And with our children about to turn 10 years old, I can say with confidence that not having a TV has been one of the very best decisions we have made about their upbringing.
They are voracious readers, have the ability to focus on a task for hours at a time, and have developed so much creativity that would otherwise have been muted by the everyday presence of a TV set.
And it has benefited our marriage as well, with more time to connect and check in with one another on a regular basis.
Dropping our TV habit has also meant more time for reading, including books that have helped us develop personally and other books or even short stories that have expanded our minds on many topics related to our personal and professional pursuits.
It was the influence of leaders in World Wide DreamBuilders (WWDB) that played a key role in prompting us to pull the plug on watching TV: “Would you rather live life or watch someone else living it?”
The point at first sounded rather extreme, especially when you consider I worked on television shows and movies and my husband worked as a journalist reporting on the news of the day—two industries steeped in the world of media.
Gradually, though, it started to ring true and relevant. At first, we cut our cable subscription. Then we turned the TV toward the wall. More than a month later, when we went to watch something, it wouldn’t turn on.
Only then did we put it together: during an electrical storm some time earlier, it must have been zapped to death. By that point, we had found that life went on just fine and that we didn’t need to keep up with the latest plot twists of those “must-see Thursday” programs like Friends and Frasier.
Fast-forward 17 years. As we prepare to move into a new, bigger home, the question rears its head: Do we continue our TV-less approach to life?
The size of our home really shouldn’t be a factor, but the finished basement screams “TV room!” It would be understandable to have a 50-inch screen on one of the walls, with a Wii or PlayStation, and a gazillion cable channels.
My husband and I are both leery of TV leading us down a slippery slope in which we consume marathon lengths of time in front of it. But he has suggested—and I’m inclined to agree—that a practical antidote would be implementing limits (of when, what and how much to watch) that keep us from tumbling all the way down that abyss.
The latest occurred today. Because part of my tooth fell off while brushing my teeth this morning, I had to rush to my dentist. I didn’t want to bring my kids along, since the waiting room always seems to be dominated by a loud TV with some obnoxious reality court show or talk show.
So I let them stay home for this short time. As I scurried out, I said they could play a game called Whale Trail on the iPad. I just uploaded it a few days ago and with that and other games in the past, have allowed them to play for 10 or 15 minutes apiece.
Only this time, I was in such a hurry that I didn’t specifically mention the time limit. Big, big oversight.
When I got home, 90 minutes later, they were still immersed in Whale Trail. And the most disconcerting part was their response when I told them how long I had been out: “We didn’t know we were on it that long.”
This has been my experience, too. Anything with a screen, whether it’s TV or my iPad or the Internet, you just lose all sense of time.
In recent years, the addition of Hulu, Netflix and a huge variety of other ways to access video content through the Internet has expanded the singular battle we faced 17 years ago to many more fronts.
This year, we have become regular Netflix users, thanks to a free introductory card that I received for working last year on House of Cards, a Netflix original series.
Now, the standard one free month probably wouldn’t have hooked us. But when the six-month freebie expired June 30th, neither of us was calling to cancel. I must confess that my husband and I have binged on a few TV shows, some that have been off the air for many years. (My husband is on Season 2 of The West Wing.)
So while we will not be confused with the Luddites, our screen time has been very intentional. By contrast, there is a proliferation of screens everywhere you turn. Even bicyclists and skateboarders can’t seem to shake free of society’s default key: eyes fixed on a screen.
Against that backdrop, our bigger home looms on the horizon, with its potential for convenient, constant access to view things on a bigger screen for bigger chunks of time.
TV or not TV? That is the question.
It is one we answered in 1996, and it is one that we will be answering again soon. Stay tuned.