Escape Your Television - Diary of an Addict

Monday, January 10, 2005

Day Thirty-something

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?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Day 32 - One Month In

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.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Day 30

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?"

Here's a link to a few people who've thought to put their experiences with the TVLA on the internet.

This is one is particularly worthy of note
(the links are at the bottom of each page).

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."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Day 27

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.