On Monday I gave myself a Christmas present. I turned off my TV. More specifically, I canceled my DirecTV service, a satellite that will continue to beam a signal at my house, but that I will ignore and not pay for anymore. My monitor continues to live, but now it exists to stream internet content, some of which I generate. Except for that last part, this takes me back to how I started my adult life, TV-less.
Many people can proudly state that they survive without television, and have done so for years. I’m not a hard one to convince. That’s the way I started my adult life.
When I went to college I didn’t have one in the room. They may not have been allowed. Virginia Tech was a very strict school then. When I moved off campus my roommates had one, but it didn’t matter much because I was busy studying and barely surviving as an aerospace engineering student. When I graduated and headed west to my job at Boeing in Seattle I didn’t buy one because for awhile I was too concerned with paying for things like food and rent. I actually took a pay cut from my summer job in the steel mill to become an engineer. That says something about both places, but that’s another post.
Living without a TV is quiet and a wonderful incentive to read or get out of the house. It is not the life for a single, lazy, illiterate hermit.
I lived without one because I was addicted to it as a teenager. When there were only three or four networks it was possible to memorize the weekly schedule for optimal viewing. It was a geeky thing to do. I didn’t want to fall back into that habit. My parents weren’t so sure that it was a good idea to disconnect. So, they bought me a television for Christmas. I thanked them for the computer monitor, because that was all I expected to use it for. Kids never do the expected. I hooked it up to my Texas Instrument computer (remember those?), programmed in Basic, and stored the data on cassette tapes. But I hit the slippery slope and slid back into watching the networks, and then cable, and then satellite feeds for the next 28 years. My entertainment went from free to expensive so slowly that it was hard to notice.
I’d heard about streaming, and did some via my computer, but my computer is old and some of the content buffered excessively. Finally I saw that the price of the simplest streaming boxes were about the same that I was paying for one month of satellite service. I watched the way I watched. And I found myself turning on the TV, scrolling through untold channels, probably settling on some rerun of a documentary, and then hitting MUTE or OFF when an noxious commercial came on. What was I paying for?
Television does have a place, but programming decisions made it less useful in my life. Originally I justified watching to keep aware of trends, the news, and the stock market. Trends are reflected on shows, but I can see many trends by walking through shops and going to dances. The news has switched from factual reporting to emotional commentary. Even CNBC, “First in Business Worldwide”, alienated me with some of their myopic and self-centered coverage during the financial crisis. Besides, getting information from their scrolling stock ticker is chaotic and random, while Yahoo Finance and Google Finance can provide me with better information in the time it takes to wait through one commercial.
Industries, technologies, trends, many aspects of our culture arise from a need, develop based on their environment, and come to believe themselves indispensable, but time can allow accumulated anachronisms and bureaucratic complexities. Simple actions and ideas can unseat them. Within physics, epicycles fell to Newton’s Law of Gravity. The Reformation fractured Catholicism because Martin Luther posted a note to a church door. Television is being challenged by the Internet. Steve Jobs frequently redefines experiences and industries. Imagine other ideas that are complex and anachronistic awaiting simple challengers: Microsoft Windows, the US Tax Code, anything in your life that inspires the response, “There’s got to be a simpler way”. Why do we (though not me anymore) commute for miles and hours in single occupancy vehicles?
Every change brings a need for education. Streaming video is better, but I miss some things (come on Alton Brown, get on hulu or Netflix) and I’m involved in a treasure hunt for some of the shows I know exist somewhere in that box (I bought a roku). But change is good. Education is good. And not having to watch alarmist ads for medical conditions is marvelous.
Getting rid of my TV service may not be as dramatic a change as accepting Newton’s laws, but it feels good to replace archaic complexity with modern simplicity.
(note: There’s a development within the world of Simple Living. The discussion forums from the Simple Living Network have a new home www.simplelivingforum.net courtesy of The New Road Map Foundation. More about this later.)