Edit: This was originally posted on this blog in 2008, but still applies (at least in our home) today. Our most recent solution involves going tv-free every other day. How do you view your relationship with tv? How do you limit your screen time?
How many hours a week do Americans watch television? Nationmaster.com says 28 - we're tied for most hours watched per week with the U.K. 28 hours. That's another part time job's worth of time. That's almost as many hours as kids are in school each week. That's an average of four hours per day. Imagine the beautiful meals, winter hats, decisions, plans, gardens, breads, peace, conversations, blogs, furniture, backyard sanctuaries, jams, and more that you could make with four extra hours each day.
But instead we subject ourselves to marketing ploys telling us that we're not good enough. My beef with television isn't the actual shows, although the quality has gone down exponentially in just the last five years. Why do we flock to these reality tv shows? My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that we are bored with our own lives because all we do is work, sleep and watch tv. And many of the prime time television shows' characters' lives create this unreality in our minds that says that we should make more money, have more stuff, and never, apparently, have to go to work. But there are also some really wonderful, intelligently written, beautifully acted shows out there that make for excellent free entertainment (until their inevitable cancellation). And if you can find those shows, who doesn't support a free entertainment source that keeps you in your home with your family, perhaps not for four hours a day, but for some time anyway?
No, my beef with television is really mostly with commercials. They're louder than the show you're watching. They're flashing and jolty and bright, often completely changing your mood and possibly even your heart rate. Their goal is to make you feel like you need something you don't or you aren't good enough as you are. And that is not good for anybody.
We've found a couple of solutions to this in my household. You could, of course, throw out your television. If you can do it, this would be the best step. There are just so many more stimulating and productive things to entertain yourself with. But, alas, lifetime habits are hard to break, and sometimes you just need to veg after a day's work. So what do you do if you're like me and can't (or don't want to) kick the habit completely?
The first and easiest step is to get familiar with your mute button. I learned this trick from my fabulous stepdad when visiting last year. As soon as the commercial comes on, hit mute and take the opportunity for a little peace and quiet or brief conversation. In my house, we also tend to give ourselves a task that needs to get done before the end of the show- folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc. We use commercial time to do it and don't subject ourselves to the brainwashing.
Another option is to create a schedule of the shows you actually like, and limit your tv time to those. I'm one of those people who will watch an infomercial if nothing else is on, just because I get so sucked in to the television. Creating a schedule allows you to get in the habit of turning off the tv when your show is over, or not turning it on at all on days that nothing good is on. I make sure I have a plan for those days too, because I know I'll be tempted by that rascal tv when I run out of steam for the day. My current diversion plan is to spend what would be tv time reading a good fiction book (which is almost like watching television but stimulates your brainwaves much more) or knitting.
If you really want to kick the tv habit without giving up the free entertainment option, try this. Disconnect your antenna. Go to the library and check out a dvd- they often have movies and full seasons of popular or interesting television shows. Try interlibrary loan for a better selection- ask your librarian for help if you've never used interlibrary loan before. Then just watch those in the evening when you get the tv craving. Tv shows on dvd are really great- a show that is normally an hour is only 45 minutes and you don't have to watch any commercials at all. Plus, when the episode is done, the next one doesn't start automatically. You get to make a conscious decision whether or not you want to continue to sit there and watch something. It makes it much easier to limit your tv time to only 45 minutes a day.
Like radio and the library, television is one of those rare free things that by all rights should cost something in America but still don't, and I really appreciate that. But we pay a little extra for tv, with our time and with the marketing we subject ourselves to. Its habit-forming ability can be very detrimental, just like any other habit-forming substance. But we can take the power back and enjoy the good parts of owning a television- free entertainment!