Sorry TV, we just don’t need you anymore.
When meeting new people most aren’t that surprised by our desire to travel the world, few are daunted by our outspoken rejection of the broken corporate lifestyle and most aren’t put off by the fact that we eat like cavemen – but there is one thing about us that consistently shocks people.
We don’t own a TV.
I guess it’s telling of the hold that television has on us culturally that, of all the ways in which we lead our lives down the path of non-conformity, it’s the absence of a flashing advertisement box that most people find inconceivable.
So why don’t we own one? I think Jonathan Fields Milburn of The Minimalists answers that question best saying, “Because I’d watch it. A lot.” Just in case that isn’t good enough for you though, I’ve put together a list of six reasons why we think owning a TV is a terrible idea.
I have to credit my friends Jason and David for making the time thing click in my brain. In high school they were both crazy about the show 24. At the time it was considered really clever that it was one full day of 24 one hour episodes. When they explained it to me, I realized that meant that if you never miss an episode, you’re losing an entire 24 hour day to vegetating in front of the television.
That realization was a wake-up call for me, but as it turns out it gets much worse.
According to Nielsen in 2010 the average American watches five hours of television per day. Five hours. If you add all of that together that means you’ll spend 35 hours in front of the TV each week, about 150 hours each month and 1,825 hours each year.
So if you’re an average TV watcher every year you lose 76 full days to TV. About two months out of every year go solely to watching TV. Assuming an average lifespan that comes out to at least 12.5 years of your life sitting in front of the TV.
I’ll understand if you just threw up a little.
Twelve and a half years is a complete lifetime for some people. To think that sheer amount of time could be spent on something as wasteful as TV is mind-boggling.
Having a TV is expensive.
Beyond the initial cost of the actual television itself – which can be substantial if your ego demands you have the latest greatest HD flatscreen – there are all the ancillary costs to think about. There’s cable to pay for, premium movie channels, DVD or Blu-Ray players, a theater style sound system, movie rentals and purchases, even the electricity cost of having all those things (made words by the fact that TVs and cable boxes are notorious vampire appliances sucking up power even when turned ‘off’).
Add to that the fact that according to another report by Nielsen the average household had more TVs than people and you have a substantial initial investment followed by nearly as substantial recurring costs. Is it seriously worth it?
You could easily save $5,000 on the initial investment (I’ve seen people spend more than that on a single TV or sound system, so it’s a reasonable estimate) and then a good $1,000 or so each year on those incidental costs. Cable alone here in Cincinnati can run around $600 per year, and that’s not counting movie rentals premium channels or electricity.
I can think of tons of things I would rather spend an extra $600 a year on than something that wastes all my time.
3. Freedom from Advertising
In 2011 $72 Billion was spent on television advertising. That’s more than was spent in Internet, radio, newspaper and magazine ads combined. You might say they don’t affect you, but they do.
With an average of 8.5 minutes of commercials per half hour of television, that means you’ll spend twenty two days of your life, nearly a month, just watching advertisements.
Now I’m not necessarily saying that all advertising is evil, but in most cases it’s not necessary. It’s not meaningful. Though they are trying to persuade you otherwise, advertising is not going to substantially improve your life.
So why spend almost a month of your existence watching it?
4. Increased Creativity and Intelligence
Doing creative things or being exposed to creative activities directly correlates to being more creative overall. That means that engaging in a passive activity like watching television is likely to do little to nothing to help make you a more creative person. If you have goals like ours of pursuing a life based around achieving freedom by creating something meaningful and helpful to others, than damaging your creativity is like shooting yourself in the foot.
You may argue that some TV shows themselves are creative enough to be inspiring, but let’s be honest – 90% of what’s on TV is just a regurgitation of the same old tropes and themes. That’s not even counting the countless hours of reruns people sit through on a regular basis.
TV may also be causing you to miss out on the opportunity to be more intelligent. Studies (1, 2) suggest that reading has a direct positive affect on your intelligence. When you read a lot, you become smarter.
Conversely, other studies (1, 2) suggest that TV watching correlates strongly with decreased intelligence and poor educational performance.
In other words, people who read a lot are on average significantly smarter than those who watch a lot of TV.
Why spend five hours each day damaging your mind when you could be improving yourself?
5. Improved Sleep
Even though it’s frequently repeated that the best way to get a good night’s sleep is to stop any form of electronic entertainment at least an hour before bed, around 75% of people still report watching TV right up to when they go to sleep.
Is it any wonder than that terrible sleep quality, and all the physical problems associated with it, are a common woe in our society?
People who shut the television off more than an hour before bed consistently report an easier time getting to sleep, feeling more rested upon waking and having deeper, uninterrupted sleep patterns. That’s not even counting the habit of many to stay up late and sacrifice hours of sleep every night just to watch a specific show.
Considering most people already suffer from a severe lack of sleep it’s ridiculous to compound the problem with TV.
6. Higher Quality Relationships
When you’re not spending most of your family time silently transfixed on your flat screen an interesting thing tends to happen. You actually have conversations.
When you remove TV from the picture you have five more hours everyday to actually connect with your loved ones, or even to go out and meet new friends – something you can’t do sitting on your couch watching American Idol.
Don’t argue that you have to watch TV to be able to discuss all the popular shows with friends and coworkers. People have been having conversations just fine for all the millenia that preceded the invention of television. You’ll manage. Besides, the thought of spending five hours everyday on something that adds no value to my life just so I can spend more time talking about that thing that adds no value to my life makes me want to slam my head into the wall.
It’s better to spend time creating meaningful, valuable relationships than it is to sit in front of a box and drool.
As I mentioned before, TV is deeply ingrained in our cultural identity. As a result, suggestions to eliminate it are often met with fervent opposition or even, on one memorable occasion, genuine outrage.
That knee-jerk reaction tends to cause people to scramble for excuses for why a television is an essential part of their existence the loss of which would render their lives bleak and meaningless. Let’s look at some of the more common ones.
- TV entertains me / makes me happy / relaxes me, therefore those 5 hours each day are not wasted. – At first glance this sounds like a valid argument, particularly because who am I to say what you should judge as a worthwhile expenditure of your own time. The thing is if you take an honest look at some of the other things you could be doing, you’ll find there are plenty of activities that are equally entertaining, joyful or relaxing that have genuine positive benefits for your life and none of the damaging effects of constant TV viewing. While I can’t make the decision for you I’m certain if you made an effort you could easily find better things to fill that time.
- I only watch educational programs / documentaries. – Nice try, but even prolonged exposure to educational TV in children had an overall negative correlation with intelligence. Comparatively reading, including fiction, had a strong positive correlation on intelligence. Honestly, while there are some quality educational programs out there, the majority is Ancient Aliens, Ghost Hunters, Doomsday Preppers and similar drivel.
- I have to see what happens on [insert popular show here]! – You don’t. You really don’t. I understand that people often form extremely strong psychological bonds with characters on TV. That’s what the show’s writers, producers and actors are going for. In reality the world is not going to end if you miss your favorite show. Your life may actually improve because of it.
- I need it for the news. – Television is easily the worst medium for getting the daily news. Even excluding the fact that some national news networks have shown to actually leave people less informed than people who don’t watch news at all (*cough* Fox *cough*), it’s an overall inefficient medium. If I want to know what the latest developments on the Syria massacres are I can either sit through four hours of banal election coverage and punditry until they decide to run the story I’m waiting for, or I can just get online and find it. TV news forces you to sit through all the fluff for the stories you want, if your goal is to become informed it’s the very worst way to do it.
How to Kick the TV Habit
So you’ve come around and decided I have a good point, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to sell your flatscreen yet? The best way to do it is to ease into it. Commit to a full week with all your televisions unplugged and stashed away in a closet somewhere. Once you see a week’s not so bad, try thirty days.
Before long, you’ll find not only do you not miss it, when you do go back you’ll miss all the great things you did in its absence. Few things make you feel like you’ve got no time to get anything done than wasting that time on TV.
Honestly, once you’ve kicked the addiction you don’t have to completely swear off TV or media altogether. TV and movies done right and treated as a social experience can be a great way to connect with people. One of the best movies Caroline and I ever saw was the second Twilight movie – not because the movie was actually good, but because we went on a Wednesday on a school night to the 10:30 pm showing and had the theater to ourselves to play Statler and Waldorf.
For all the reasons I gave here, I really don’t think TV is pure evil. I like TV, just like everyone else. It’s the addiction that causes most of the problems.
We do subscribe to Netflix, and watch occasional things on Hulu for free (with AdBlock turned on mind you). Now, before you cry hypocrite, it’s an extremely rare thing. We go to great lengths to make sure that our TV time doesn’t cause a detriment to the rest of our lives and average about a single half hour show a night and the occasional movie ever other weekend or so.
They key is finding the right balance.
If you are going to try to kick the habit I would suggest going a full month with no TV – including things like Netflix – before slowly reintroducing it in moderation. We’ve fallen victim to compulsive marathons of shows we really like in the past, and it doesn’t help if you’re replacing five hours of TV with five hours of Netflix.
Do you think you can toss out your TV? Have you actually done it, or tried to do it? Do you have any other suggestions, or do you think I’m out of my mind? Leave a comment!
Photo Credit: TJDewey