08 Sep

Letting go of cable

telebasura-danger-child-281274-l.jpgAt some point during our trip to Montreal for Worldcon Emily pointed out that we hadn’t turned the TV on in the hotel room, or watched any TV during the entire trip. After talking it over briefly, we decided to cut the cable off on returning home.

We’d done this before. When we first moved to Bluffton after getting married we cut the box. I didn’t have cable while living in my first apartment. As Emily rightly pointed out, with audiobooks to listen too, books to read, and our Netflix account (plus being able to purchase a movie via iTunes or any other movie service), we had all the entertainment we needed.

What we’ve both noticed is that cable sucks up a lot of your time. This isn’t a new observation. Flipping through channels for your average American takes up four hours a day of time. That’s a part time job! When people ask me what it takes to find the time to write my first suggestion is always that they kill cable and repurpose that four hours a day more mindfully. Between that and your lunch break, most people I know have five potential hours a day they could be using better (I say most).

I cut cable back when I first moved to Bluffton so that I could finish various writing projects without the distraction. Right now, with both the twins and a lot of projects being due, and my energy levels being low, I need to think a bit more mindfully, so I jumped on Emily’s suggestion wholeheartedly. Added to that was the fact that she’s about to take another grad class while juggling teaching and having the twins, and she’s also interested in being more efficient.

What I find about cable is that it’s very easy to keep watching out of sheer momentum. As one program ends another begins. Even worse, if you’re watching two shows at the same time, ducking ads, as one ends, another on another channel begins, and suddenly a one hour show you were going to watch is four hours of watching later.

What’s funny to me is that almost every. single. person. I tell that four hours TV watching a day statistic to says without fail “Yes, but *I* don’t watch that much tv.” Statistically I have to imagine *someone* is lying to me! We often quite underestimate the time sink it is. To combat that, every once in a while I use a time sheet and track where I spend my time in a week, to keep myself honest. And I fall just slightly below the American average when I have cable. I fall well under it when I don’t.

I have no illusions about the time spent. I knew it would eat up time when I had it put back in when we moved into our house.

People get really defensive whenever I talk about this. They take hearing that you have dropped cable as social commentary, and you’ve just become an outsider of sorts. Many people launch, without my asking for it, into a full on defense of their cable watching when I apologize and mention I don’t have it (during those periods where I don’t have it). I know some people who don’t watch cable have philosophical grudges (I’m sure you’ve been accosted by a professorial type who despises popular culture, or a religious type who, oddly enough, also hates it and wants to dispel ‘worldly’ things from their TV. Funny how the two opposite sides of something can end up sounding somewhat similar), and people are reacting against that. I don’t have anything really against pop culture (I think Wipe Out is completely fragging hilarious and love it), I just need the time back.

The funny thing is that its not that I’m checking out of the whole process. In this day and age you can continue to watch movies and favored shows easily enough. In my case I purchased a Roku box for $99 that allows me to watch Netflix streaming video, as well as anything on Amazon Video on Demand.

This weekend, after a few weeks of running crazily around, Emily and I decided to check out of it all and just veg out. We had Lost: Season 1 in our Netflix instant play library and made our way through the second half of it while hanging out with the twins. It’s still possible for us to enjoy pop culture, thank you very much. And the Roku box is a very nice ‘window’ into the online rental world (I watched Outlander in HD recently via Amazon VOD, a passable surprise B movie).

But the difference is that we did it mindfully, with a pause button, and with no commercials.

That is the difference I note, and it is a big one for me. We now have to make more of a decision to start a show. And when an episode or movie is done, we have to decide to start the next episode or continue on. I also note, and this I didn’t remember, that I don’t watch a lot of lesser quality shows or repeats as I do on cable. In other words, since the decision is more mindful, I actually do a quick calculation in my mind: is this new, does it look quality? I don’t rewatch reruns (which are very plentiful on cable). Yes, I like that episode of Seinfeld/Family Guy/Simpsons/etc, but do I need to watch it again? No.

I also am willing to stop a program after ten minutes of realizing its not for me and cut my losses, whereas if it was the only decent thing on with cable, I’d keep going on.

On the flip side, this approach has led us to more eclectic show sampling. We added a Brit comedy series called Chef, with Lenny Henry, to the streaming library, and found we liked it. We tried an anime show called Pani Poni Dash, however, and while it is sort of how I imagine an acid trip might be like, it’s not really my cup of tea. I also watched a few episodes of an old SF tv show Earth 2 and realized that, while I remembered the two episodes I’d seen fondly, clearly my taste has evolved since I was 16 (and ohmyflyingspaghettimonster why do the dune buggies have that horrible weird-ass-crank-thingey as a steering wheel? Just because it’s the future doesn’t mean we have to take stupid-design-pills).

If anything fundamentally amazing pops up on TV, it’ll probably show up on Hulu, or be available to watch for $1.99 an episode via Amazon VOD or iTunes, so I’m not worried about ‘missing’ anything. Finding out that we’re freeing up a couple hours (we still watch TV while feeding the twins dinner and catching dinner ourselves, so that’s usually when we watch a couple episodes of something we both like [which is, incidentally, easier when you're make a purposeful selection instead of just trying to find something you'll both tolerate], like an episode of Lost or an episode or two of The IT Crowd) has been more than worth it.

Oh yeah, my cable bill is now $60/month cheaper.