ABOUT TWO years ago, I stopped owning a TV.
That is, your traditional boob tube, the kind of giant flat screen that comes in a cardboard box with too much packaging from the aisles of Costco. I left the ranks of the enthralled when I was living in Portland, Oregon, where young people go to retire. My roommate at the time and I always had the TV on, its soothing sound waves of reality TV a lullaby to many dreary, rainy nights. Turning on the TV became a near-automatic impulse. From the minute I walked in the door, kicked off my shoes and dropped my purse in my room, my hands gravitated toward the remote control, for the little red button that would grant transport me to another a world with just a click – “All ON.”
During the dark, wet winters of Portland, there wasn’t much else to do except stay huddled indoors, playing trivia (“quizzies,” as they were called) at the hipster dive bar with a leaky roof, or drinking hot, freshly-brewed coffee by the TV. Like a fireplace, the television set was the focal source of warmth in the living room. You were naturally drawn to it, not for the heat, but for the sense of community and emotional connection over yet another marathon episode of “Pawn Stars” or “America’s Next Top Model.” It didn’t really matter what we were watching, just that we were watching something together. For me, TV was how I survived months of skies filled with gray clouds and no sunlight.
When she and I decided to part ways, I moved into a tiny 300-square-foot studio in Northwest Portland. She took the flat screen TV; I didn’t bother to replace it. I didn’t have the space for it and, anyway, now the onus of paying a monthly Internet-plus-cable bill was all on me. There was no one else to share the cost, and I was on a very tight budget. So for six months, I didn’t have an Internet connection. And I didn’t have a TV.
At first, it was terrifying. All that empty silence. But over time, I grew to love it, because I filled the void with a bounty of intellectually-satisfying pursuits. Suddenly, I was trying new recipes on the stove. No longer attached to the screen, I noticed the surroundings of my studio. I walked to the nearby park more often, I took a trip to the co-op around the corner. For the first time since I moved to Portland, I picked up a pencil and drew. Sketches upon sketches of fashion illustrations that I began submitting to indie art shows. Freed from the endless stream of media pouring into my thoughts, I found my creative drive. I read more books. I discovered more new music. I daydreamed. And with that daydreaming, I nourished a new sense of self, the part of me that loves learning and exploring new ideas. Turning off the TV was simply the impetus for a passion I had all along.
Ever since then, I haven’t felt the need, ever, for a TV again. Granted, now I have Internet in Palm Springs, and access to Hulu, Netflix, Flixster, YouTube and a horde of other video-streaming websites. And sure, they limit the amount of media-free time I allow for myself. But I try to keep my media time to a minimum. If I had to sum it up per day, it would probably be around one to two hours. That’s down from probably five to six hours during the cable-TV days. I don’t plan to buy a TV anytime soon – even if that means I have to miss out on the latest episode of “New Girl.” I’m not that sad about it, honestly – I’ve got “Cosmos” on Hulu instead.
How about you? Do you still own a TV, or do you feel like you no longer need one?