Rethinking television

 

Ten weeks ago, we got the flooring in our living and dining room replaced.

To prepare, we had to move all our furniture out of the room, and at the time I joked that this was the look I’d been going for all along.

 

We managed to squeeze the sofa into the conservatory, dragged a dismantled Ikea dining table into the kitchen and carried a blanket box into the hallway.

We unhooked our television from its connections and precariously balanced it on a kitchen counter top, hoping we wouldn’t accidentally knock it and send it crashing down.

The flooring was laid and we pulled all the furniture back again. But when we reconnected the television, something wasn’t right. The colours seemed all off. I meddled with the wires, and promptly broke the connection for good.

It has stayed that way ever since. Laziness and apathy mean we have accidentally disconnected ourselves from live television.

To be clear: we can still access streaming services. But it’s been interesting to see how our habits have changed without that ready access to all those channels.

In the mornings, I no longer stick on breakfast television and lose 45 minutes to the comforting patter of the presenters. Instead, I tune into Radio 4 on my phone and get my daily briefing while I’m getting ready around the house.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading more, a habit I’d been meaning to get back into but had somehow not been able to make stick.

There has been one TV series we’ve actually wanted to watch on terrestrial television: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. So every week, at a time to suit us, we would watch it back on catch-up.

And there has also been one thing I really had to tune into live through my laptop: Saturday’s Eurovision. When I was a teenager I would meet up with my two closest friends for a Eurovision party each year. Now we’re dotted all over the country, we watch it while WhatsApping each other with our thoughts on the craziest songs and whether Latvia will ever top Brainstorm’s My Star from the year 2000 (answer: they won’t).

So, why cut down on television?

Often when people discuss this point, the inference is clear. TV is BAD FOR YOU AND ROTS YOUR BRAIN. Quite frankly, I fundamentally disagree with this, and not just because it’s what my mum used to say to me when I was a kid.

It’s the same argument people made about novels in the 18th century, when there was a moral panic about how many people – especially gasp, ladies – were glued to them.

In his book Everything Bad is Good For You, Steven Johnson gives a staunch defence of ‘junk’ TV and ‘mindless’ computer games. He argues that both are far more complex than they have ever been and often require pretty high levels of concentration.

Box-set watching, he says, has led to TV shows with multiple sub-plots, confusing cold-opens, highly technical jargon and vast networks of characters which represent a huge departure from the simplicity of 1970s shows like Starsky and Hutch.

While I think this is true, for me the argument is in danger of remaining a little elitist.

In all honesty, who cares if television is simplistic and trashy?

After years of pretty mediocre shows, I think this year’s Eurovision really was a fantastic television event. But I can’t pretend it was good for me. It was just pure entertainment, mixed in with some vague idea of ‘togetherness’.

I was really stressed out from work recently, and do you know what helped me calm down? Binge-watching the whole series of Queer Eye on Netflix. I feel not one iota of shame.

And I completely understand why haggard parents sit their young children down in front of Paw Patrol while they get to enjoy a quiet cup of tea in the other room for five minutes.

But it’s all about what is appropriate for you. The fact that TV had been so easy for me to access meant I had been more likely to switch it on than go and find a book to read. Making it just that one step harder meant I really had to decide whether it was something I wanted to do.

It’s why people wanting to cut down on social media often find it helpful to delete the apps from their phones and make themselves log on through their browsers. It’s still there, you just have to really want it to go and get it.

I’m not advocating that you all go and break your TV connectors. But if there’s something you feel you’re getting a little too distracted by, try to place a few hurdles in your way.

14 thoughts on “Rethinking television

  1. Melody says:

    Interesting post. I haven’t had a TV for years. I have little self control so when it’s there I find myself watching lots of mindless junk that doesn’t add anything to my life, but when it’s not there I don’t miss it and do other things. I have started browsing the internet and watching videos there instead so have to watch that habit doesn’t become as big as watching TV – I’m trying to set boundaries around that. But at least when I’m on the internet I’m choosing the content.

    1. Serene Focus says:

      I don’t have much self control either and I don’t find the internet to be any better or any different than television from that respect. For me it is even worse. With tv, I usually jump from one channel to another unless I find something interesting or I shut it off. With the internet (i.e. Youtube) what comes up as suggestion is something that fits your preferences and it is much harder to quit. It is also much more unlikely that you would discover something outside of your comfort zone that will widen your horizon….I had several years without tv but that did not help. If one is the kind of person to watch mindlessly (like me) the media does not make any difference (at least for me).
      But I totally agree with the “few hurdles” strategy, deleting app and making it just one step harder…

  2. Sandra says:

    Totally agree with you! We haven’t had a TV in years but watch shows we like on amazon prime or watch it back on catch-up when the time suits us. Watching programmes has become more deliberate and I think binge watching your favourite series to relax is a very good idea and almost always helps to unwind πŸ™‚

  3. Susan says:

    Having an extra step certainly makes you more mindful! Bravo. We are minimal television watchers, but sometimes, a movie or silly home show is just the ticket.

  4. Catherine says:

    I do own a TV but I rarely watch anything live unless it’s something that really excites me like a new David Attenborough documentary! I have a Fire TV stick where I have a select few movies and TV shows that I love to watch and that’s about it. I certainly don’t turn it on “just for noise” or watch junk to fill in a bit time.

  5. Annie says:

    We have a TV however I use the cable box mostly for the music channels as our radio tuner rarely works well enough. I do watch an occasional movie, cooking show, or something mindless on the Hallmark Channel, but more likely I am reading, cooking. or doing something else. I would probably get rid of the TV were it up to me but my husband watches a bit more than I do and would put up a fight to keep it. After 21 years of marriage I know when to pick my battles!

  6. I gave up on TV service around 2007. I couldn’t afford it and I found that 75% of it was reality TV and reruns. I watch stuff on You Tube and if there is something I am interested in, I just get it from the library.

  7. I don’t on a TV but since Netflix came a month ago, it was bad, like hurricane 9 bad. Time to relook into the subscription or my own self control.

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