Turn off the box

I don’t watch Television.


That’s often the reaction I get when I tell people that I don’t watch TV. Usually followed by “But what about the news?”1 and “Well, actually I don’t watch much TV either”2.

It started in November of 2002. I had found myself whining about the fact that I never seemed to have the time to do all the things that I wanted to do. But somehow I seemed to have the time to watch 5, 10, 15 hours of TV each week. 15 hours seems like a lot, doesn’t it? A couple of hours a night (news + current affairs program + one one-hour show) and a few more on the weekend and wham, there’s 15-16 hours a week. Easier than you thought.

Some close friends of ours had made a conscious choice not to have a TV when they first had kids. And seven or so years later, somehow they had managed to not only survive, but had remained interesting, well-informed people and wonderful parents.

I didn’t like the look on my son’s face when he was watching TV. Next time you see someone watching TV, look at their face. Have a good look. Adjectives that will come to mind may include slack, unresponsive, dull, and glazed. It’s not an attractive sight. I suspected that the same look was on my face when I was watching TV.

This thinking was happening while we were living in a small apartment while our house was being renovated. The TV reception was poor, so the kids tended to choose to watch videos rather than TV shows. So my wife and I decided that when we moved back home, it would be without TV. The kids could watch videos when they were having their afternoon rest and we would still watch films when we liked, but no broadcast television. Scary stuff. So I de-tuned all the channels from the TV and the VCR and we returned home.

The first week or two was a bit strange. But not quite the type of “strange” that I expected. For starters, the kids didn’t even ask for the TV. We hadn’t actually told them yet that we were deleting television from our lives, so we were expecting some sort of protest (Daniel was 4 and a half and Laura was almost 3 at the time). But nothing! And almost two years later, Daniel has only asked once: Dad, can I watch kids shows on TV? No Daniel, we don’t watch TV – but you can watch a video at rest time. Oh, all right Dad. Hey, do you want to play footy?

I started wondering what exactly I’d got from literally years of watching TV. Oh sure, I’ve reminisced plenty of times with friends over the TV shows we watched as kids or talked about current shows. And they are pretty good memories. But having spend thousands of hours watching TV to come up with a bunch of “X was a really good show”, “Hey, Y was a really good show”, “Yeah man, Y was really excellent” is a bit tragic, don’t you think? And the advertising! How many thousands of hours of our lives do we waste watching advertising? Which, by the way, has a crap/usefulness ratio that is orders of magnitude higher than TV, who’s C/U ratio is already pretty huge.

I’d spent a lot of time in my 20s regretting not learning how to play a musical instrument. I’d always kicked myself about not having read enough literary classics. Not having learned another language. Not spending enough time with my wife and kids. Not having seen enough classic films. But now I’ve deleted TV. I’ve learned how to play the guitar, have read more in the past two years than I did in the preceding ten, have seen most of the films on my ‘must see’ list, have started to learn modern Greek, and am more than happy with the amount of time I get to spend with my family. And I’ve started a blog 🙂

My lesson? Delete TV, create your life.

1 TV news is the equivalent of going through a tabloid newspaper in about 10 minutes, only reading the headlines and the first paragraph of each story. Because you read a lot faster than having someone read to you, you would save 20 minutes a day by scanning a tabloid over watching the evening news. So I don’t need TV to keep up-to-date with current events. Our household has The Age delivered, and there is more news and opinion on the web than anyone could ever digest, and the vast majority has far more depth and quality than anything you’ll find on TV. And the rare quality stuff that you find on TV usually has a transcript published on the web.

2 The “I don’t watch much TV” club is a very large one, with a simple requirement for membership: knowing of someone – anyone – that watches more TV than you. The “I don’t watch TV” club appears to be much smaller (but it would be great if it were considerably larger!).

Interesting Reading
Why reading is more fun than TV.
Report slams TV ‘damage’ to young.
Flow: What’s worth living for? You won’t experience any watching TV.

3 Replies to “Turn off the box”

  1. I have been @ my husband for ~ 10 yrs that TV occupies far too much of his home time. Having being brought up in an environment where the TV was never on @ dinner time, TV was banned before school and could only be watched after school homework and piano practise was complete. Sure, I could never really participate in conversations about most TV shows @ school but it was little bother to me.

    To this day, TV is not a necessity in my life as it is for my husband. He switches the TV on 1st thing when he gets up in the morning & leaves it on all day (even when he goes out). The 42″ plasma was a huge mistake! Not to mention the reduction of its life span if left on when not in use.

    My (almost) 4 mth old son is fed in the living area where the TV resides. The colours and moving images are a huge attraction to him. If you obstruct his view, he will move so that he can see the TV again. An addiction already brewing @ 4 mths old!! Whenever hubby is at work, the TV is off and @ feed time I make eye contact with my son who is staring back @ me wide eyed. We even manage to talk to eachother. My husband feeds him with his undivided attention on the box!

    Even cartoons aren’t what I recall them to be in my day. Gone are the days of innocent cartoons with gentle, lovable characters.


    My husband has admitted to watching too much TV and has agreed to cut the amount of TV watched after I forced him to read “Turn off the box”. Thnx Red 🙂

    Perhaps I’ll post in 5 yrs time and let you know how much TV my son actually watches per week. If I have things my way, it’ll be close to none.

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