A few weeks ago my wife and I sold our TV. I told a friend and he asked if we were trading it for a better one. Nope. It was perfectly adequate. In fact we watched it all the time. Which is why it had to go.
It was a radical move several years in the making. I’d already taken breaks from TV and other forms of entertainment in the past, even journaling through my most recent streak:
Day 2—of having quit, that is. Quit TV. Quit Reddit. Quit the news. Quit anything that resembles any of these things.
So how am I doing? Not bad, I’ll say. I thought it would be worse by now. There’s something helpful about quitting completely. No questions. I don’t do any of it, under any circumstance.
Day 2 and I already thought it would be bad? That surprised me when I reread it. If you don’t think you can quit something for 2 days and be cool then you know you’ve got a problem.
Day 4—Today was the worse yet. I left work early and had a lot of time to fill at home. I laid down for a while. Still, I was able to stay busy. I finished a book, completed a task I’d been procrastinating on, and had a great talk with [my wife].
Most notable is I feel more social. I want to talk to people. Probably for lack of having something else to do. Perhaps television and Reddit comments were satiating my social needs.
After just 4 days I felt more social. This is a trend that continued throughout the cleanse. It’s of particular interest to me because I consider myself introverted. Needing to see and talk to people was unusual. Now I wonder how much of it is personality vs environment.
Day 6—What if this becomes an alienating experience because the rest of the world has changed? What if I make time for social connections that can’t happen, because there’s nobody left to connect to?
There’s a new thing happening at my workplace where men use their phones while at the urinal. Not just while they wait for their turn, mind you. They pull their phone out as they’re peeing, for however many precious seconds that lasts… I’ve even seen the urinal used as a phone stand. One particular maverick held his phone with both hands as he punished the porcelain.
Not that urinals are a great place to socialize. But it’s a striking barometer for how hooked we’re all becoming.
Day 20—It’s a paradox. I often want to help the time pass. But I also know that I won’t have enough time. I’ll run out and regret not having more, or not having spent it better.
Why desire time if I also desire to waste it away? Why waste time if it really is precious?
My mind is trained to continuously jump forward. Look for the next activity, the next distraction. That’s no way to live. That’s not the way I want to live.
Pretty intense! But I gotta agree with myself there. Time and time again I am reminded that living in the moment, being present, mindful, whatever you want to call it… is key to a balanced life.
And so I kept going. On day 33, after beating my original 30-day goal, I wrote, “it was easier than I thought it would be. Very few moments of boredom. No real cravings.” It didn’t feel the way I imagine quitting a hard drug does, but it was clearly beneficial.
Day 41—My quitting of TV and all is going very well. It feels natural now not to do those things. They’ve been replaced with going out, spending more time with [my wife] and/or friends, and reading.
I kept journaling regularly—a habit I had picked up prior to this experiment—but mostly about other things. And then:
Day 48—I started watching the 2nd season of Master of None.
Don’t worry, I was just making an exception, not giving up… then a couple more weeks went by… the new season of Better Call Saul was out… you know where this is going. Soon my experiment was officially over. I was back to my old habits, making up for “lost time”—that’s the thing with taking a break from TV, there’ll always be a queue of excellent shows awaiting your return.
And yet I was more convinced than ever that I would be better off without those distractions in my life. Not just as a matter of freeing up time for creative or social endeavors, but also to reduce stress, and to feel more connected to the world around me.
But it’s so hard to give up those things when they’re so readily available. Between my TV, my laptop and my phone, my next dopamine hit is never more than a few taps away. The movies, the shows, the apps, the websites, the Facebook, the Twitter, the Netflix… they’re engineered to be as easy, as fast, and as addictive as possible.
You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep, on the margin.
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO
This quote blows my mind. To give you some context, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is explaining why he’s not concerned about Amazon or HBO as competitors. So basically, “don’t worry about other companies eating into our profits because there’s still sleep to deprive people of.” That’s not something to brag about, Reed. Sleep is a crucial component of good health, you parasite.
But there you have it plain as day. Multi-billion dollar companies are competing as hard as they can for our attention. They’re using technology, biology, psychology… anything at their disposal to make sure we spend as much time as possible using their service, consuming their content.
What chance do we have? I’m lucky I lasted a month and a half if you ask me. Which brings me to the reason I don’t own a TV anymore. Giving any attention to these companies and their products is giving them an opportunity to get their hooks in. While it seems impossible to avoid, one thing we can reasonably control is our environment, especially at home.
The most prominent feature of my apartment used to be my TV. It was big. It was centered on the wall. It’s the first thing you’d see coming in. The most comfortable place to sit, the couch, was right in front of it. Even during my break my TV was here everyday, reminding me of the fact that I could be watching it.
I still have my laptop, of course. And my phone. But that’s not quite as nice as watching something on a 49-inch TV. It’s not as comfortable. It’s not as visibly present.
Replacing it with a turntable went even further. Do you have any idea how complicated it is to play music on those things? I didn’t. Playing a record usually involves removing the dust it easily collects, as well as cleaning the stylus (the part that comes in contact with the record). Records have 2 sides, each containing a little over 20 minutes worth of music, so you have to flip them. Some albums take up 2 or even 3 records.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never become addicted to that process. But its length is what’s great about it. The time it takes to setup prompts me to pause and enjoy the experience. Now ask yourself, when’s the last time you took a breath and enjoyed the music?