in my doctor's surgery waiting room and I've just remembered I saw them fixed to the walls at eye height in front of the urinals of a motorway service station not long ago. I think they were selling breakdown cover but again it's another example of how intrusive they are. My boss took everyone from the office for a pub lunch today and were seated about 3 feet away from a 40" flat screen, wall mounted unit It was muted, thankfully, but was running a constant stream from the Extreme Sports channel which involved a lot of fast cutting, flashing imagery of mountain bikers and snowboarders. The distraction was enormous and couldn't help looking up at it to see what was happening especially as half the table's eyes were drawn to it during the meal. In its defense it did start a short topic on skiing but I think it suffocated more conversation than it initiated. I left the pub after an hour with a splitting headache. On a plus note I did come across a couple of websites today through www.tvbgone.com The site sells a universal, remote, off-switch for televisions which fits on a keyring. Fantastic!
And this is a "rant" from www.Whitedot.org . The website is a bit rough and ready but there's a message buried in there :
Turn Off Your Television!
The average American watches 4.5 hours of television every day.
You sleep for eight hours. You get up and work for eight hours. Come home, eat some dinner and turn on the television. A few hours later you're getting sleepy. Time for bed.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING??
We're not kidding. All those things you wanted to have in your life: passion, romance, love, childhood, parenthood, adventure? when are you going to do all that?
You're staring at a piece of furniture!
People on TV are not your friends. They're not in the room with you. You are alone in the dark, staring at a plastic box. Think about it. This is like a science fiction horror story; but it's really happening. People have stopped living as humans and connected themselves to machines instead.
You're only going to live for 75 years, if you're lucky. How much time do you have left? Enough to spend one whole day every week with fake friends, watching their imitation lives instead of living your own?
TV doesn't give you experiences, it takes them away!
On your deathbed, what if someone could give you back those ten years of television? What if they said you could have another ten years to be with the people you love, find new people, do things differently. What would you say?
I had a good night's sleep and woke up before the alarm feeling fresh at 6:45am... this is unusual. Maybe it's coincidence that I didn't watch television before bed.
Well, another 24 hours has passed and I've avoided watching any programming. I think it's helped by the fact that I've pulled the power cable out of the Sky box so I'd have to scrabble around amongst all the cables to power it up again. Those 30 seconds would hopefully bring me to my senses. As an added disincentives, I've found an alternative use for the Sky box electricity socket. I've plugged in my lava lamp which has been sitting, redundant, alongside the telly for over two years! I'd forgotten how funky it looks, definitely a good move.
I've missed two of my current favourite programmes this evening; Most Haunted and The West Wing. Never mind, I've lived and while I wonder what happened on the episodes I can't say I'm really that bothered plus I've gained an extra two hours by not watching them. Instead I did an hour of kung fu tutorial through a DVD. I know, I know.. I used the television but I did agree with myself from the start that it wasn't the television so much as the content that's at issue. By watching the DVD I had full control of the output and I wasn't sitting on my arse I was up following the moves and exercising. I know I can't learn kung fu through a DVD tutorial (even if this one is very good) but I'm just using it to practice basic moves, positions and balance. That way, when I join an evening class I'll at least be able to keep up and won't be learning from scratch. Well, that's the plan at least.
The other thing I did in this salvaged time was to write an email to my financial advisor on all the questions I didn't understand in the pension document I completed yesterday. So, another chores out of the way and another weight off my shoulders.
The way I see this progressing is that initially I'm not going to find I've got lots of spare time as I'm clearing the backlog of chores that television use has caused to accumulate. Then, once all the chores are cleared I'll start finding new and interesting things to do with the spare time.... we'll see.
One thing of concern I've noticed is that while working on my computer I keep catching myself day-dreaming whilst cricking my neck, eyes staring at the blank television screen over my left shoulder. It's funny that the TV is as stimulating switched off as when it's switched on.
On a side note, the two friends who were at the pub discussing this experiment with me at the weekend have also unplugged with no apparent side effects. They've had to resist the impulse to turn on the telly as soon as entering the house but both have just retired for the evening with unread books.
Right, time for me to rest with a book too. While I regularly read long extracts of non-fiction books (often heavy going on the nature of reality, consciousness etc) I have not managed to read an entire book of fiction in over 14 years. The last book I read cover to cover was more of a documentary, Michael Moore's, Dude Where's My Country. So, tonight I'll start on a book I bought on holiday back in February, Pompeii by Robert Harris.
This has come about following a short discussion at a pub with two friends last night. I can't recall how the topic of crap television came up but, nonetheless, it did. It was probably something to do with the current crop of reaility programming inthe form of "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" and "The X Factor". I think I had suggested I would like to try living without television and how going without might actually enrich my life. Sure, I've got the whole world at my finger tips being pumped into my living room like no generation before me which on the surface seems like a good thing but I don't think it's all it's cracked up to be.
For a start, every minute, every hour I spend in front of it, at home, by myself there's a whole world passing me by outside. I watch people on television having fun, chatting with friends, going to the pub, laughing, joking, arguing, passion, excitement, drama but that's all I am doing, watching. Those are things I should be experiencing first hand, not sanitised and drip fed through a cathode-ray tube.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't spend 24/7 in front of the telly. I'm just an average guy living in Kent, England with a cool job building commercial websites for a local company which keeps the brain ticking over and a roof over my head. I've got a great girlfriend and a handful of dedicated friends with whom I enjoy pubs and places. Pretty normal stuff and as normality goes I also spend around 4 hours a day slumped on my arse in front of that slate grey box.
So, rather than watching Joey and Chandler having a laugh I should go out with my real mates and have a laugh. Instead of watching Norm enter a pub where everybody knows HIS name I should go to my local pub and get them to know MY name. Instead of watching Yvette Fielding investigate another haunted location I should go and do just that with a group of friends and rather than watch Joe Pasquale be crowned King of The Jungle I should just TURN IT OFF.
That box also steers my thoughts, my purchases, my likes and my dislikes... it guides me whether I like it or not. I don't like to think of myself as a sheep, I mean who does? However, the logic in me says that I am motivated to buy things I don't need and believe things I wouldn't normally just because the television is so pervasive and persuasive. It tells me what I should eat, what I should wear, where I should go, what I should clean myself with, what I should clean my toilet with... the list of things it's telling me to do and how best to do it is endless. I'm sure George Orwell is rolling over and over. The adverts and subliminal messages must work or the companies wouldn't be spending 100's millions of pounds a year promoting their latest "must have" product. If it didn't work so perfectly then they wouldn't waste their money. So, enough is enough and I suggested doing without the television. 'S' had reservations saying that it's nice to have some background noise, the silence would be unbearable and that I wouldn't be able to join in conversations about last night's episode of XYZ but to be honest I think I can live with that. The main question on my mind was what am I going to do to fill the 4 to 6 hour void in my life every single day?! There's only one way to find out.
So, last night at midnight I killed the Sky satellite box with a sharp tug of the power cord and also pulled out the telephone cord so it couldn't phone the Mothership with an SOS. It died a slow death as the capacitor drained and the light faded out. This morning I didn't miss it as I was in a rush to get to work though I must admit to being uneasy about returning to a quiet house with no familiar noises.... no familiar drone from the telly.
Anyway, this evening has been fine. I managed to fry some dinner this evening without setting off the smoke detector (which is a first, I think!!) having had no distraction from the telly. So, that's promissing. The rest of the night I spent clearing out chores I've been meaning to do including working through 80 pages of a pension document.. but that's not for here. Suffice to say, it wouldn't have got done if I'd had an option to turn on the telly. And now, it's nearly midnight so that's 24 hours without a fix. Hopefully tomorrow will speed by and I'll get rid of a few more of those ever lingering rainy day job chores without the interruption from television.
I'm a normal guy who's fed up with having my life "experiences" being force fed as nauseous lumps of television programming just because it's a social requirement. I refuse to believe I can't live without it and plan to find out what will happen when I switch it off.
Sites of interest: