Back around the end of January or the beginning of February, we decided to call the cable company and have them shut off the cable television. We don’t have an antenna or anything, so no cable TV means no live TV at all really. I had mentioned the idea to my husband from time to time over the previous year, but we finally went through with it last winter.
I was quite curious to see how life without cable would play out over the months. Would it be how I imagined? Even without cable TV, I knew I still planned to let my kids watch movies and cartoons in one form or another. We had slowly been building up a collection of used DVDs at home anyway. (I am a bit surprised that the folks at Game Exchange don’t know us by name now.) I would use the library to borrow items. We even obtained a Netflix subscription so that I could order videos for the kids, educational or otherwise, whenever we wanted to.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t necessarily hate TV or anything. I do enjoy sitting down and watching shows with my boys. I am cool with the fact that the boys all have their favorite shows that they like to watch. Ken and I have spent many evenings over the years sitting on the couch together watching our favorite shows come and go. Although I definitely think that there is a lot of junk on television, I also believe that there is a lot of worthwhile stuff to see as well. And I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with TV just being entertainment sometimes. Not every moment of the day has to be educational.
Despite my family’s apparent enjoyment of TV, I still weighed the pros and cons of turning off the cable and ended up with several reasons why I thought it would be worth trying, at least for a little while. I ended up with three major reasons that finally swayed me to give it a go. First, an obvious one, our cable bill had gotten a little out of hand. The price just seemed to creep up a little more every year. I knew that cutting off the cable TV would save us quite a bit of money over the course of a year.
Second, although I really didn’t mind when my kids watched their favorite cartoons and such, I did mind all of that advertising that my kids were constantly subjected to everyday. It had gotten to the point where Tobin could easily recite whole videogame commercials from beginning to end. I swear my five-year-old probably knows more advertising slogans than a marketing major recently graduated from college.
My third reason however seems a little naïve to me now. For some strange reason I thought that by trying to cut TV out of our lives that we would all somehow be more productive people. Stephen would read more. The boys would be less likely to hurry through the day’s schoolwork to get to the TV. I’d get more housework done. We would play more board games with the kids. Tobin would want to play outside more often. I’m sure you get the idea. Surprisingly though, cable TV in our house just ended up being replaced by things other than what I had hoped, most notably, by the Internet.
In some ways though, that has not been such a bad thing. The Internet is both a wonderful toy and tool. I now chat with friends more than I used to. I connect with extended members of my family much more frequently than before. I finally have time to blog. I research all kinds of interesting things on the Internet when I’m bored. I am sure I spend way too much time on the Internet, time I could probably spend doing something productive around the house, but I also manage to accomplish some worthwhile things, so I guess it somehow works out.
And of course the boys get our money’s worth out of the Internet connection too. They both know how to watch TV shows using the Internet. Steve knows his way around Hulu.com and our Netflix subscription probably better than I do. Tobin can navigate our Netflix subscription pretty well for a five-year-old. Steve has discovered decades of pop music and how to listen to it for free on the web.
Not surprisingly, both boys love to play games on the Internet too. They both have their favorite game sites. Tobin loves his nickjr.com. Steve manages to find tons of free games all over the web to play. He’s even managed to make some friends with other kids on one of the game sites he regularly frequents.
Steve also uses the Internet to chat with friends. Tobin actually thinks he can chat with friends too, but he doesn’t really. Sometimes he just hops onto the computer and types random things and tells me that he is sending text messages to his friends. It’s kind of funny, but he does practice spelling real words while he does it, so I can’t exactly complain.
The kids seem to be coping well enough without our cable television subscription, but I do find that there are times when I truly do miss it myself. I was a little bummed that I missed watching the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races with Stephen this spring. There have been several occasions over the summer where I thought to myself that it would have been nice to sit down with my crocheting and watch a baseball game on TV. When I am ill, I like to pop the TV on and vegetate on the couch. I miss being able to turn on the Food Network when I am feeling uninspired in the kitchen. I used to love watching The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Ken and Steve, but now that the Internet is our only means of watching it, we just don’t watch it together anymore.
I certainly don’t miss things like reality TV and football games. I have never liked that stuff much. I was never a big six o’clock news watcher. I am content to seek news on the Internet when I am in the mood. I thought I might miss watching weekly sitcoms, but I have found that I really don’t. I find that I am happy to just wait until they come out on DVD if I really want to watch them. Perhaps it isn’t the television content I miss so much as the camaraderie of watching a show together as a family, laughing at the jokes, discussing plot twists, etc. We still watch DVDs together sometimes, but it seems to happen less often.
And if there are all these little things that I am really missing without cable TV, perhaps there are little things that Ken and the kids are missing too? Maybe the accumulation of all the little things will be enough to make us decide it’s time to jump back in again. Would we survive without TV? Probably. But do we really want to anymore?