Friday, April 03, 2009

Unplugged Progress Report

(News-Herald, April 2) Last fall I decided that it would be a good idea for me to save some of the money and time that television cable was sucking away. I’ve now been living without cable for six months and I’ve already learned some lessons about life unplugged.
The very first thing I learned was how much company I have. A surprisingly large number of Venangoland residents stopped me in the store or sent an e-mail to let me know that they, too, had disconnected. Apparently plenty of people live full, rewarding lives without that steady stream of electronic marketeering.
There have been a few things I’ve missed—the Macy’s parade, the occasional news story, the—well, you know, I remember missing some things at the time, but as I sit here and try to conjure up the list, I’m stumped. And that perhaps is one of the surprising parts about life without cable—how quickly I’ve stopped missing things.
I did have a handful of shows that I watched regularly, and I figured I’d miss the habit. I fully expected to be hurrying online to stay current with many shows, but it hasn’t happened.
I thought I might miss tv news as well, but reading is a great substitute for getting bombarded with short, quick, ill-created blasts of tv news-like substance. I read the News-Derrick in print, several other newspapers on line, and I swear I actually feel smarter than when I absorbed the tube-based fast food news.
I never said I was going to go all cave man. I still have a television, but now it’s hooked up to a dvd player. I am a major Netflix fan, and I have watched my way through the complete run of a few series, both modern and classic. I’ve watched a slew of movies, and lots of fun documentaries.
But the biggest change is that I have become more deliberate in my tv choices. I used to just turn the tube on for background noise and company—now I don’t watch anything that I don’t purposefully put in the dvd player myself. Watching tv this way forces me to consider some of my tastes in viewing (I must, for instance, confront the fact that I have turned out to be one of those people who thinks documentaries are fun).
I watch way less television than I ever used to. And that means that I watch far less advertising than ever before.
Watching a modern tv series on disc, one can’t help noticing that an “hour” show actually runs about 42-44 minutes. In other words, watching a program on “regular” tv means spending about 1/3 of your time being bombarded by ads.
When I encounter “regular” tv, it’s the advertising that I find most striking—the show is interrupted so often, and for so long! And so many of the ads are sooooo bad (really, whoever’s spending money on “Rediscover Your Oil City” might as well take the money and staple it to the ice catchers).
Many 19th century novels (think Charles Dickens) weren’t really meant to be novels, but the collected chapters of weekly magazine serials. Collected episodes of tv series might also be the birth of a new form, a long rambling narrative that can’t be viewed in one sitting, yet works better as one big work than it does as many little pieces. NCIS, Arrested Development, Lost—all somehow more interesting in large continuous chunks than as weekly bits. Do be careful of the classic shows—they aren’t always as good as you remember (sorry, F-Troop).
Being freed of “regular” tv also means being freed of the clock. The network schedule doesn’t tell me when things stop and start.
I confess that there have been times when I have really missed having something stupid to do while I turn off my brain. For that sort of brain novacain, nothing beats television. But it turns out that with practice, I can get used to having my brain awake and working more hours of every day. And occasional bouts of restlessness sure beat discovering that I’ve just had several hours sucked out of my life by a show so stupid that even the bacteria on the tv screen are insulted by it.
I know there are folks who felt sure I’d eventually fold and go back to “regular” tv. I wondered myself if this would be a short-lived experiment. But between dvds, the internet, books, music, the river and the bike trail, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.


Condatis said...

Nice :)

babs m said...

Absolutely I agree that watching series on DVD is far superior to watching week by week, for both the attention span AND for the lack of advertising thereon.

I added the upper level cable channels to get access to one specific network and I can't help but think it ridiculous that with 200+ channels, its nearly impossible to find something good to watch when you turn on the set!

Good work--best wishes!


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