How I Turned Off the Moving Pictures and Gave Up Television
A New Era of Television
On June 12, 2009, television stations were required to change their broadcasting methods from analog to digital. What this meant was that unless you had a device that was compatible with digital signals, you would not be able to receive any transmissions that allowed you to watch programs. Before this date, practically any TV in the country could be turned on and the viewer would be able to watch the evening news, sports programs, situation comedies or any media that was locally available on the airwaves. On this date, the government agency known as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted rules that changed the way all stations could disseminate their signals to the public,
A Brief History of Television
When looking through the many reference resources available - most of them online - I discovered some discrepancies concerning the official history of television. I did see some similarities and will describe them briefly. This is not supposed to be an article about television, but rather an argument of why Americans in particular have become too dependent upon television and why this device is unnecessary.
The television was invented sometime in the 1920's but didn't become popular in the United States until the mid 1950's. In 1948, three major networks appeared: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Those are the ones with which most people are probably familiar. When the television first came out, a set cost roughly $1,000 which may seem like an exorbitant amount, but given that the technology was new and probably had a high demand, seems an appropriate price. Readers of this article might recall the first cost of the first computers, the VCR's or even the portable DVD players that are now readily available for a fraction of their original cost.
As we moved into the 1960's, more programs became available and news broadcasts were popular. In the 1980's cable emerged as well as other networks such as FOX and almost every household in the United States either had a television or access to one. TVs could be found in waiting rooms at the doctors office and local stores had a wide arrange of models to choose from, ranging in sizes that were portable to examples that could practically take up an entire wall.
Televisions Come in All SizesClick thumbnail to view full-size
How Many Televisions Do You Own?
Brief History (cont.)
There was a time in this country - back when there were still only three networks - that television stations would actually go off the air - usually around midnight or a little after. You would see a video that played that national anthem and usually showed patriotic images: soldiers in colonial dress, jet aircraft flying in formation, or scenes of National Parks. After this video, the station would announce it was concluding broadcasting for the day and you would then see what was called "snow".
There were rarely any stations that would broadcast 24 hours and the only real cable channel was HBO which basically showed movies that had finished their theatrical runs and were soon to be available on VHS tapes. To have cable in these days was sort of a "thing" and wasn't very common. There were a few people in my neighborhood that had this luxury and stations like HBO really did not do their own productions like they do today. The only thing they provided was access to films that a viewer could enjoy in the comfort of their own home.
Some Logos from the 1980sClick thumbnail to view full-size
Some Staggering Facts
Humanity is so connected today. Cellular phones are ubiquitous, even in third world countries and the internet is in fact, the world wide web it professes to be. For anyone who has been to a restaurant, movie theater, or driven down the freeway, seeing another carrying a portable phone in their hands isn't an unusual site. I myself have witnessed joggers or groups of friends walking in the mall, carrying on conversations or texting messages in public. These observations are a bit curious because I don't understand why someone needs to be distracted by a conversation with another who is possibly on the other side of the planet, while they are in the company of friends or supposed to be looking over a menu.
When television first became popular in the 1950's, there were social observers who coined the term "idiot box" to describe the implications the device had on the public consciousness. One man called TV, "a vast wasteland" and many people were spending hours in front of a set that glowed and showed moving pictures with sound bites and characters talking to one another. These characters who are interacting in a make believe landscape are portrayed by people - actors - we don't even know personally. These are people who are pretending to be someone they are not, behave in make believe situations and earn more money than most of us could in ten lifetimes. All this is done for our amusement or to distract us from accomplishing greater goals.
According to statistics, most people spend a almost a quarter of their entire 24 hour day in front of the television. If you do the math, this equates to roughly three months annually. Children actually spend the least time in front of the TV and the habit is one that seems to increase as one becomes older. The chart below is compiled from statistics provided by the Nielsen Report which monitors television viewing habits.
It is truly staggering to think that the average 30 year old spends roughly two entire months in front of the television set. Should they have pursued a second full time job and worked that much time, they would have spent nearly half a year at this second career.
The Average Time Americans Spend Watching Television by Age
Hours Spent Watching TV Each Week
Average Annual Consumption
24 hrs 16 min
20 hrs 41 min
22 hrs 27 min
27 hrs 36 min
33 hrs 40 min
43 hrs 56 min
50 hrs 34 min
Television: the Idiot Box and a Vast WastelandClick thumbnail to view full-size
How much time do you spend watching TV each day?
Stopping the Moving Pictures
Certainly it can be said that TV is a nice distraction. One doesn't have to think and images - often entertaining or aesthetically pleasing - are delivered to you directly while you sit on the couch, relax after a shower, or prepare and consume a delicious meal. You can watch a situation comedy during the evening hours - prime time as it is referred to in the parlance of the profession - and not have to think. You can laugh at other people's foibles and be amused at the antics acted out on a magical box that you share your room with. All these images are really are just pictures that move - with no real purpose in mind - and make sounds and speak in voices - with very little meaning. Again and again, the same pictures and such.
nothing on TVClick thumbnail to view full-size
My Brief Experience with Cable
I spent quite a bit of time with my television on prior to June 2009. Usually I left it on for background noise and would keep it on to anticipate the shows I really wanted to watch - late night talk shows mostly. When regular TV went off the air, I didn't go out and buy a new antenna. I waited a bit and debated whether I should or not. When an offer from the cable company came, I decided to try it out for a little bit. After all, the bundle included Wi-Fi - which is what I really wanted - and a telephone line - which I didn't need.
My experience with cable television taught me one thing: TV is an unnecessary luxury. I tried finding some interesting shows to watch and the ones that I picked were rebroadcast several times a day - every day. There was a lot of reality television programming and most of the shows were very similar: for example there were several that involved fixing up a business establishment: Restaurant Rescue and Bar Rescue are two examples. These were no different than the house fix up programs either which were very common. They all involved the similar idea of taking an ordinary establishment that wasn't doing too well as a business and fixing it up and making it into something nice that made money. The exact format was the same for all the programs involved and for every episode of each program. It was very formulaic and there was little to distinguish the episodes other than the fact that new people in a different city were involved for each Rescue episode.
There were a few other examples of shows that I found appealing: How It's Made and 1,000 Ways to Die were a couple of others that come to mind right now. But they were repeated several times each day - it almost seemed as if there were channels that showed the same program continuously and there were over 500 channels I could access with my cable option. Then I also realized that some of the shows like 1,000 Ways to Die or Worlds Dumbest Criminals really were not that entertaining. I found myself entertained and laughing at situations that really were not that funny. Most of the stories focused on someone else's misfortunes or bad luck and the stories were anything but humorous.
I didn't like the person I was becoming because of these television shows and I could sense my brain morphing into something that I wasn't sure it could recover from. At this point, I realized how toxic television programming is. I found some of the music options nice, there were about another five hundred of those available, maybe more. The range of music was large and I found myself finding songs that I had forgotten about or discovering new artists I wanted to hear more of. This was a nice option but I didn't want to spend my cable television bill on a radio station and of course, there was always the danger of being distracted by the visual programming as long as it was available in the house.
In case you have never seen 1,000 Ways to Die:
Another episode of the same show
How long do you think you could go without TV?
Other Distractions to Occupy Your Time
There are many other things you could do with your time than watch television. It's rather amusing because when I tell people that I don't own a TV, they always ask me "Well, what do you do?". That's rather odd and the underlying implication is that, for most people, media seems to be the main recreational activity people do outside of work.
There are many other things to occupy your time - most of them productive - that you can do besides spending it in front of box that displays colorful pictures. I could list some of them here, but you probably have your own entertainments.
Besides, the influence of media is what most people attribute modern day violence to and I agree. Media culture is slowly destroying our minds and changing our society into something not so good. I am very convinced that we would all be better off without it.
While I don't think I have made that strong an argument for turning off your television or that I've managed to completely provide a narrative describing my relinquishment with it, I hope I've offered some inspiration.
TV has been called the "idiot box", the "boob tube" and a "vast wasteland" for a reason. It is an opiate of sorts that occupies our time and brains rather than providing us with meaningful stimulation. Leaders of our enemy countries once said that they would not need to invade us in order to take us over, but rather do it with media. In a sense they already have.
Not only does media influence our society in negative ways, but we as a people are paying way too much attention to celebrity. We don't need actors telling us how to think politically or complaining about issues which they are often exempt from. An actor in a film will make more money in one year than most of us do in several lifetimes. People who are celebrated in the public arena are often immune from prosecution of serious or sinister crimes. There is a disparity between those who perform for public audiences on a mass scale and those who are the observers of those performers. It really doesn't make sense.