Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Tube, The Box, The Telly, Oh My

By Frugal Trenches

Yesterday I wrote a post on my own personal blog about my current television fast! A brief explanation is I've not had a television for two weeks now and it will be at least January if not longer before I make the decision whether to own a television once again. On my current laptop it is not possible to watch TV either, so this is a real television fast, so to speak. I know there have been some other great posts here about background noise, but I thought I'd share my experience and hopefully gain some insight from you too!

I have to say that I never really thought about my TV consumption. I love to read, I am mad about good quality radio listening (in the UK it is BBC4, when in Canada it is CBC and NPR in the US is pretty good too). I volunteer two evenings a week, usually meet up with friends or family another two evenings a week, have a policy never to record anything I miss and while I do enjoy TV either as a bit of background fluff, to learn a new skill (I'm a bit obsessive about some British cooking shows) or for a good piece of news, I never really thought about my television consumption!

A few of my readers emailed me to say they were shocked that I admitted that I was a TV watcher which made me wonder whether my watching of TV (probably 7 hrs a week admittedly I knit through most of that) went against my simple, green, frugal lifestyle? On the one hand it would be easy to say it does, there is a lot of junk and consumer advertising on television, but I am selective about what I watch and mostly watch channels with no adds. I enjoy my BBC cooking program on Saturday morning and a good period drama on Sunday evenings. I enjoy a finance program and news mid-week and I admit the old me used to enjoy a tad more than that.

So I thought I'd bring the question to the very educated, analytical and purposeful readers found on this blog. If you are trying to live a simple, green and frugal life, can you own and enjoy television? Have you ever stopped watching and found you gained something from that experience? Can you be selective with TV watching and actually gain something from the experience?


The Mom said...

I don't think that living simply and watching TV are mutually exclusive. Getting rid of the Tv is not likely at my house, as DH loves it. The rest of us watch much less. I find it very nice to relax in front of a good cooking show while knitting, mending or doing nothing at all. I think the problem becomes when it is used to avoid doing other things.

Tree Hugging Mama said...

We haven't had paid television for a while. That being said we do have a couple of shows that we find and watch. I would like to get rid of the television entirely (and only have a projector for watching movies (and DH is looking into how to build a quality HD projector for this purpose). I cannot watch TV and do anything else. I tried knitting durring the television shows, but I missed the subtle visual cues that made the programs (all mystery based more interesting). I would prefer to listen to NPR, I can get my news, and such from NPR and the internet. I have noticed that my children's wants is far less and what they do want has to do with their own entertainment, books, art supplies, and a few beloved movie character items (Tinkerbell for my youngest). I say if you can avoid getting a TV then do so. However I do like to watch a good movie (usually an old one) every now and then. If I could get BBC, the food network and the history channel from my cable compnay and just those channels I might (probably wouldn't) pay for cable again.

We still watch atleast 10 hours of tv a week, and I am working to cut that. But what we watch as a family is the old Batman Series, and things like that. The girls love how campy it is.

Now that being said, yes if you don't own a tv, then you are using less power and maybe more self productive, but owning a television for many goes to the enjoyment of life. Living a simple life isn't about having nothing to enjoy, its about prioritizing what is important to you.

If you are looking for background noise, find books on tape, and radio dramas on tape, I like listening to those while I knit.

Pat aka Posh said...

I've lived long enough to remember the days when no one owned a TV and sat around the fire and read books or sat on the porch and watched the fireflies.. so having lived both ways I can truly compare life both with and without a TV and I see nothing wrong with owning and watching one as long as you don't let it take over your life.. kids should be made to play outside and limited to how much and what they can watch before bedtime.. parents should never let kids or themselves eat dinner in front of it..
Myself I love watching educational shows while sewing and just before going to sleep at night.. other then that, I seldom ever turn it on.

Sulwyn said...

I have to admit that when we moved we decided to not hook up cable, and for a while I really missed my cooking shows and some other programs, but I have never really been a big tv watcher. I was suprised to find that suddenly I had a whole lot more time on my hands for other pursuits, though! I guess I watched more than I realized. Since my DH loves to watch movies we have a tv with DVD player and subscribe to Netflix which keeps him happy (and I get to enjoy my period dramas occasionally, too).

I think it all comes down to personal preference whether tv and living simply are mutually exclusive. I know that our movie nights are far less expensive by staying home, and our tastes have expanded quite a lot, but I can't say the same from watching tv all the time.

thresholddweller said...

I find that, in a lot of cases the TV watching that I do is educational or inspirational (okay, occasionally to relax in front of - I like a good mystery). In terms of simple and frugal living, streaming TV online is free if you've got the computer and the service already, so it doesn't really add to my monthly costs. And I prefer shows that depict some of the elements of life that I'm working toward, since they give ideas - right now, I'm working my way through the River Cottage series. I generally try not to watch too much (and think I succeed) but a show every now and again to relax with or inspire can be a nice thing.

Annette said...

We have been without TV service for 3 years now. I do try to watch NCIS online but that only works when the connection is fast enough to load. Normally our evenings are spent in the kitchen fixing/eating dinner, listening to the radio, dishes while the teens either help or do homework.

randi said...

As Homer Simpson uttered, "in a world without TV the living would envy the dead".

Andrea said...

We gave up television about 5 years ago. Like you, I was never a heavy consumer. We turned off the cable because of the things the kids would end up watching. We still have the TV which we use for DVD's. Much more intentional viewing. I have got to say that at first it was a bit hard. But now we don't miss it. I love our life without TV. Occasionally at someone else's house we might see some and then I feel overwhelmed by the advertising and the shows mostly seem ridiculous to me now. It is just so much more peaceful here without that commercial bombardment. The kids are not begging for the latest fad. That is what I am really happy to live without.

Kari said...

We live in the US and don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV and have an older TV that now doesn't get the new signal. So technically we have a television but can't watch programs with it.

We do use it to watch DVDs and VHS tapes.

We also watch some TV programs online. My older daughter watches some Nick Jr. shows online and I watch The Office once a week or so online.

Once in a very great while I'll watch some HGTV shows using

We also subscribe to Netflix and will watch some movies and some television shows through Netflix.

So...yes we are striving to live a simple frugal green lifestyle and yet we do occasionally watch some television shows using Netflix or the Internet, but we don't receive any live television.

Holly said...

"Intentional viewing" -- I think Andrea hit the nail on the head. I think "intentional viewing" of television isn't incompatible with simple/frugal living, but the incessant presence of the talking box is.

In my own case, the US switch to digital broadcasting has made the difference in how much TV I watch. I did away with Satellite TV years ago, but I did "enjoy" the one commercial station I could pick up for free. Now I can no longer get any commercial stations and can get PBS only if the weather is right.

Now I have a "one disk at a time" Netflix subscription and REALLY look forward to Friday nights when I can catch up on episodes of a favorite TV show. The rest of the week in the evenings, I read, listen to NPR, or (horrors) actually get things done!

Kate said...

Count me with those who have no tv. I gave up watching it more than 15 years ago, though I kept a set around to watch films on vhs/dvd for a while. I could never stomach the cost of cable or a satellite dish, even before my personal frugal revolution. We gave up the set before a move about 10 years ago. Now we have a digital projector which is used only to watch free dvds from the library. Sometimes those are dvds of television series (minus the commercials of course).

For my own part I can say that I underestimated the power of television advertisements. Even though I was aware of them and able to discount or "correct" for the specific message that I was exposed to, if I'm honest with myself, my overall level of covetousness was much, much higher when I was exposed to commercials.

I think most people who watch tv kid themselves about how impervious they are to advertising. It obviously works. We're a consumer society. Companies don't shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for advertisements that don't work. I'm certainly not impervious to it, as I can see looking back on my life. The only solution that works for me is simply to limit my exposure to advertisement as far as I am able to do so.

Anonymous said...

I am in the US. We gave up TV for a while, but I became very upset about not having any TV at all during the 9/11 attacks. I liked having access to information as it was happening. At that time, we had slow internet access, so I think now that we have upgraded internet, I would not feel the same way. We don't pay for TV - we have an antenna on the roof and the converter box which was free from the government. I get about 5 channels and mainly watch football once a week during the season, PBS once in a while and Biggest Loser every once in a while. I like being able to watch special events such as presidential speeches or the Olympics. I have gone weeks at a time without watching - it depends how busy I am. If I feel like watching TV, I usually first go to to watch an episode of something. If we didn't have free TV, I would not miss it and would just use the internet instead. I would guess that I end up watching 2 hours of TV a week on average and could easily give that up for other activities.

Marie said...

I'll start by saying at one time I was quite addicted to the tv.

We have lived without a television for four years. What started as a slow shift away from TV towards other endeavors, became a full reality when we had to negotiate every inch of usable space in our then rented apartment. We gave the two we had away and have turned down several offers since then.

We do not miss the TV one bit! And we've become increasingly mindful of how insidious marketing and negative messaging was, even on "commercial-free stations" (product placement within shows is a multi-billion dollar business) and even with our old habits of very selective viewing.

We are happier with: what we own, how we live, how we spend our time, how we look, what we buy (or choose not to buy), what we need (or don't need), what we believe of love, kindness and humanity, what we think worthy of our time and attention, what we do for fun, and how much we truly enjoy life.

I think the choice of whether or not to own a tv and how much to view is personal. But, a mindful period of completely tv-free living is a worthwile endeavor and may yield unexpected outcomes!

Em said...

We lived without tv for 8 years after moving to a remote area. It was interesting to find that when we did see tv programs after that time I found that medium to be *very* intrusive - the graphic news reports would have me literally overcome with waves of emotion, and the ads were almost a physical assult on my senses... after moving to an area with tv reception and watching it more regularly these reactions have subsided, so I've concluded that some part of me has become "used" to that media. I'm not sure that is a good thing; perhaps those feelings still need to be processed by some part of our brains and it might not be a good thing to fill our "selves" uneccessarily with that load.

That is just my experience; it's certainly made me aware that tv isn't a bland background something, but could be stealing part of my subconscious.

I've also seen my kids become transfixed by the ads and some of the rubbish on tv, so we (I) choose what we watch with care.

We do like information shows, documentaries etc, and sometimes it is good to share pieces of the world through the news. But we try not to sit there and "veg out" too often - instead to reclaim some of the social nature of ourselves by discussing what we are seeing/hearing on there. On the occasions that we watch commercial tv the kids and I mute the sound and play a game of "guess what they are trying to sell us/make us think" - it's really very funny how that turns out sometimes :)

We live a simple life but selective tv viewing is part of it. We'd certainly be fine without it, but I think the way that we use it adds to our ability to be part of our community and world.

Damn The Broccoli said...

I got rid of my TV when I lived on my own because a) the uk license was a luxury I couldn't afford and b) there was nothing worth watching on it anyway to justify the cost.

Then I moved in with people and the TV reappeared. Now I live with my girlfriend we made the concious decision to get rid of the Idiot Box once and for all. They are generally ugly pieces of furniture anyway that take up a lot of space and invade the room when they are on. Needless to say my 8 year old daughter was less than happy initially when she came to visit but now we enjoy a lot of quality family time playing games and such. We do have a computer that would play TV if we choose but I rescued an old projector from the skip a few years ago and we use this to watch DVD's as our only real vice.
Realistically though in terms of Simple Green and Frugal I don't think you can justify a TV as they tend to be one of the major polluters in the household in terms of plastics, power consumption and obscelesence. We only just have the huge LCD screens and already the industry is showcasing 3d and the next thing, seems to me throwing away a TV cause the next gadget came along is never going to be good!
But this doesn't mean you should live without one if it is your only vice. The simple life should still be livable or it's no life at all.

Karyn said...

I think the diffculty is, like all things, keeping it in moderation. I think it's just too easy to watch more tv than you realize, or to use the clothes dryer too often, or eat out too often, etc. For me, it's often easier for it not to even be available - hence, we didn't get the digital antenna so we have no television access but we do have the tv for an occasional video.

notesfromthefrugaltrenches said...

Thank you all for your incredibly insightful comments! I think Andrea is right it is about purposeful viewing, or at least for me that feels right, but we'll see what I think when it comes time to make the decision!

notesfromthefrugaltrenches said...

Randi - thanks for the comment/quote; it made me chuckle!

anastasia_wolf said...

TV is the bane of my existence. I watch it, but only a few shows and I hate it on for background noise (I was shocked going to a friend's house one day, trying to chat with her while she kept the TV on in the same room as us! She wasn't watching it and it was incredibly distracting). My partner would have kittens if I suggested gettig rid of it, but he knows how I feel about it being on unless it's being watched.

My kids love the TV. Blah. If they are doing something else I turn it off. It sets my teeth on edge. When not in use I put a muslin wrap over it to hide it a bit LOL. I do think you can learn things from shows (my daughter certainly does), and we don't have cable, only free to air. I think it's interesting people make the assumption that frugal living is incompatible with TV, but then, we don't pay for stations. Frugal living doesn't mean giving up all the trappings of modern life, and it doesn't mean hypocrisy if you watch a few TV shows. That said, enjoy your break from TV, maybe you can listen to music while knitting instead? :)

angela said...

YES!. when my children were very little I was very depressed and had a little pos natal depression. I new I had to pull myself out of the hole so the first thing I did was turn the telly off. It was amazing. I had to get up and keep busy as sitting in silence was not that exciting. As I began to move and see myself achieve small but positive goals everyday, I began to feel better.
To this day, if I feel the black cloud decend I realise that I have been again watching too much TV. and I stop and start to get better.

Threads of Light said...

I think it is certainly possible to live simply and have a tv.

We didn't do that successfully, so getting rid of our tv has been a very positive thing for our family. I didn't pull the plug because I wanted to live more simply, at least not consciously; the box went because it was a negative influence on all of us (in so many ways) more than it was a positive one.

One of the things I love most about watching things on the internet or on dvd, is that we are no longer tied in to the time things are shown on tv. We didn't have a recorder, so were forced to arrange our lives around our favourite programs. Also, we aren't just leaving the box on when there's nothing good to watch.

It's so good not to be doing that any more, it feels like being set free.

msbetterhome said...

I have lived with and without TV. When I was 8 our TV broke down, and my dad didn't replace it til I was 13! I think there are plenty of mindless, time-wasting activities in the world that DON'T involve TV.

I'm not a fan of TV as background noise, but I love shows that are clever, funny, entertaining or give me anew insight into other people's lives (yes, this includes some reality TV shows).

Unless you're decided to entirely opt out of all capitalist interactions (ie stop buying books published by commercial presses; stop using computers & cellphones & software developed and made by multinationals etc), I'm not sure why watching TV would be inconsistent with frugality.

Quatrefoil said...

I've lived without television for years at a time, including long stretches when I lived on my own, but I do choose to have one now. It's the smallest regular tv available and it's entirely analogue, although I was given a set top box which improves my reception. I only watch the ABC (public television in Australia), so it's free and there are no ads, and I choose very deliberately what I watch, but I enjoy watching some television, particularly when I'm doing handwork. Used that way, I think it's entirely consistent with a frugal, deliberate life, particularly as it's a very cheap form of entertainment.

Bec said...

I agree with Andrea, I think intentional viewing is not incompatable with a simple life. Although mindless viewing is a waste in my opinion. Psychology studies have actually shown that people watching TV are in a mildly depressed state compared to doing ohter activities!

Personally, I rarely watch TV other than for local news, although it is not my only source of news. I find there is always so many things happening, and combined with the ads I find it hard to concentrate. Give me a book any day instead!

My husband usually has the TV on when he's home and if I got rid of it he would just go and buy a new one. He's away a lot with work and often I never even turn it on when he's gone - he tried telling me once that long periods of being unused would blow the colour tubes - lol!

As for your TV, do what feels right for you.

katie z said...

I think some can manage a TV and living simply, but we have small children who are NOT selective about their desire to have a TV on, so we have been a year with no tube and loving it! We do have the internet and a portable DVD player, so we still watch movies and read news online, but I have noticed those are easier for me to shut down and find something active to do. I love to watch TV, but know I love the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when I've worked on a quilt instead so much more! - but as the others are saying, you have to find a balance for you.

Anonymous said...

Unlike a previous poster who felt lost without a TV during 9/11- That was actually the catalyst that pushed me out of TV. The constant repetitive imagery was so disturbing that I had to give it a couple days of no tv to get a handle on my emotions. Once the TV was off though- I got out of the habit of watching it and I havn't picked up a broadcast station on the TV in the 8 years since.

Frankly- I don't think we can tune in even to the free stations. No fancy box. Even if our TV is technically smart enough on it's own I've never felt compelled to figure out how to make it work.

I watch TV shows over the internet. Intentional viewing. I have to make a conscious decision to turn them on and at the end they're done. Then I go off and do other things. Being in the same house as a background noise TV is incredibly distracting. Even some restaurants with TVs are just too distracting to go to very often.

Eventually you become accustomed to the silence and fill it with other things.

Anonymous said...

i'm 24, from the netherlands, and do not own a tv. several have been offered to my boyfriend and me, but we always refused (stating television is the devil :p). i don't miss it at all. i grew up with it and it wasted a lot of my time, numbed me, etc.

people are always extremely surprised by this, some of them even feel uncomfortable without the constant noise of it. isn't that sickening?

television is the opium of the people. it does not contribute to ANYTHING. i never have felt any satisfaction after watching any show at all.

apart from the content, the machine itself is a waste, uses electricity, exists of junk. for the content to be made, many people do various harmful things in order to supply us with a steady stream of 'entertainment'. it could be beneficial as a medium for education, but since it isn't used that way, it's a piece of junk. whoever makes use of one is not living simply.

the only reason i still have internet is because i need it for my studies. if i can't hear the news from other people, it's not necessary for me to hear it that soon anyway.

i know my views are harsh, but hey, you asked =)