Why I Traded My TV for a Turntable

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.

Not anymore.

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?

Nation of Immigrants

Amidst the current wave of nationalism in the USA, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are a nation of immigrants. It’s also worth noting that we are a nation of immigrants who got started by eradicating most of the natives.

Oops.

But that’s unlikely to happen to us. We’re not welcoming imperial armies onto our shores. Today’s immigrants aren’t trying to impose their way of life by force. Rather, they love America just the way it is. Those who lived through oppressive regimes understand how good we have it better than many of today’s natives, myself included.

What about the ones who don’t love America? Those who believe in a hateful ideology. The terrorists. They’re out there, and it seems to me we have two high-level options for dealing with them.

We can isolate ourselves. Tell refugees who share our values that they’re shit out of luck because they share the same ethnicity as their oppressors, and that’s scary.

OR, we could welcome them. We could say hey, if you believe in freedom and democracy, if you just want a shot at a peaceful and prosperous life for you and your family, then please come in. You belong here.

And for the teeny tiny minority who means us harm, hey, we’ll try to filter them out. But we’ll miss some. Now imagine if those who slipped through the cracks and arrived in this country, rather than being greeted by hate-affirming racism and fear, were instead flooded with tolerance, freedom, equality, and love… the likes of which they had never experienced before.

In other words, if you’re a nationalist and you believe America is the greatest country on Earth… If this is you:

AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!

Then isn’t America great enough to convince visitors of its greatness, no matter how skeptical they may be? And if not, isn’t that the greatness we should strive for?

From Religion to Donald Trump

In my teen years I was an outspoken atheist. When debating people I would take the position that, not only are gods a silly idea, religion as a whole is bad for humanity.

Even when talking to other atheists I would often get this answer: “What if believing in God is helping these people lead happier lives? Why does it matter if it’s real or not? They’re not hurting you.”

A fair point. And one for which I did not have a good answer. It was offensive to me that we would simply accept that people were deluding themselves, and then indoctrinating their children to do the same. All in the name of happiness? It seemed dystopian, but I lacked the wit to explain why.

A few weeks ago I found the answer I’d been looking for, and I couldn’t be sadder about it.

They’re not hurting anybody, you say? These people who reject all evidence, all science, all reason, in favor of fictitious stories that validate their beliefs? These people that we’ve respectfully allowed to delude themselves gave us Trump.

But so what if people believe a rich cretinous demagogue is going to fix all their problems. They’re happy, and besides, who are they hurting?

Certainty is 99/100

“Agnosticism” is the view that God’s existence is unknown or unknowable. However, too many self-proclaimed agnostics are mislabeling themselves for lack of a clear definition of what knowledge means here. While it can’t be proven that God doesn’t exist, it can be known. Let me explain.

It can’t be proven that God doesn’t exist because God is a malleable concept. For example, at one time some people believed that God had created all life on Earth exactly as we known it today, including humans and all other animal species. Some of those same people have come to recognize the fact of evolution, which disproves their previously-held belief. Now, instead, they believe that God engineered evolution, or some other conveniently not-yet-disproved story.

No matter how much evidence we uncover that the universe functions without the help of a divine force, we’ll never be 100% sure that there isn’t a God. Maybe God started the Big Bang and hasn’t intervened since. Maybe he made it look like he doesn’t exist by planting fake evidence. However supremely unlikely that may be, there’s still a teeny-tiny chance it’s what happened. Likewise, maybe the evidence backing evolution was planted. Perhaps by God, perhaps by the Illuminati?

There’s a non-zero chance that unicorns, invisible to the human eye, are roaming our streets and skies as I write this. And yet, I don’t say I’m agnostic towards invisible unicorns. Same goes with evolution, gravity, and, of course, God.

As it turns out, technically, we can’t know anything with 100% confidence. And that’s OK, because the bar for knowledge and facts is lower than that. Not much lower, mind you. But if you’re 99% sure God doesn’t exist, do me a favor, call yourself an atheist.

Dear Conservatives

I’m a liberal, or, as you say, “libtard.” We don’t talk anymore, short of shouting at each other from a great distance.

I am mad about Trump, and for what your party is doing to our country. But I understand where you’re coming from, I think. And I believe we have more in common than is apparent.

For example, I wish for America and its citizens to prosper. To live happy, peaceful, fulfilling lives. I believe in freedom and democracy. I believe our government should work for the people.

None of this can be taken for granted, and we should recognize that we are united by this pursuit. Now let’s talk about our disagreements.

Yeah, I’m a socialist. I’m in favor of redistributing some wealth to those in need. It’s not that I’m lazy or entitled. In fact, last year I paid about 3 times what the average American pays in taxes. I hope to continue giving more than I receive for as long as possible. But why?

It’s not as obvious as a tax break, but I am getting something out of paying into social programs that benefit other people. These people, they live in the same country as I do, some in the same city even. They touch my life in various ways. Some prepare food that I eat, they write the books that I read, they teach children, or smile at me on the streets. Some are my friends, my family.

When they are healthy, when they get the education they want, when they’re not worried about food or housing, when they don’t live on the streets, then the quality of my life increases in more ways than money could buy.

But do they deserve my help, you ask? The first thing I’ll say is, on some level, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing what’s best for me.

But also, everyone is deserving of the basic necessities of life. Why? Good question. Seriously. This is at the heart of the Liberal vs Conservative debate, yet nobody cares to address it in a non-condescending way. Liberals act like it’s obvious we should help the less fortunate—it’s not. And Conservatives act like the less fortunate are capable but unwilling. Here’s what I would say.

“Will,” the willingness to work and do effortful things, is not a given. It is a fortunate thing to have, like health, inherited wealth, or various other predispositions. Are some people lazy and abusing the system? Sure. But I don’t believe they choose to be lazy. Hear me out on this.

It is unintuitive. We want to give credit to ourselves, and others, for our efforts and strength of character. And that means we should assign blame to those who achieve less. But this is misguided. While we should celebrate our success, it’s equally important to recognize that luck plays a big role in our lives. Bigger than we tend to imagine.

No-one decides where they’re born, or when, or to which parents. Yet those things, like so many others that are out of our control, are responsible for much of our fortune.