Experiments in Living # 1: Life Without TelevisionAugust 5, 2015
“Experiments in Living” is about trying to improve: my lifestyle, my self-awareness, my well-being, my freedom to choose. Experiments in which I choose to give up attachments have especially increased my sense of freedom because they are focused on making conscious choices rather than acting from habit. Giving up mindless behavior frees my time and leads me to live a more full life in which I choose the times to have pure fun, total productivity, or something in between.
Experiment 1 was to give up television in my home for three months. The television was unplugged and placed in another room to make it inconvenient to watch and to remove its glaring presence from my living space. Watching television outside the home was permitted, but only for a specific purpose, such as watching a sports event.
This experiment was originally carried out when I moved into a new home. Television struck me as an incredible waste of time–a squandering of the precious time available to me on this planet–and every year the programming seems to sink to new lows as if in a quest to dumb down the world. My paltry intelligence was insulted and cried for action lest I turn into a brain dead zombie.
Month 1: The first week felt weird as I broke my television habits. Previously, when I left home I would tune the TV to a music channel (salsa or merengue) to entertain my dog. Also, when I arrived home from work I typically relaxed a few minutes by channel surfing and while cooking dinner I played the television in the background where it monotonously shouted, screeched, and beseeched me not to think. Nightly, the insistent voices implored my brain to enter a comatose state. Suddenly, during the first week without TV, quiet entered my home.
The second week was still strange. Sometimes I played music while cooking. I began to read books after dinner. I felt as if I suddenly had a lot of free time which didn’t exist before. The dog did not seem to miss the music channel during the daytime, but I left the radio on a classical music station anyway. The classical station played National Public Radio (NPR) programs in the evening and I began listening to Marketplace and Fresh Air in my home, whereas before I only listened to NPR in my car.
The third week was still strange, but I began to form new habits without television and came up with ways to fill the time. I made phone calls to family and reached out to old friends, took longer dog walks, read more books, worked my way through the stack of National Geographic magazines I had fallen behind on. I had been taking a Spanish class on Saturdays, but not studying much, so I started to study more and to plan a summer trip to Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico.
The fourth week, I became comfortable with the quiet. I liked hearing Terry Gross while cooking, but after dinner my quiet home felt relaxing. When the mood struck me I played music. I no longer thought about turning on the TV when I arrived home. My addiction to reruns of bad shows disappeared. The dog did not seem to care one way or the other, but he enjoyed the extra-long walks we now took in the evening.
Month 2: I rarely thought of the TV during the second month and my habit of watching TV died. My interest in television dwindled and when people at work discussed something they saw on TV, I didn’t care about the topic. Not watching television freed me up to work on other projects, read more books, take longer dog walks, and talk to people on the phone. The quietude allowed me simply . . . to think. The sounds in my head became my own, unpolluted by television voices which used inflection to direct my thinking, used laugh tracks to prompt me to laugh at something which was not funny, used outrage to drag me into a story that was forgettable.
Month 3: I completely forgot about television during the third month. I spent more time outdoors in the evening and cooked dinner while occasionally listening to baseball games on the radio. While on vacation, it didn’t occur to me to turn on the TV in the hotel. My news came from NPR during my commute to work and the daily newspaper which permitted me to select my stories of interest and to read the information in silence.
My third month ended and I didn’t realize it. I had become so accustomed not to watch TV that I completely forgot my three months were complete until I was almost four months into the experiment. After realizing it, I waited a few days and then turned on the television on a Sunday evening. In less than an hour, I was done. Television no longer seemed entertaining and definitely sounded ridiculous. After so many months without marinating in the voices of TV, I couldn’t stomach their sounds.
Since Then: I slowly began to watch a little TV and averaged around two to three hours of TV per week; mostly I watched on Sunday mornings or Sunday evenings. Many weeks, I simply did not watch any television at all. I am still insulted by the manner of speaking used on television and by its use as a tool of misinformation. As of March 2015, I have returned to life without TV and my television at home has not been plugged in for more than four months.
Television was a waste of my life. Television was a waste of my time, but even more so, watching television was a waste of my life. I have only a limited amount of time on this planet before death and I don’t want to waste it watching TV. Thinking of it in terms of being a life waster made me want to enjoy the newly available hours freed up by not watching television. Now, I appreciate my free-choice hours and feel satisfied by how I choose to spend the time. In contrast, I rarely feel satisfied after watching television and never wish I had more time to spend watching TV.
The excuse “I don’t have time” disappeared. Without television, plenty of time came available. I studied Spanish, called more friends, talked to my family, and took my dog on longer walks. I have used my evenings for exercise, classes, volunteering, cooking, starting a business, writing, and more.
I enjoy watching television more now than before. After giving up television, it was funny to watch it once again and to realize the inferiority of the performances as well as to notice the voice inflections of commercial narrators and news organizations attempting to shape my feelings—perhaps even dictate how I should feel. Often, the tone of the voices imply I should feel outraged and under attack. The voices seemed to assume I will never question their content or validity and will never inquire, “Why are they saying this?” Now, when I watch television, it is because I choose to watch television and I choose to watch only content I truly enjoy. Also, I can easily turn it off and walk away.
My ears gained more sensitivity to sounds. Without all those yelling voices, inflecting tones, and screaming sounds assaulting my ears, I grew accustomed to soft, quiet, peaceful time which made my hearing more sensitive. Not only more sensitive to grating sounds, but more sensitive to notice the sounds in people’s voices when speaking, sounds of music, sounds of nature, and sounds of silence.
Without television, I have more freedom. I have more choice. Peace.
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