Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Origin of NoTV2010

So, yes, going without tv for a year was indeed my idea, as was the blog, which Shawn hijacked, but I’m okay with that as long as I get to put my two-cents in every once in a while. So while he’s away for the weekend, I guess here's my opportunity to tell you all where this crazy old idea came from and how I feel it has gone so far.

The idea began on a Friday night, late, very late for a couple with 4 kids, one of which wakes up at 6 am every morning, demanding oatmeal from her throne of a high chair like the Queen of Hearts, threatening to wake up the other 3 if the bowl isn’t cool and on her tray, like, yesterday. But I digress. Anyway, it was late and I had spent the past 3 or so hours watching random shows on one of those health channels in the 40’s about a hodgepodge of medical anomalies, for instance: a man entering the ER with an ax sticking out of his skull, a woman with a 130lb. tumor (give or take a few pounds, it was late remember), and another woman who had plastic surgery done on over 75% of her body. Don’t get me wrong, this was intriguing stuff, but as I stumbled into bed, mourning the less than 5 hours of sleep I would get before the Queen awoke, I wondered, “What on God’s green earth am I doing?”

Now, I defy any of you to tell me that you don’t have a similar story to share. You’ve been there. It’s the same feeling I get after eating a pint of Ben&Jerry’s at 9pm after all the kids are in bed and it’s just me and the ice cream and it tastes so good at the moment, but afterwards, oh, afterwards- not so good. So there and then the idea popped into my head as I was drifting off to sleep, “What if I just didn’t do it, didn’t watch tv for a whole year…”

The next morning the idea was still there, but I wondered if maybe it was one of those crackpot ideas that seems divine-inspired at 1 in the morning but just plain idiotic by sunrise when your brain isn’t coated in fatigue. So I decided Shawn would be the true test. I mean, for me to give up tv, well, it would be a sacrifice, but a small one, like giving up my pinkie finger (apologies Uncle Dale) or something, because I’m not a devoted follower of very many shows, I’m just one of those “random show watchers to pass the hours from kids’ bedtime to adults’ bedtime” people, but for Shawn, he’d be losing a large appendage in this sacrifice: first and foremost, the NFL and everything that goes with it- the Steelers, SNF, MNF, his new announcer love affair with Jon Gruden, the Playoffs, the Superbowl, the Draft, ESPN highlights, Tony Kornheiser’s comb-over… I could go on, but I'll spare you. Trust me, this would be big for him. So as he and I were in the living room lamenting our lack of sleep the night before and vowing to do better, I dangled the idea out there, “So I’m thinking of giving up tv for the new year.” He stopped and looked at me. The idea hung there, dangling, awaiting it’s fate and… he bit. “That’s a great idea, hon. I think we should do it.” That was it. There was no wavering in his voice, no "great idea but...", just "let's do it". So that confirmed for me that this late-night revelation was legit.

So how do I feel about the decision now, a couple of weeks into it? I'll save that for tomorrow. But what I would love to hear is the response you would give if your significant other dangled this idea in front of you. I'm flying solo for the weekend with 4 kids, folks; I need a good laugh.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Deal or No Deal?

One of the most common responses I've gotten when people hear about this experiment is, "Man, I couldn't do that, but good luck to you."

I can understand that response if I was planning a trip to the top of Mt. Everest, or preparing for a year eating only beans (good luck to my family if that was the case), or going a year without shoes. But this is tv folks.

It's not that big of a deal.

Perhaps now that I've done it for a few weeks I've seen the wizard for who he truly is - that little dude standing on a stool to make himself taller or speaking through a megaphone to make himself louder. Going without tv isn't scary, and, actually, it's not all that difficult. A television isn't a bully, just a talking box, sitting there in the corner waiting for us to turn it on and watch other people do fun and interesting things while we sit on a sofa and eat and think, "That's cool."

Not to say the blank screen doesn't occasionally watch me as I cross the room, or whisper things to me . . . "National Championship game is on tonight" . . . "Wouldn't it be nice to veg in front of Friends for a few hours" . . . "Entertainment, you need entertainment!" . . . But it doesn't take long for that voice to sound more and more nasally and conceited and, eventually, down right annoying. And since I still have the remote control I can turn the volume down.

Quick word association - what's the opposite of:

laughing . . . crying
love . . . fear
television . . . peace

Wow. That was insightful.

So a quick heads up. I think I'm going to try to encourage some sort of week without television and see how many of you guys will sign up for it. I don't know when exactly, but let me know if that sounds like an interesting experiment you might be willing to try out. Maybe if you live close, we'll have you over for dinner at the end of the week and share detox stories, or if there are too many people we'll all go somewhere. Or if there are no people then Maile and I will eat alone.

My goal in this is definitely not to try to persuade everyone in the world to give up tv - there are more worthwhile causes to fight for and, contrary to how this may all look, I'm not strictly anti-tv. So if you're not up for a week away from the idiot box, that's cool, too.

And you can still come to our dinner.

*** make sure you tune in on Saturday and Sunday this weekend - I will be in Florida (enough with all the groaning and sighing b/c it's 40 degrees and raining in West Palm Beach) so we will be having a special guest blogger. That's right, none other than my beautiful wife Maile. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Harrowing Tale

Maybe it's because the lack of television is resensitizing me, or maybe it's because they're kid classics, but whatever the case, there's no denying it: I've definitely been enjoying The Boxcar Children books more than I thought I would.

The idea of four children and a dog taking up residence in an old abandoned boxcar almost seems harrowing, now that my mind is no longer being bombarded with Jack Bauer-like feats of adventure and violence. I experienced genuine relief when Cade, Lucy and I discovered that the Aldin children would be well taken care of by their wealthy grandfather and not mistreated as they had first feared. I was moved when he somehow transported the boxcar from where the children lived in the woods to his backyard where they could play in it everyday.

Abra and Sam were asleep and I was reading the last chapter to Cade and Lucy on the couch. Normally at about 7:55pm on a Tuesday night we would make sure the kids were sleeping so that we could turn on the tube and watch a bunch of overweight people do jumping jacks and use their teeth to fill up bins with tennis balls while a tiny rope of a woman screams at them and asks them if they have really, truly, honestly dealt with the death of their pet cat in the third grade.

Instead, the basement was quiet. A few lamps were on. A fan hummed in the background.

"Let's start the next one!" Lucy said, her eyes positively radiant, referring to "Surprise Island" (tale number two in the riveting lives of the Boxcar Children).

Why not? I thought.

So read a book to your kid tonight, or your grandchild, or yourself. You don't even have to give up television to do that.

And let me know if you have any suggestions for kids books that a 6 year old, a 5 year old (and a 33 year old) might enjoy. I'd be up for something slightly more thrilling than The Boxcar Children. Would Treasure Island keep them up at night?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What would you do with nine extra years . . .

I mentioned the following in my very first post:

FACT: by the age of 65, the average American will have spent 9 years watching television

I still have to laugh whenever I read that sentence, because it sounds so ludicrous. 9 years. None of my children are even that old yet, and it seems like they've been around forever (in a good way).

Most people regard decades as significant portions of time - think back to the 80s and everything that happened in those 9+1 years. Remember the hair bands and the Reagan administration and communism and the San Francisco earthquake? Arsenio Hall (the first year)? Rocky III and IV? Cabbage Patch Kids? A lot of stuff happens in a decade.

Remember that decade we watched tv?

Wait. What?

Anyway, I was thinking about how long a decade really is and what I could accomplish in 9 years if I didn't watch any television for my entire life (I know it's already too late for that, but humor me).

*During Christmas break I was in Florida and built a 100 s.f. sandcastle in about six hours (it was supposed to be a family bonding moment between me and the kids but by the time it was starting to look really good I found myself telling them not to touch the walls and get out of the moat and somehow I ended up finishing it mostly on my own). Anyway, in 9 years I could build a sand castle that covered about thirty acres. Hmmm. Not as big as I thought. I'd probably rather watch television

*They estimate that it took about 20 years to build the Great Pyramid, but that was with 100,000 people. I could do it in 9, but would need the help of over 200,000 other people, who would also have to swear off television for life. This is not going to happen, when 98% of American households have a television, and those who do not are mostly incommunicado, or, like me, would like to do something more productive with their lives than build a pyramid. No offense to my Egyptian following (Bassam).

*Tolstoy started writing War and Peace in 1862 and extensively edited/finished writing the piece for the next 6-7 years (a total of 7-8 years). If he had watched television, we may never have been blessed with this incredible work . . . although most people I know have not read it (if you haven't yet read War and Peace, read it. For once I am not being sarcastic. It's entertaining, not as daunting as it may seem, and has an engaging plot. But it is long. It might take you 9 years, if you are a very very very slow reader, so if that's you, just stop watching tv).

So, three things you might want to do with your life instead of watching television - build a great pyramid, build a great sand castle, or write a great novel. Let me know any other ideas you might have for the use of 9 spare years.

Five television shows which should not be preserved in a time capsule for future generations

We've all done it. It's late at night, but too early for bed. We're too tired to read or do anything productive. All we want to do is veg, so we turn on the tv to get us through 20 minutes or so of life before hitting the hay.

And we end up watching something really, really dumb.

The following are, in my opinion, some of the lamest television creations of all time. A few I am even ashamed to admit I have tuned in to. Others are borderline. One of the top five Maile completely disagrees with me on. When I tried to include another one, "What Not to Wear," she had a downright tantrum.

"That's not even right!" she exclaimed, "They help people!"

So, here are my choices, in reverse order, with one being perhaps the dumbest show I've ever seen - feel free to disagree, or add your own (un)favorites to the list:

5) Apollo 13 (the movie) - this movie used to be in my top 20 favorite movies of all time. Who didn't know the catch-phrase, "Houston, we have a problem"? But then they started showing it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT on TBS . . . and I watched it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. The madness needs to stop. Apollo 13 needs to go.

4) Reruns of old football games of no significance. Please ESPN Classic, stop playing Steelers-Browns 1986. Even though the game had no significance, and both teams were horrible, I still have to watch. It's a sickness.

3) Say Yes to the Dress - okay, the first time I saw the show I was hooked. Conflict abounds when a bride goes to a posh wedding dress shop with family and friends in tow. But do we need to see this, the clerks upselling Jane Doe from a $2000 dress to a $5000 dress? That little dude who works there, running around, arguing with EVERYONE and fanning his eyes with his hands when he finds the perfect gown? Who knows, maybe next the tv people will take us back one point in the timeline and have us watching the girl pick out not only the dress, but the guy as well. Oh wait, they already did that in . . .

2) The Bachelorette. Seems more like a junior high kissing game than a serious attempt at finding Mr. Right.


1) Housewives of Atlanta/Orange County/New York. That's right, I'm going there CP (you know who you are). I can't remember a show before Housewives that, after watching for about ten minutes, I actually felt dumber. For those of you blessed enough never to have seen it, its reality tv at it's most egregious - 5 or 6 ultra-wealthy housewives are filmed going through their everyday lives, buying $10,000 purses, arguing over which gold-plated tiki torches they want for their next million dollar pool party, talking the audience through which of their previous husbands provides the most alimony, or which of their current affairs will end up proposing with the largest ring. Yet, if you pass this show 15 minutes before bed time, and are looking to waste a few minutes, you may find it hard to look away.

I feel much better, having got all of that off my chest. It's a confessional of sorts. So how about you? Consume anything recently that made you wish your brain could throw up?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Quick Clarification in the form of a mini-post

Maile felt there was some confusion regarding the rules of engagement for our tv termination. They are as follows:

*no watching anything on the television (I thought that was pretty clear)
* the occasional movie on DVD for a date night on the weekend (c'mon folks, we've got four kids and are working on limited funds, here)
* the kids may watch the occasional video as well - the main purpose of this is for Maile and I to see what life is like without television

I think those are the only exceptions. Television shows / sporting events may not be viewed on the internet as a way around the rules. I am still reeling from the sudden realization that the World Cup is this year. Trying to find a way around that - maybe I'll just have to go to South Africa and watch it live!

Tune in tomorrow for an entertaining post on television shows I often enjoyed but wish I never would have watched, for various reasons.

First day without television, in review

A friend emailed me last night, posing a valid question.

"One week without television would be good," he said. "Do you know a year has 52 weeks?"

I had considered that. He continued.

"I have two words for you: 1) O 2) lympics."

Now as we all know, Olympics is one word, but it did stir up in me the realization that perhaps I had not thought this through. For example, I love luging (sp?), curling, and especially the triple axel, triple lutz and footage of ice skaters beating each other up. I had not considered that this will all be taking place in 2010.

My little mind began to wonder . . . what else will I miss? The Final Four. Ouch, forgot about that. The World Series. American Idol. Survivor. Charlie Brown Christmas and A Christmas Story shown for 24 hours straight. All those great Seinfeld and Friends reruns. As the World Turns . . . kidding.

So what television event are you most looking forward to this year? Just leave your comment below, and try to make me feel really bad about what I'll be missing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And so it begins . . .

FACT: the average American watches 3 hours and 46 minutes of television each day (that adds up to 52 days each year)

FACT: 66% of Americans regularly watch television while eating dinner

FACT: the average American child will have seen over 16,000 murders on television by the age of 18

FACT: By age 65 the average American will have spent nearly 9 years watching television

Okay, people, seriously . . . 9 years of television by the time we're 65! That's ridonculous!

So anyway, here we are. My wife came up with this great idea about a week ago, that 2010 would be the year we went without television.

"Think of all the great things we could get done, all the reading and hanging out with the kids. It will be fun!" she said.

I agreed. And now it's Sunday afternoon, 1:25, and I'm kind of wondering how the Steelers are doing, if they'll make the playoffs, etc. But instead, I'm writing this.

It's not that bad, I guess. I started working on a short story this afternoon - I wouldn't have done that. Normally I would get home from church, grab some lunch, get the kids down for their naps, and then veg for six straight hours of football. I guess, in retrospect, it's kind of a waste of a good life.

I don't know if this will last a year or not. My wife is a fairly disciplined person, and usually when she puts her mind to something, she sees it through. I have a pretty good feeling 2010 will be an interesting year.

Come along for the ride, and see how it goes. And think about scaling back your own television viewing, after all

FACT: 49% of Americans feel they watch too much television

***for all you fact checking people, I got my info from