I still remember when my dad brought home a color television set.
“Look, Tonia, we have color tv now.”
I looked all over the set for the colors. I was disappointed until he turned Scooby Doo on. It was a beautiful old console tv and it was mine when I moved out on my own years later- lift the lid and you found not only a record player, but an eight track player as well. You had to get up and turn the knob if you wanted to change the channel.
Later, we moved out to the country and had access to all of five channels. My sister and I spent our Saturday night watching SNL (this was the 90′s. Adam Sandler entertained us with Opera Man, we loved Church Lady, and I did a first-rate Coffee Talk impression. ”Barbara Streisand? Like buttah’.”) Then, we flipped it to PBS for Are You Being Served before the Hitchcock movies came on. We loved our Saturday night ritual.
But we read lots of books, told lots of ghost stories, and played outside with our dogs. We rode our bikes and begged our mom to go exploring in the woods and play in the creek. My parents rented a vcr from time-to-time, but we never had a Nintendo or Sega game player.
We don’t have cable or satellite. What we do have is internet connection and pay for Netflix streaming. The kids do have Wii games they never play. But every day my son wants nothing more to go outside for a walk. My daughters love to go down to the creek and catch fish with handmade poles their dad made for them. They ride bikes and eat Popsicles by the hundreds.
Three years ago, it was estimated that 90% of Americans have cable. In 2012, surveys revealed that 10% of that number “cut the cord.” The top reason is that so many shows are available online, and with e-readers, Americans are reading more book and news magazine content as well. (Yes!)
I have to admit, I resisted the idea of no cable, but our pockets weren’t deep enough. As the children get older and I get a little older, too- I couldn’t be paid to turn on cable or satellite. And as much as there are two shows- Game of Thrones and Doctor who(no spoilers on either, please!)- I would love to stay current on, I say that honestly.
As a parent, I have more control over what my kids feed their brains with. My kids are great, but they’re like any other children. I’ve seen them turn into zombies the moment we enter a home and the television set is on. They need me to be the mom, to say(and I’ve said it a hundred times), “That’s junk. That’s not appropriate. ” Or my favorite, “Enough of that. It makes my brain hurt. Can’t be good for yours.”
We read the news more than we watch it, and talk with the children about the world around them. But they never saw a little girl being interviewed following a school shooting. I talked to my daughters about their power and independence as women, and that sadly, yes, it’s still an issue, a battle. But they didn’t witness a political leader’s gaffe about women, rape, and abortion.
Can we monitor every piece of information, or misinformation, that goes into their heads?
No. Yet, if you ask my daughters, they can tell you about critical thinking and the difference between an opinion and fact.
Without the constant influx of media, I feel my children can inform themselves better about body image, gender roles, and understand that the line between fact and fantasy is far bigger than advertisers and politicians would lead us to believe.
Going without cable inspires a slow revolution within me.
I read more, think more, and I started writing three years ago. I have an inner life. You don’t know how much you miss this until you make room for it.
When I read that Nelson Mandela is in critical condition, I don’t change the channel. I think about what this one man has meant to the world, and I am touched, and say a prayer for his health and spirit. I cry when a child dies, or clap my hands when ordinary people do the right thing and don’t ask for returns.
I have time to ask questions. All the questions until I find the right ones. We live in a complicated world full of opinions, myth, violence, and beauty. I need the time and space to form my own ideas. Television makes me a passive participant in the world.
Do I hate television? No. I recently confessed on Facebook that I spent a Friday night watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer(which ranked #49 on this list of 101 best written shows) while editing. I love watching TED talks, and have a special love for cult movies like Donnie Darko and The Labyrinth(my children all refer to David Bowie as the Goblin King.)
I don’t espouse to be perfect, or even wise. And I’m hardly the most motivated person you’ll meet. That’s part of the turn-off for me- knowing that for myself, and my family, life without cable will only lead us to a better, more fulfilled life.
For us, life without cable doesn’t mean less, it means more.