Why We’re Ditching Our TV Service

Uploaded to Flickr on November 5, 2009 by fraew

Okay, it’s probably not as dramatic as my headline, and definitely not as dramatic as the picture, but we’re getting rid of Dish Network. And we’re moving to a basic cable plan that offers six local stations and that’s it. The only reason we’re even doing that is because that’s what is required in order to get the price we need on Internet (which we are decidedly NOT ditching).

This is step 1 in my plan to move my family off the grid.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t plan on selling our home and building a yert.

We’re not going to invest in solar panels, or power our home with wind (at least not yet).   And I don’t see this becoming our means of transportation any time soon.

photo by Tim Wood

It’s not like that.  I’m not against modern conveniences.  What I’m against is the way they have taken over my life, and the way we have all become convinced that we cannot live without them.  What are you paying every month for TV?  When I found out we were “getting cable” in the early 80’s, and that it would be $20/month, I was both excited and appalled.

“We’re going to pay for something we can get free?”

“Well, yes, but there’ll be even more.”

And so there was.  More channels.  More providers.  More choices.  And much, much more money.  Not since Starbucks convinced people to pay $4.50 to drink what used to cost them 25 cents have we witnessed such an extraordinary conversion in consumer consciousness.  (Disclaimer: As an avowed coffee lover, I have to be clear that I’m not saying you don’t get a far better product at Starbucks compared to the 25 cent bottomless cup of coffee at the local diner.)

What my family used to get for free over the air I now pay $55/month for, and I’ll bet I have one of the lowest monthly television bills in my social circle.

“But what about TLC?  What about The History Channel?  What about The Discovery Channel?  What about Animal Planet and MTV (1, 2, 3, 4, and all the other iterations, none of which actually show music videos), VH1, and two hundred channels of HBO?”

What about them?  Phooey on them.

Yes, I did it.  I said “phooey.”

Is it possible that we have lost more than we have gained?  I’m not even going to make that part of this post.  Rather than write it out for you, I just want to ask you to think about it.  Think about what you have gained with your TV service, what it has added to your life.  Then think about what you have lost, and what it has taken away from you.  And just to make sure you’re thinking clearly, don’t do this until your kids are in the house.

I know what some of you are thinking.  I’ve been there.  We have close friends who ditched their TV service a few months ago, and we thought it was perhaps a bit “excessive.”  Isn’t that what people always say when someone, on principle, decides that enough is enough and suddenly we feel that our way of life is somehow threatened?  But over the next few weeks I thought about my friends and their decision and I realized the truth.  We can call it excessive.  We can call it strange.  We can call it unreasonable.  But what we cannot even consider calling it is harmful.  It is, in fact, just the opposite, and everyone knows it.

Everyone knows we’re better watching less TV than more of it. Everyone knows we’re more likely to spend quality time with family without TV rather than with it.  Everyone knows, and complains, about the expense.  Nearly every parent struggles to monitor and control their children’s exposure to TV.  Everyone knows there’s a lot more crap on TV than stuff of value.  Everyone knows that as a general rule, TV is a waste of time and a waste of money.  Few people will argue that.

“But still, I enjoy it.”

Perfectly fine.  Nothing wrong with enjoying TV.  I don’t think that our plan is to ditch TV forever, although perhaps very soon we’ll see how truly unnecessary it was, at best, and how truly distracting and harmful, at worst, and decide we have no use for it.

But it is through television that we are controlled.  Why do you think Madison Avenue spends a gazillion dollars a year on advertising?  Because they know they will make that back a hundredfold.  Despite the claim of nearly every citizen that he/she is not influenced by advertising, somehow every dollar invested in advertising brings back hundreds of dollars in return.  Somebody is being influenced.  Likely you are one of them.  So am I.  Worst of all, so are our kids.

And what’s with having to have TV screens every single place you go now?  McDonald’s has them.  Walmart has them.  A few years ago when my girls were small, our family went to our favorite restaurant (a nice Chinese place) and were startled to find they too had sold out and put in TV’s.  Both of them were tuned to news — one to CNN, the other to Headline News.  When I noticed that my small children were not engaged with our family but rather staring glassy-eyed at the TV’s, I asked the server to at least turn down the volume.  Rather snottily she said, “What’s the problem?  It’s only the news.”

Yes.  The news.  REAL LIFE horror and mayhem, as opposed to the manufactured kind on other networks.  “Yes, I’d like almond chicken with egg drop soup, an egg roll, and graphic pictures of the latest mass murder please.”  Family time doesn’t get any better than this.  I thought the reason people went out to restaurants was to get away from the stuff they usually have at home.

I’m just sick of it.  So we’re done.  Goodbye Dish Network.  Goodbye DVR, which I will really miss.  (At least DVR allows you to not watch commercials, but of course as soon as I got my DVR, I simply realized that that meant more time to watch TV.) Goodbye convenience which easily allowed us to kill hours of time (which is life) sitting in front of that stupid screen.  Goodbye to asking our kids if they have done their homework yet before they turn it on.  Goodbye to flushing $55/month down the toilet, which allows Madison Avenue to turn right around and get me to buy more stuff.  I’m sick of them and their wares, and their deliberate attempts to make me feel discontented and unhappy and restless, like the biggest problems in my life come from what I don’t have.  In reality, my biggest problems come from trying to manage and maintain what I DO have.  I’ll be happier when I have less, not more.

I realize this is no panacea.  I realize life won’t be perfect when our TV service is reduced to almost nothing.  But I’m not seeking perfection, just a little less imperfection.  So hello downtime.  Hello nap time.  Hello reading time.  Hello connecting time with my children.  Hello to more control over my own life, and less influence from people who care nothing about me or my family and have every interest in making us feel unhappy.  Hello to quietness.  Hello to being able to hear our own souls, and our own hearts beating.

And hello to the huge realization that, in the final analysis, it is not television that keeps us from hearing God — it is our own inner restlessness and distractedness, of which television is just an outward symptom.  Time to look that one in the face.  To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about the change.  But I’m also excited, and I don’t think I’m going to miss it.

What do you think?  Have you had experiences with going “off the grid?”  Have you gotten rid of TV?  If so, do you miss it?  What has surprised you about the experience?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • We cut the cable a few years ago when it became apparent downloading (insert arguments about stealing what is given away here) and streaming weren’t going away. I don’t have to eschew the media I enjoy to stop paying through the nose for what I don’t want. Now I spend an hour a week hunting torrents, leave them alone to download, and I have all the TV i actually WANT to watch, and none of the “its just on” background mediocrity that comes with cable. With software solutions like XBMC, I can create an archive of the good stuff that’s just as newb friendly as a cable box, complete with remote control instead of mouse. Further, by having a file server PC as the hub for media in the house, you can access the internet on the tv, share music and video files all over the house, and have a much wider selection of games than you’d get on any one console.

    Sure, it takes a modicum of technical know-how, but isn’t saving yourself $650/year worth being slightly geekier?

  • Lisa Light

    Love this! Funny thing is…everytime I’ve had to take away my kids electronics/technology as a punishment for one thing or another I’ve noticed they are more engaged in the family. Hmmm…so is it really a punishment???

    I think we all have a little difficulty with the technology addiction. Makes you wonder if there are scientists researching lightwaves to find just the right ones that get us hooked. Kind of like scientist researching the right amount of nicotine to put into cigarettes to make them more addictive. 🙂

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lisa! And yes, we will always see that connection between less tech and more family time. Unless our children hate us. 🙂

  • Brianne

    We did this a couple of years ago, for exactly the reasons you’ve given. I don’t think (and I think Jay would agree with me)that we will ever go back. The extra time spent engaged with our kids, not to mention each other, is well worth the meager sacrifice 🙂