In the last few weeks I’ve found myself answering a question that, nine months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be answering.
Before my mum has a meltdown over my not telling her that a) I got pregnant, and b) had a child (I didn’t, and I haven’t), I’ll disclose that for nearly a year now, I’ve lived TV-free.
“You what?!” is generally the shocked response I’m met with.
“I don’t watch television,” I reply. And I begin my explanation hoping the person opposite me hasn’t already written me off as some wanker-yuppy who thinks they’re too good for popular culture. (I think in some suburbs those people are called hipsters.)
It began as an experiment. My man (let’s call him Steve) gently pitched the idea to me one summer evening.
“What do you think about not watching TV for a month?” he asked.
My racing brain knew the correct answer should be a resounding ‘yes!’ but I hesitated. It sounded like a big commitment.
We never really flicked on the telly to watch commercial TV for the sake of it. We’d mainly watch movies and documentaries… the cycling whenever it was on. But we’d grown into a comfortable habit of relying on the box perhaps a little too much.
I imagined post-dinner walks down to the park on balmy nights and adventures to the cinema on Saturdays.
“No TV for 30 days? Not even films?” I tested him.
“I want to unplug it and put it away,” Steve answered. (I promise I could hear in his voice a hint of delight at seeing me squirm.)
Deciding it was best not to over-think the situation, I agreed, and after the last… God-damned. Cricket. Match…aired, our unsuspecting television was ripped from the wall and stowed away.
We rearranged the living room – setting up the furniture to suit the space and our weekends, rather than to face the box.
It instantly felt like a room; more a place for reading and relaxing than fighting with rabbit ears and yelling at cringe-worthy commercials (I have a bad habit of yelling at the TV).
We ate dinner at the dining table. Eating meals became more about the food I’d spent time preparing, and less about the ingenuity of 30 Rock (as ingenious as it is).
We had conversations. And I remembered that while there’s no feeling quite like that of laugh-choking on a forkful of roast lamb at a classic Tina Fey one-liner, an even better feeling comes from sharing a meal with the person you love most.
We read more; period. I’ve read more books this past nine months than I have in the last two years. After spending my days staring at a screen, I’ve found that turning fibre pages has become one of the best ways to slow… down… and… unwind.
But what am I missing out on? Surely there are downsides to a TV-free life?
While I think about the answer to that, I’ll quickly disclose that we don’t forgo all moving picture fun…
We do stream the latest episodes of Modern Family and 30 Rock on the laptop (we call it Ghetto-Vision) as they air in the US. I’ll often be re-quoting Jack Donaghy before you even knew there was a new season…
(Jack: How many Pokemons are there? Zarena: Jack, the plural of Pokemon is Pokemon! And, Liz: How do you sleep at night, Jack? Jack: I don’t. I take thousands of micro-naps during the day.)
I don’t mind this so much because we’re actively seeking out what we want to watch – not flicking on mindlessly and watching ‘whatever’s on’ for the sake of it.
Even Liz Lemon’s cheering for my giving up TV…
Back to the downsides…
And I’m yet to come up with one. I’m no less able to contribute to conversations socially. Between Facebook and Twitter I know enough about the latest flop reality TV shows, politician fails and sports match victories to get by.
I always know what’s going on in the world because I get news online (and it’s kind of my job to stay on top of it.)
And if I absolutely can’t go on without seeing something that was televised, most networks have catch-up options for online viewing.
You might have worked out that what started as a 30-day experiment has evolved into a lifestyle change.
It’s not that I think I’m above TV. I don’t have anything against people who do enjoy it. Rather, it’s something I’ve realised I don’t actually need.
And in this busy, distracting world of overconsumption, minimising even a little excess ‘noise’ certainly makes for a more peaceful life.
To humour myself, I dug up a few quick facts about television that caught my attention (you can fill your mind with some amazing stuff when you’re not just tickling it with US sitcoms!):
- Australians spend an average of 100 hours a month watching TV. According to Nielsen, this figure is still on the rise.
- In 1992, Newsweek reported that TV was used to ‘babysit’ prison inmates. Similarly, it was used as a disciplinary tool and was awarded or removed depending on prisoners’ behaviour.
- Television can improve learning and cognitive development in children who come from non-English-speaking households and whose parents have lower levels of education. (I, for one will vouch for Sesame Street having had a positive influence on my childhood. I still ‘Sing Myself Silly’.)
- It was found that introducing cable TV to rural India improved the status of women. Evidence suggests that communities with TV encouraged greater autonomy in women and were less tolerant of violence towards women.
- In 2009, the Australian Government launched Get Up & Grow: a five year initiative designed to tackle obesity in early childhood through recommending guidelines around eating and physical activity. It is advised that children under 5 spend no more than one hour per day sitting and watching TV.
- And, if you’re a number-cruncher, Australian researchers found that every hour of television you watch reduces your life expectancy by 22 minutes.
Have you considered giving up TV? Have you already?
Perhaps it’s something you might try… just as an experiment?
*Hayley (The Hoopla’s Managing Editor) is passionate about publishing positive, real content for women and girls. Her background in marketing, advertising and design has seen her work closely with many brands for women over the past six years, including a collection of titles at Pacific Magazines. She f*cking loves science, cycling, cats, sloths, fibre media, eating and cooking good food, and women doing great things. You can follow her on Twitter: @Hayley_Gleeson.