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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


A life-changing event, 5 years later

Two weeks after the birth of our daughter, my life changed. OK, my life changed at the birth of my daughter, too, but every parent has that story. This story is different. Other people may share it, but fewer. It is less common and, therefore, maybe of some interest to a few people out there. Or maybe nobody. Maybe it's just me. Who knows. Maybe I'm not actually interested either? I'm digressing: the topic of this article is television.

At the time, my wife's parents (half of them anyway) were visiting, and we had just returned from Nebraska Furniture Mart after purchasing a new washing machine to replace the one that had just died. My stepfather-in-law turned on the TV to watch Sci-Fi channel or something like that, and all that appeared on the screen was a thin horizontal line of light across the center.

Since this was an "old school" CRT-type TV, it probably meant the tube or controller needed repaired or replaced, and any way you looked at it, it'd be expensive. Not about to put any money into fixing a low-end, 15-year-old, obsolete TV, we decided to get a new one. So, after the in-laws left, we packed up baby and booked it once more to Nebraska Furniture Mart, itching to drop some cash on one of those new-fangled LCD or Plasma TVs that many others had already spent big bucks on.

So, my wife and I wandered up and down the isles of flat panels, swatting at the eager salespeople like so many gnats in button-down shirts. On the way there, I had internally set a limit of $500. That limit was blown out of the water fairly quickly. Flat panels weren't exactly new at the time, and many people had them already, but they weren't nearly as cheap as they are today. Some were very good and very expensive; some were very crappy and slightly less expensive. $500 would have gotten me something little better than a computer monitor but with crappy resolution. So we settled in on the $700 range, some were acceptable, but most weren't all that great either. Then I'd notice that the "next one up" was "only $50 more", and the "next one up" from that was "only $50 more"…

Soon I was staring at an inarguably awesome flat panel. It was large. It was crisp. It was clear. It had great audio. It was… $1500. I turned to my wife and asked if it was a good idea. My wife, who is not exactly fiscally conservative when it comes to purchases, said something morally equivalent to "Sure!" So, we stood, together, united in our purpose. We were undivided! We were going to spend $1500… on a… television…?

As I was trying to flag down one of those salespeople who, earlier, I had had to beat away with the diaper bag, the real me kicked in. You see, I am a fiscal conservative when it comes to purchases, and by that I mean spending money on things unrelated to food and shelter causes me great emotional and mental anguish. "What the fuck am I doing?" my brain shouted, "$1500 for a fucking television?! I only watch fucking Discovery, Science, and History channels!" I'm paraphrasing: there may have been more mental cursing involved. If you are offended by cursing, please do not read the previous few sentences.

In that moment, I had an epiphany of Revelation intensity: I didn't need a TV. I only watched three channels, and hated most everything else available. The reality TV revolution was in full force, and unfortunately, and by definition, the revolution was being televised. That meant at least half of the programming available consisted mainly of shaky cameras filming "real" people yelling at each other, or "real" people in elaborately constructed and utterly pointless competitions, and most of the time: both.

So, I again turned to my wife, and said "I don't think we should get this." "OK, which one should we get? The $900 one?" "No, I don't think we should get any TV." My wife, who didn't watch TV except for very very occasionally watching the Game Show network, said "Are you sure? … Yes? OK, lets go."

We called up Time Warner and told them to drop all cable services except internet (that we do use), moved the broken TV to the garage, and put a computer monitor in its place as the "media center".

That was nearly 5 years ago. I haven't missed it. I haven't missed flipping trough 300 channels for 20 minutes and never finding anything. I haven't missed ending up watching a StarTrek rerun or some science documentary I'd seen 4 times already. I especially haven't missed being advertised at. I simply never missed TV after we ditched it. I found that if the TV wasn't there, I didn't feel the need to ask "Hey there, TV, would you mind attempting to entertain me for a few hours?".

When we go to my parents house or a hotel where TV/cable is available, my decision is reaffirmed: 20 minutes flipping though and I cannot find anything I want to watch. This goes double when we visit someone who does have TV, and is way too into it: The TV is always on, even during family get-togethers, set to some extremely vapid and annoying reality program (but I repeat myself), and is waaaaay too loud.

Full disclosure: we do have Netflix, and I do end up watching something on it a few times a week, especially in the winter. Total TV/movies I have watched in the past 30 days: 5 hours. That increases in those rare times whenever, say, the latest set of Mythbusters, Archer, or silly Britcom makes it to Netflix, but even then it's just a few hours a week.

One huge benefit is that our daughter has never had regular TV her whole life, and as such, rarely watches commercial TV. She usually watches between 20-45 minutes of programming a day, usually something like Dinosaur Train or Backyardagins on Netflix or PBS Kids. We grant her a "bedtime show" to help her relax before bed (nothing high-energy or exciting). We also use it occasionally to keep her busy while we are "having adult time" (or "fucking" as the kids these days euphemistically call it). But that's it, really.

I love that she's not staring at something stupid for hours a day like I did as a kid. I love that she's not being advertised at. When we go to a hotel and turn on the TV, she actually has a hard time figuring out why the show she's watching keeps getting interrupted by those annoying clips of kids playing with toys which, coincidentally, are available at Toys 'R Us. So that part of our decision has been great, too.

So far, the only downsides of not having TV have been:

  • I had no idea what those "Sham Wow" and "Slap Chop" things were that the guys at work were talking about / making fun of a few years back.
  • A few people have accused me of thinking I was better than them, which, if they are worried about that, then yes, I probably am.

That's about it. I don't watch sports, never liked reality TV, and rarely watched other non-science programming, so I was always out of the loop on those topics anyway.

All-in-all, I have no regrets, and would encourage others to do it as well.