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I Turned Off The TV and This Is What Happened

tv modifiedThere is so much we don’t know.

It’s been called the “scientific age” but we can’t even answer the question “Why do our feet stick to the ground?” To say ‘Gravity’ isn’t an answer. It’s simply what we say when our feet stick to the ground.

In the midst of this info age, technology is often heralded as a great help to us all. And it can be: I too marvel at MRI machines and microwaves.

But get this: In 1965, because of all this technology, a Senate committee predicted that people would soon be working 22 hours a week and retiring at age 38.

Um, no.

Apparently we don’t have that much vision.

A few years ago I started cutting back on my TV-watching. I don’t ever think I had a huge TV appetite, but the thing I noticed was all the violence I was subjecting my brain to. I liked crime shows but got sick of hearing how pedophiles brains work and how many ways there are to murder someone. Sure they usually caught the bad guy, but the loser was my own brain.

And I mean that literally.

I read a book called Dispatches On The Future of Science, and I learned more about ‘mirror neurons’ in the brain. Basically when you watch violence the same neurons are firing as if you were committing the act yourself. The same goes for vile language or pornography or video games or whatever else. Our brains have the capacity to know it’s “not me,” but the brain is still actually being effected.

Since all that I drastically reduced TV in my life.

But the reason wasn’t just because I wanted to be more positive and have fewer weird dreams.

It was because I wanted much of my life back. The biggest vacuum in your home doesn’t have a hose attached to it.

Want to know your priorities? Look at what you spend your time doing.

I realized how much of my time was being consumed by TV. I would be tired at the end of a long day and putting kids to bed, and so the temptation would always be to zone out. So on would come the TV.

But I’m pretty sure I was never really enriched (or relaxed) by it.

I cut everything out but one show; and I only watch new episodes. And what is the result?

I spend more time outside and on walks (and therefore feel calmer and more connected to the world).

I feel there’s more room to breathe in my day. I’m less rushed.

I get more sleep.

I feel richer: I read more (novels, theology, and my Bible), I write letters (actual letters with stamps!), and have so many more in-depth conversations with my wife.

All relationships improve.

TV is often a slow slide into the home. In his now famous book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam surveys massive changes to our communities and describes the privatization of family time. In the evenings people used to go out to parks and ball diamonds, get engaged in civic activities, and be engaged in church and other volunteer organizations.

Now, most people get home and watch TV in their less-connected communities.

Why are so many people so dedicated to escaping their own lives?

But all of that is really beyond this blog. And I know that some TV can have benefits. But I just want to highlight that by being more mindful about its role in my life, my new habits have made me:

  • more active
  • richer
  • more positive
  • better read
  • more connected
  • a better husband, father and pastor

TV was withdrawing me from the here-ness and now-ness of my own life. At it’s best, TV that is healthy can be some relaxation now and then. At it’s worse it handcuffs you into a world that is not your own.

I stopped watching some of my favourite shows. And and I don’t miss them one bit. In fact, I’m a happier person.

I want to leave the final word on this one with Cryrstina Leonard, a mom I know, who shared with me a similar experience. Here’s what she says:

“As a mom, I have a difficult time appreciating cable and television. I always found that regardless of the boundaries that I tried to set for programming and television time limits, my family would end up watching more television than I liked, or would drift over to watching some shows that I didn’t always approve of. To be honest, a lot of the programming out there for our children and youth isn’t great.

We have a beautiful maple tree in our backyard. It sits directly in front of our satellite. Reception has never been a problem before, but this year it became a problem as the leaves came out in full force. For the first time, we were without cable. To me, it was a blessing in disguise. My husband was prepared to pay the costs to relocate the satellite or find other cable alternatives. I was not. We eventually came to an agreement. We would put the satellite on vacation mode for the summer, just until the leaves fell off the tree.

There was a bit of grumbling in the beginning. We adapted by buying a few movies that we all approved of at the five dollar bin at Walmart. As the weather grew warmer, I found my kids outside more and finding other activities to do. My husband and I noticed that the kids were actually getting along better than when we had cable.

Not having cable for the last four months has proved to be fruitful. The kids still have their sibling squabbles. However, I noticed everyone’s behaviour and health has started to shift toward the good. It has opened the door to having more one on one time with my kids. My son and I started reading a couple of verses of the bible together at the breakfast table each morning. We have had more opportunities to talk about God and pray together.

We definitely have been able to connect more one on one than if we would have had cable.”

What a great experience and perspective.

Is TV a guest in your house? Or is it the squatter that is now the boss?

Be mindful. Live life. And make sure you’re the one controlling the remote.

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3 Comments »

  1. You are aright, of course. In retirement I do watch quite a bit of t.v. but mostly political and news shows. However, even those have the ability to mess with the brain! I am going to send your comments to our two children who between them have four kids of an age where t.v. could well become or already is predominant in their lives. Good stuff.

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    • Hi Tony. There is a tonne of content on T.V., including what you name, and also sports games, movies etc. So I think the name of the game, in my view, is being mindful of the input. Part of the challenge with kids—apart from content—is that the screen shots move quickly at rates I’m not sure young brains can handle. Plus, I wonder at how much advertising we get bombarded with. In the book “Raising Boys by Design” by Jantz and Gurian, there are some helpful hints on parameters around technology in the home especially with young people. Keep in mind that I’m definitely not perfect on any of this stuff, but it’s some food for thought, that’s for sure!

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  2. Hi Matthew.
    You are so right!
    I found that every time we had a storm (this year there were a lot) my cable went out. It actually went out on our whole street. Every time it went out, I had to call it in and then had to take time off work so I could be home so they could call me to make sure it was fixed. My neighbours had to do the same. After about three or four storms, we all got tired of calling it in and all waited for the other to do it. But no one did it. There was a period of time where we were with out cable for six weeks. I actually don’t know when it came back on that time, as I never bothered to turn it on to see if it was fixed. I just know that one day after six weeks of being with out cable, I turned it on and there is was.
    And you know what. I didn’t miss it. Yes, at first I missed shows like Breakfast Television that were a part of my morning routine, or when there was a special show on, like when Deric Ruttan was on that I was kind of miffed at myself for not pursuing getting it back on. But for the most part, I didn’t miss it.

    I find my cat keeps me entertained a lot better than the tv does, or a good book will engage me for hours.

    Thank you for sharing your blog with us. I always get something out of it. xo
    Judy

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