Thursday, January 21, 2010

A List of (mostly PG-rated) Things To Do Instead of Watching TV

Most of the time there are two things people ask when they find out we are not watching television for a year:

What's wrong with you?

What do you do instead of watching television?

I thought today I could clear up that second question by listing things we do (or things we should/could do) instead of watching television. As to the first question - that is far too serious a topic for me to try to tackle on a Friday.

Let's keep it simple and go with a list:

1) Clip your fingernails/toenails - this is not something that I do, even now that I don't watch television. I bite my fingernails (I know, BOO!) and usually just tear off my toenails when they get to long. That sounds really gross. It's one of the few things I do that makes me feel like Bear Grylls from Man v. Wild, and I'm not giving it up.

2) Play games with the kids - this is something we are doing more often, usually an old classic like Sorry or a new favorite like Disney Princess Yahtzee. Unfortunately I find my competitive edges seem to be increasing these days. I often find myself shouting "No, no, no, you definitely claimed Ariel as your wild card. Stop cheating!"

3) Read (more) - this is happening. I am grateful.

4) Go to bed earlier - but this only leads to waking up earlier, so I'm not seeing a real net benefit with this one.

5) Go out and party - this is not going to happen with four children 6 and under, but for those of you more footloose and fancy free, this may be something to consider.

For all of you (and there have been plenty) suggesting that we have a fifth child with the extra time gained from no longer watching television . . . well, I'm not going to tempt fate by making reckless guarantees, but as of right now I can assure you we are happy with four.

As you can see, I haven't gotten too far with this list. If you have any other suggestions, let me know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And My #9 Book of All Time is . . .

Last night was one of those nights when I really could have used some television. Kids to bed early, nice and quiet, feeling very lazy and unproductive, and I probably would have enjoyed nothing more than a good evening of Seinfeld/Friends reruns capped off with something interesting on the Discovery Channel, preferably Man v. Wild. Oh well, instead I started reading All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and played some poker online. Only about 345 days to go.

So instead of watching tv I also decided to write about my ninth favorite book of all time: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is pretty much the ultimate love story, and I'm not talking about some gushing type of romance. Marquez's writing swings to a South American rhythm: laid back and sultry, sort of like iced tea on a baking summer day. You can just about feel the beads of moisture forming on the outside of the glass, or the warm radiation of sun through large windows.

It is the story of Florentino Ariza's unrequited love for Fermina Daza that spans 51 years, 9 months and 4 days. When Fermina Daza's husband dies, even though both of the main characters are now in their sixties or seventies, the story is only beginning.

Some of the scenes get a little sexy, so if you're more of a Puritan reader this might offend your sensibilities, but I found it at times hilarious and at times rather melancholy and touching. If you've already read Love in the Time of Cholera and enjoyed Marquez, you also must read another great book he wrote, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Anyway, happy reading!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favorite TV Shows That Do Not Exist

I was just thinking today over all the great television shows I watched as a kid, starting with the good old GI Joe and Transformer days, then on to 3-2-1 Contact and Reading Rainbow, the Cosby Show and A Different World, Silver Spoons and Family Ties.

Then I started to wonder, are there concepts for television that would bring me back, cause me to forsake my year long television fast?

Hmmm . . .

What if someone put together a reality tv show in which spouses switched places for a week . . . for all of you women out there, wouldn't you pay to see your husband at home all day with the kids, changing dirty diapers and doing laundry, or going to your place of work and struggling through your job all day long? (this was not my idea, but something planted in my head by C and S P, something of which I should be extremely suspicious as CP is a huge fan of Housewives . . .)

How about some good old fashioned reunion shows with a twist . . . something along the lines of Cosby Show/Roseanne after 20 years. Wouldn't it be great to see how Heathcliff Huxtable would deal with Roseanne?

Or maybe a combined Different Strokes / Press Your Luck reunion show . . . I can just hear little what's-his-name (was it Arnold?) shouting WHAT CHOO TALKIN ABOUT WHAMMIE?

Maybe there could be a more literal Survivor show where 16 contestants are released in a national park to survive on their own . . . only they are being pursued by men with guns (paintball, probably) and the last person standing wins the million bucks. Or a lifetime's supply of snuggies.

Any made up shows you are trying to sell to TV land?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Million Little Nightmares

Okay, so I know I've given up television for a year, but I'm not strictly anti-television. It's true that tv shortens your life, uses up an undue amount of time, has basically been perpetuated in order to sell us stuff, and has killed small children by sheer force and weight. But it's not all bad.

Is it?

I was thinking of this during the recent earthquake in Haiti. If something like that happened 75 years ago, we probably wouldn't have even heard about it until weeks or months later. More people probably would have died if the entire world hadn't been immediately alerted as it was by television news networks. (By the way, if you haven't given toward the relief effort in Haiti yet and would like to, check out this link: )

Without television, all of those folks who received homes from Home Makeover would still be in their old circumstances. And Maile would probably weigh about fifteen pounds more than she currently does since she wouldn't have cried thall those buckets of tears.

If my kids were watching television right now I wouldn't have had to turn around and yell "don't pick her up by her feet!" Right now Abra's life would be better, or at least right-side up, if her siblings were glued to Dora or Super Why.

A suppose a lot of people have come to a belief in God because of television programming, and a lot of people have found old relatives, or watched the weather channel and avoided a rained out picnic, or discovered a new-favorite band on MTV or VH1 (actually I have never heard of anyone for whom this has happened, but I assume it must be true). I'm sure some folks have met their future spouse at a television event hosted at a common friend's house. That's good, right?

I guess I just feel like the television is a lot like the lottery - for all the schools and roads and old folks the lottery money takes care of, there's still way too many people buying lottery tickets with their food stamps. For every good thing the television accomplishes, there seem to be a million little nightmares . . . the child who stumbles across a pornography channel or the fact that the average American kid will have seen 16,000 murders by age 18 or the dad who watches television non-stop and doesn't take time for his kids.

Maybe I'm overstating things, I don't know. I hear someone shouting, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" (sorry Bryan, I had to go cliche on you guys) - plenty of people have good family time around the tube, or learn some cool stuff, or have their life changed for the better in some way or another.

I guess what I'm hoping is that my year without television will recenter me and that, if I return to television at some future date, I'll be more analytical about what I watch, make more of an effort for my tv watching to be a social event and not a sort of emotional/mental hibernation. I don't know. Maybe.

Or maybe January 1st 2011 will be the first time anyone has ever watched 24 straight hours of television on 6 different screens, 3 laptops and a mobile phone. Maybe I'll binge on tv. Who knows.

Stop Watching TV and You'll Get Rich

As I reflected last week on why we as humans watch television, I started to wonder about why television exists. And the more I thought about this, the more I realized that the reasons we watch television are only important to those broadcasting television in that it helps them best achieve their goal.

Hang in there with me. I know this is deep for a Monday morning, but in less than two minutes you can get back to focusing on your cup of coffee and counting the crosshairs on your cubicle fabric.

So, as I theorized, and as many of you confirmed, we watch television to be entertained, or to zone out, or to relax, or to avoid life. But why does television exist? That's easy - there's one reason, and one reason alone:

To sell us stuff.

Now, if you're main purpose was to sell something on the television, what is the single most important element you would look for in the show during which your ad would air? Getting people not to look away. So the networks create engaging plot lines (although these are expensive to create, cast and execute), or throw a bunch of people together and let reality grab our attention (cheaper, but less predictable), or show things so strange and/or horrific and/or normally personal that the viewer cannot look away (1000 Ways to Die, Discovery Health, American Idol, Biggest Loser, etc).

It's interesting to me that at least three parents have responded to my blog and said they gave up television for a time - and all three of these parents also mentioned how their children were more content and asked for less stuff when they stopped watching television. It made me wonder how many of the things I purchased last year had to do with advertising.

Now I'm not sure if it's my family's recent decision to give up television, or the fact that we are on an ultra-tight writing budget, but I've noticed this year that it has been easier for me to recognize when I am wastefully spending money. Interesting. I hadn't thought of that until just now.

Now, there have been some recent developments which allow us to put up at least a feeble fight against the advertisers of the world, the main weapon being the DVR. Record your shows easily, and skip through the commercials. But the networks have not been far behind in figuring out how to promote their sponsors during the actual show. I'd be willing to bet that as more and more people begin using DVRs to watch television, we'll begin to see less of a defining line between the show we are watching and the advert trying to sell us something.

Anyway, just an interesting thought I had. And another reason to consider cutting back on the amount of television you watch - you'll get rich.

Tune in tomorrow for a post which is in complete contrast with today's - ways tv has helped humanity. Any guesses? (for those of you who have expressed disappointment at the difficulty of commenting on blogspot, I understand your pain - feel free to comment directly on my Facebook page).