When I moved into this flat in 2011, the removal company were surprised that one particular item was missing. When they brought my belongings back from storage, I suspect they were concerned they had lost the item in transit.
“Where’s your TV?”, one of the guys asked. “I don’t own one”, I said, knowing I wouldn’t get off that easily.
“But what do you do?!”, came the follow-up. I realised they couldn’t imagine how I filled my time without a television in my life either as background entertainment or, more likely, as the sole focus of my attention each evening.
It’s not that I’m intensely anti-TV, and this isn’t somehow an evangelical blog post. Rather, it’s the longer answer I felt I couldn’t give the removal guys at the time.
Switching ON, to Switch OFF
I used to own a TV and watch it nightly. Most evenings when I came home from work, I would cook a meal and sit down in front of the TV to eat it.
The problem is, I found it hard to step away from the TV and to do anything else afterwards: The washing up, reading my mail, calling someone… in-fact, just having a life away from the TV again.
I realised that, most evenings, turning on the TV marked the end of my productivity for the day. It’s not that I happened to turn the TV on at the point I could accomplish no more. Instead, I realised the television caused the end of my productivity. It somehow truncated my day.
I found that when watching television, I put my brain into “neutral”. I offered myself up to whatever was being shown. I switched on, to switch off, if you will.
Afterwards, I found it hard to reverse that and to re-engage in other activities that have a higher barrier to entry. Television’s low effort made everything else seem too difficult, and I found myself putting it all off until tomorrow.
I can’t be alone in finding the TV listings rather a joke. Just read the titles of tonight’s listings and tell me you don’t laugh, somewhat nervously too.
It’s like they took genuine entertainment, removed most of the intellectual fibre to make it easily-digestible to all, then sprinkled it with extra ingredients to make us salivate. An endless parade of shows with cliff-hanger “And the winner is…” moments, rehydrated and mechanically-recovered “celebrity” info, and reaction rather than analysis.
Literally, the entertainment equivalent of a low nutrition TV dinner. Just like with that TV dinner, I found the more I consumed it, the unhealthier (psychologically) I became. I didn’t really want to talk to colleagues about “last night’s Big Brother”. I didn’t really want to wonder what happened next in some awful sit-com. But I found myself sucked in, to the detriment of a life of my own.
I felt that my quest for easy entertainment was starving my life of genuine meaning.
The Occasional Splurge
A small admission… I do watch TV occasionally, but not on an actual television. I watch a few things on the BBC’s iPlayer and the online services of the other channels. I also watch the odd film on DVD or an episode from a box set. I just don’t watch television as-scheduled and when it’s broadcast. It also isn’t very often.
So what’s the difference? The main difference is that I choose my own entertainment. I pick something and I watch it. And when it’s over, I go and do something else.
If you watch something pre-recorded, there’s no running into the next program, no channel hopping. There is a natural end to it,… and then you get on with your life.
What I Do Instead
In short… everything else!
It took a few weeks of no TV to learn how to simply inhabit my home in the evening. To cook a meal, eat it whilst doing something else, and then to do more of that “something else” afterwards.
I email, I call folks, I read, I relax and, if my home life isn’t enough, I go out and find something better. But what I don’t do is submit myself to a stream of mass market “entertainment” in the hope of somehow finding what I should otherwise be generating in my own life.
By switching off, I realised that if I want to be entertained, I should go and do something with friends. No television is ever going to replace that. If I want to relax, I should read a book or just (shock horror) do nothing, and learn to love that silence and the space.
These other options aren’t easy, but I find them more fulfilling. They fill me up, whereas TV seems to drain me.
In an unexpected way, by switching off, I’ve switched on to my own spare time again. I find myself thinking of amazing things to do; things I’m sure I wouldn’t have conjured up whilst sat in-front of the television.
As they say, your mileage may vary. But if you ever find yourself wondering if there’s life beyond the television, give a try for a week. You never know what you might re-discover.