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I Was a Television Abstainer for 5 Years and Loved It

June 3rd, 2007 by shawn · 20 Comments

Next time you whine about how there’s not enough time in a day/week/month to get things done, do a couple of things. One, remember our pal Elvis and his whole TCB thing. Taking Care of Business was so cool to Elvis, he made a lightning-bolt TCB logo and put it everywhere.

The second thing you do, after pondering Elvis, is to make a note to not waste four hours of your life watching TV. You want more time? It exists, my friend – but E! has been stealing it from you.

Just turn off the damn television for a while. There are many benefits, including more time to read my blog, exercise, play with your kids (or your wife), make lots of money, or just drink. Whatever.

“But Shawn,” you say, “I need to watch TV. I can’t just turn it off.”

Yes, you can. I know you can because I was watching this reality show about this crazy tribe in Papua New Guinea and they didn’t have TVs but they looked happy. And also, I lived without a TV for about five entire years from the time I was about 20 years old.

Yep. No TV at all. During that time, I owned a bike which I actually rode and I did other things too like going to school, working, and cult activities. (No I’m not kidding.) I read a lot of books. (Have you read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test? Good book.) Basically I got a lot of things done. I was takin’ care of business. Like Elvis.

Did I miss TV sometimes? Hell yeah. There were a bunch of times I wished I had a TV. I mean, I only heard about things like the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction after they were over. Picture how uncool I was at work, when everyone was talking about how they watched the Superbowl and saw it and asked me what I thought of it. (“Her boob actually was showing? Who’s Justin Timberlake?”) I had no idea who or what Survivor was all about. (And I still don’t care.) Basically I was out of touch with mass-market media and it was great.

In fact, now there are times I wish I didn’t have a TV. (Yes I have one now but that’s not an interesting story.) If I never heard of that Sanjay joker I would be perfectly happy, for one example. There are times when I get up from the couch and realize I watched basically nothing (and I have satellite with more channels than I’ve ever even flipped through) and wasted my time.

I’m not saying throw out your TV. It’s good to have a TV to watch quality entertainment like Conan O’Brian or The Sopranos or whatever you enjoy. And if you have kids, a TV helps occupy them when you need to do something like take a shower or clean the house. But when the TV is wasting the limited time you have on earth – even for an hour – it’s a problem. We only have so many hours to live, and when they’re over they’re over. I would prefer to use my life doing things that either make me happy, contribute something, accomplish something, or otherwise have value.

But I don’t want to get up from the couch again and wonder, “Why was I even watching that?” when I had something better to do.

So: you don’t have enough time? Cut out TV. Try it for a month and see if your life improves. Can’t do it for a month? Commit to yourself for a week. A week is too long?? Okay…try a couple of days. Whatever works for you.

You can do it, and trust me it won’t hurt you. Remember, I did it for 5 years.

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    Comment by ben
    2007-06-03 18:04:42

    Great post, i’ve gone without cable for 2 years and I definitely don’t miss it. I do have a TV and a DVD player, so if there are shows I really want to watch then I’ll just wait and rent them on DVD. This way I’m optimizing my time by cutting out the commercials, and making sure whichever show i watch will be quality (usually i read reviews!). Good article, although I doubt most people are willing to go without cable for even a day or two.

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    Comment by Kevin
    2007-06-03 18:39:02

    I actually decided to cut my cable tv for the summer and downgrade my cable internet speed while I was at it.

    Best decision I’ve made in a long time. I read more, go outside more, meet more people, etc.

    So far I see no reason to reinstate it when winter rolls around.

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    Comment by Clayton
    2007-06-03 19:05:26

    I haven’t watched normal TV in awhile instead my problem is the internet. I lived on my own for a year without the internet and had a great deal of free time. now that I have a roommate who needs the internet, I am easily distracted by the web and all of its innane attractions. tv has been easy to live without since few of my friends actually watch TV. anyway, for those of you “struggling” with TV beware that you may end up substituting it with the internet if you decide to quit.

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    Comment by yessir
    2007-06-03 19:53:24

    Me downloads all me tv me needs. Screw paying for that crap. Commercial-free too so I don’t get advertising forced into my brain.

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-03 22:45:33

    I’m with you. Thanks to BitTorrent I don’t have to pay a cable bill, but now I need faster broadband.

    Comment by Rob
    2007-06-03 23:00:41

    Its just like taking food from the grocery store. Screw paying for that crap! Stolen bread tastes oh so much better anyways.

    Comment by Phil
    2007-06-03 20:44:42

    Haven’t watched tv for the past forty years. Never saw MASH Dallas Seinfeld Happy Days and I’m sure hundreds of other series.

    Amazingly I’m still alive and well.

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    Comment by Mike Sabat
    2007-06-03 21:11:02

    Totally Agree.

    If you are thinking of giving up TV then you are definitely ready to read a great book – ‘the four arguments for the elimination of television’. It’s amazingly written and you will have no problem cutting TV.

    I stopped watching almost completely for 2 years and now I have a great balance. I only watch a few sporting events, that are important to me, and 2 shows – Sopranos and Entourage. TV has become something I do (something I would schedule), not a default action.

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    Comment by cj
    2007-06-03 21:35:38

    26 tv-free years for me. Read the chapter on the effect of artificial light on the human body in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, eeekkk!

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    Comment by a/c
    2007-06-03 22:23:58

    Please read this article from the Onion:

    Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-03 22:44:13

    I too am against the idiot box. However I’m all for TV when it functions as a boob tube or electronic babysitter.

    Comment by Pete
    2007-06-04 01:12:09

    I have a tele but very rarely use it.
    But I am, unfortunately, like the commenter above, hooked too much on the internet.
    Hopefully, while I’m away for the next 2 months, I can wean myself from that too.
    I’m also moving in with a roomate to drag myself away from it too. I figure being sociable, even if it just mean some time plopped in front of the tele, is better than all the time in front of a monitor!

    A very inspirational article and some great follow up comments.

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-05 17:57:08

    Thanks for the comment! I think we’re all internet addicts…I keep hearing that one sentiment more than anything else. And, it’s probably true.

    Comment by dmensch
    2007-06-04 02:39:36

    We got rid of our television when our kids were 2 & 4.
    Didn’t replace it for 10 years. We read a lot of books, played games, saw actual sunshine. No regrets, except maybe when we bought a television a couple of years ago.

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    Comment by Jim Davis
    2007-06-04 03:28:46

    TV is the Devil, it seduces you into forking over your live in exchange for crappy programming and ad’s.

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    Comment by At Home Mom
    2007-06-05 03:52:09

    My parents didn´t get a television set until I was 18, so I spent a lot of time doing things. I have cable now, but seldom watch it, there are just a couple of shows that I enjoy, but like several others mentioned, I´m a complete and utter internet addict. I went 5 years without it as well when I moved here to Guatemala, but now that I finally have it again, I could spend 24 hours a day online! However, most of the time I am working, so I guess that counts for something!

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-05 17:55:59

    It’s weird for me to try to imagine no TV my whole life – a lot of my nostalgia from being a kid is tied to TV when I really get down to it. Like Star Wars toy commercials, shows like Transformers and G.I. Joe, and even watching Sesame Street, etc.

    But I think it’s probably best for kids NOT to have TV or at least limited TV. And don’t even get me started on advertising targeted to kids like for junk cereals and etc. I wish that was illegal.

    2007-07-10 18:37:09

    [...] I Was a Television Abstainer for 5 Years and Loved It [...]

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    Comment by Marrisa
    2007-07-17 11:19:16

    Hello! I don’t watch TV that much, because there’s too much bullshit. There’s nothing interesting, unless you’re watching Discovery, Zone reality or Animal Planet :)

    Television is not even a way of getting informed…because of the way the information is presented. Media is all about the money and that’s why there’s nothing valuable about it!

    Best regards and keep writing this way!

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    Comment by Chris
    2009-06-20 07:11:23

    I’m the other way around… I don’t get to watch TV as much as I would like to :) I’m always working, so I rarely have the time to sit down and watch something, but I certainly would like to!

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