Confessions of a Television Addict

I have been a television addict for over a half-century and seen more fantastic visions than Thomas de Quincey ever did as an opium addict.  I’ve always planned my schedule around TV viewing and although I think of myself as a bookworm, I spend far more hours watching rather than reading and probably should consider myself a tubeworm.

On a number of occasions throughout my life I’ve tried to go cold-turkey from the glass teat, as Harlan Ellison used to refer to television.  I’ve never succeeded for long.  My wife and I have two DVRs, each capable of recording two shows at once, and there are times when I want more.  We have a 56″ high definition television that we stare at for hours and hours each week, and our cable bill is $120 a month.  (This doesn’t count the $80 my wife spends at her M-F apartment out of town with a third DVR.)  Every evening after work I look at TV Guide’s excellent online grid schedule to plan my evening’s fix – juggling the hours to watch and record.

Since I can’t watch as fast as I can find good shows I want to watch my DVR is always near full and I’m constantly forced to offload shows to my DVD recorder.  Mostly I prefer documentaries, but I do love movies on TCM, and a some regular TV shows like Lost, ER, Gray’s Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory, Survivor, Masterpiece, and a few others.

Unfortunately, this means all my best free time is taken up in front of the boob tube, although I prefer to think of it as my sixth sense that watches out over the world and universe.  My high definition channels PBS, Discover, National Geographic, History, keep me well educated about what’s going on beyond what I can see for myself.  Sure there are plenty of nights when there is nothing on, but I don’t ever complain that television is a vast wasteland.  It’s a cultural fire hose.

Even though I value television immensely, I often feel I should cut back on my watching, or even give it up entirely for stretches at a time.  There is more to life than vicarious living through video.  I tell myself I need a balance.  More and more I find it grating that my cable bill is $120 a month.  On one hand I couldn’t get anywhere near that much entertainment value for my buck elsewhere, but on the other hand it seems extravagant.  Now that I’m thinking about retirement and living cheaply, it seems like a big expense.

I’d also like to live a more varied lifestyle, put more of my off-work hours into other hobbies and exercise, so I’m toying once again with cutting back on my television addiction.  And I’ve thought of a simple solution to try.  First I’d give up cable TV completely and buy an antenna for my HDTV.  That would reduce hundreds of channels down to four, and force me to live without DRVs.  Through my Netflix account I can make up for TCM, HBO and other premium channels.  And through the Internet I could supplement my television diet with and other online video sources.  I could maintain my addictive lifestyle and save $1500 a year, but that’s not the ultimate goal.

To tell the truth this solution still leaves me with too much choice.  What I’d really like to do is spend all of my extra time on writing fiction, web development and blogging – activities that are a bit more mentally demanding, but I see this plan as the first steps of weaning myself off my TV addiction.  I don’t want to give up TV, but get my use under control.

To tell the truth, I loved the way television was back in the 1950s and 1960s when there was little choice and most people watched the same shows.  I enjoy Survivor now because it ignites so much conversation between people I know.  Ditto for Lost.  I wouldn’t watch Survivor if it was only me, but I like Lost enough to watch it if I had no one to share with, but I enjoy it best when I get to jabber with other fans.

I’ve been seeing news stories about our lives being too full, and that we try to multitask too much, and that some people get more done by doing less.  I think this current urge to cut back on cable TV coincides with that national trend.  It is fantastic that cable television can offer so many types of shows, but this diversity of choice has negative attributes too.  As we get more choice my wife and I find less to watch together.  As I get more choice I find even more to watch.  What I would really like is the discipline to only watch one show a day – be it an over-the-air TV show, Netflix movie, or a DVD documentary.

I couldn’t pursue this experiment if my wife lived at home during the week – she’s a worse TV addict than I am.  She’s agreed to let me follow my abnormal inclination until she gets to move back home.  I think part of my drive to explore these changes in lifestyle is because I’ve been thinking so much about retirement.  I figure if I’m not going to work then I need to be more active.  TV is okay if you work hard all day and want to come home and relax, but I worry what TV would do to me if I had all day and evening to watch.

This reminds me of a book I once read called Positive Addiction.  It was the author’s belief that to get rid of a negative addiction you needed to substitute it with a positive addiction.  I’m hoping I’ll get addicted to writing and web programming, as well as more exercise and yard work.  Hell, I might even lose my coach potato paunch.

My plan is to turn in my cable boxes next Saturday unless I lose my will.  I’m sure whatever happens will lead to another post.


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