An unplanned television fast



We are a week into a major home reconstruction project that has about 2/3 of our living space sealed off against dust.  Bedroom, study, kitchen, and bath are available.  Internet too, since I carried the modem down to this end of the house.  A little cramped at times, but overall, just fine for a short period of time.

What surprises me is how little I miss TV.  More than that, it’s refreshing in many ways not to have it.  The sound was on at one of the TV’s at the gym and I found it so irritating I moved away.

It hasn’t been a completely video-less week.  One day we ventured out to the cineplex to watch Frozen.  Another evening we viewed an Agatha Christie mystery on youTube (the 13″ screen of my mac was ample).  On Friday, I watched a 20 minute Newshour segment on  And last night, we clambered through the dust curtains, out to the living room where the furniture is clumped, to watch the finale of Downton Abbey.

I’m not going to waste any time with polemics against television.  I enjoy several shows and of course, Turner Classic Movies.  I expect to watch those when the house is back to normal.  But a cautionary story came to mind as I looked for images for this post.

It’s possible some readers may not remember analog TV and the pre-404 no-signal pattern called “snow.”

Snow.  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Snow. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This always reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s visionary novel, Snow Crash.  Published in 1992, Stephenson envisioned a post-nation state world in which people lived as citizens of corporate territories.  The former United States still excelled at two things, computer micro-code and high speed pizza delivery, the latter because the mafia had taken over the business.

In 1992, the year I first got a windows computer, an 8K modem, and an AOL membership, Stephenson imagined virtual worlds where people created avatars to jack in and interact.  Then someone launched a virus that messed with people’s brains.  Anyone who opened this malware saw a pattern based on ancient glyphs that led to the Tower of Babel.  Viewing these symbols scrambled their neurons, in essence, turning their minds to snow.

What struck me this past week were the parallels to our current media world.  I can’t help thinking of all the ways that commercials, local news, political debates, and most of what passes for entertainment scramble our neurons, though much more slowly and in ways that leave us perfectly able to buy stuff.

I could say more, but this is enough – something to think about.

11 thoughts on “An unplanned television fast

  1. At one time in my life, I needed to get away from television, so I did for about 12 years. My family told me that I would someday feel like I had missed part of my life! Well, that never happened, and I do have a tv now and even enjoy some of the shows that are on.

    There is still a need in me for quiet, no tv, no radio, especially when I wake up in the A.M.

    The takeaway for me is to know that I can live without tv, but I don’t have to. But, don’t ask me who or what Seinfeld is, lol!


    • To say nothing of how interesting it is to look at the ways TV intertwines with our collective consciousness, ideals, hopes, fears, and dreams of given times. For example, the death last week of Pappa Walton (I can’t remember his real name) reminded me of that show and how it couldn’t possibly be made today. By the same token, I think a lot of the government-smaller-the-better attitude harks back to the ideals of Bonanza – carving a life out of the wilderness with your own hard work, being more savvy and capable than any damn gummint, etc.

      I have no idea what TV show might capture our current condition – I’m sure it’s one I don’t watch – maybe some “reality” show…


  2. Good article, Morgan. I think it’s reality shows that finally tipped me over the edge. I very seldom watch tv anymore and find that my creative level has grown because of it. Remember the days when there were only a few stations, not everyone had a tv, and we had to ‘make’ our own entertainment?


  3. I’m not sure, but I suspect our parents’ generation had a richer experience with radio because it more actively engaged the imagination. I guess I’m thinking of how much I enjoy audio books, especially while driving. And the effect of the Orson Welles broadcast of “War of the Worlds” which apparently trumps any scary movie ever made. And Woody Allen’s nostalgic, “radio days.”

    There is a magic in old movies and TV shows that is often lacking nowadays. Not sure why, but I suspect it involves adherence to formulas to the exclusion of trying new things.


  4. We cut cable in fairly short order once we arrived here in our new home. The internet and the library dvds provide enough entertainment, so TV is always what we choose to watch, not what it wants to show us. And no commercials. Ever.


    • Another concern I didn’t mention came up several years ago. Turns out several TV’s set up to double as computer screens have built in cameras and at least one manufacturer included circuitry that allowed them to monitor what goes on in your living room. The company hedged when privacy guarantees were requested by at least one investigative reporter. And in light of subsequent NSA revelations…
      And all along we thought 1984 was fiction…


      • This morning the internet (or at least G+, the best of the internet) has reports of Yahoo accounts being hacked by GCHQ to check people out through their webcams. My tv has no webcam, so they only get to see my study, and I hang all the blueprints for my space-bourne laser platform on the wrong wall for them to spot it….


  5. I watch very little TV anyway, most of the time if I have my TV on it’s on Sportscenter, and even then it’s usually background noise while I’m doing something else like surfing the internet or playing a game.

    There’s almost nothing on TV that I find to be actually worth watching, and the shows that I do enjoy are better watched on another platform (Netflix anyone?). I’d rather be reading most of the time, so I just do that instead.


    • What’s interesting is that we were able to reconnect the TV 48 hours ago but have yet to watch a single program…
      Kind of meshes with the perception I had during the Super Bowl, which I turned off at the half. It didn’t help that it was a terrible game between two teams I didn’t really care about, but at one point, I got so sick of seeing commercials every two minutes, and tired of the “precious” quality of Super Bowl commercials, that I might have flicked it off anyway.
      Someone made the point that the event this year was little more than a bookend for Black Friday advertising, and I think they made a very good point.


  6. I must admit I am a TV junkie and often have it on when I’m doing other things, so don’t always pay attention to what is on. But there are wonderful things on — Downton Abbey to name one — that I wouldn’t want to miss. But on the very few days I don’t turn it on, I must admit I feel much more at peace. Thanks for another thoughtful post.


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