Why we don’t own a television
And then we tell them we don’t want it.
But it’s free, they insist. And you don’t have a television. Don’t you want a free television?
Here’s some reasons we come back to again and again.
1. The best things in life rarely shout the loudest.
As I write this, I’ve just been sitting outside drinking tea in total stillness as birds sing and the sun sets. I am unwinding at the end of a long day and week. I am turning off my brain. And I am doing it without the noise of a television.
Television, as Donald Miller once pointed out, has the wonderful appeal of being an activity that slows down our brain waves. I’m not gonna lie—I like having my brain waves shut down, too.
But between sitting in front of a TV and sitting outside on my porch, there’s no contest as to which brain-shutting down leaves me more refreshed.
Siting outside, though, does not advertise, it is not orchestrated to have constant motion capturing my attention, it does not have a suspenseful plot line, it does not have quippy clever jokes. Ok, so maybe you could get metaphorical and say the great outdoors was designed by the best producer of all time and it does have plot and suspense and drama if we sit and listen for them. But that’s not the direction I was trying to go with this argument. I’m just saying nature doesn’t have a money-making motive to draw in our attention.
And a lot of the best things in life are like that. When put in a attention-grabbing contest with a television, they just aren’t going to win. My kids sitting at the counter talking to me while I cook dinner versus watching television? I lose. My husband and I having a conversation at the end of a long day versus watching televison? We lose. Gardening, board games, reading aloud, listening to the radio, playing make-believe, riding bikes, painting pictures together, inventing recipes together, visiting neighbors… all these are things most of us would love to have more time for. But when lined up against television, they just don’t have that punchy appeal going for them.
Taking television out of the competition just evens the playing field for these things to have a fighting chance to get done in our already oh-so-busy lives.
2. What does reality TV have to do with reality, anyway?
A teenager recently told me that she’d realized something strange about television—everything has to be so dramatic. Cake baking shows can’t be just about cake baking. They have to have a crisis—the cake collapses, there’s not enough time to make it, the bride wanted blue porpoises not dolphins jumping across the top.
Yes, reality has plenty of crises, but there are also plenty of ho-hum days where I just get to come home and love my husband and kids and call it a good day. I’m happy to call that reality.
If I want a more dramatic reality, there are plenty of ways to find out about legitimate suffering and the triumphs of good over evil in ways that inspire compassion and maybe even participation. The crime dramas, fight-scenes between lovers, pack-rats agonizing over throwing away their crap, and evening news of plane crashes, and oh so many more shows I could probably name if I actually watched television more, are generally scripted out for television in ways that inspire shock, horror, lust, fear, and an attitude of “I’m so glad I’m better than them.” None of these do I want more of in my soul.
Yes, I want to know what reality looks like outside of my house. No, I don’t want it delivered to me in the format of most of what I find on television.
3. My kids brains are sponges for Sponge Bob. A kid once asked me why my son doesn’t have a television. Before I could answer, he added, “Is it because television rots your brain?”
I can’t credit all my kids smarts’ to a lack of television, but I do most definitely attest that it helps. Living overseas when our kids were little, we most often had only a couple boxes of toys, plus a whole mess of art supplies. They played with those toys over and over, and had to get creative with them. They stood around the “Making Things Table” gluing scraps of cardboard to bottle caps and ribbons, inventing castle draw-bridges and copying drawings from the favorite books. These things, I am 100% certain, have taught them more than Sponge Bob ever would.
On our recent visits around South Africa, we stayed in a few houses where my kids got to plunk themselves in front of the latest brainless cartoons, and I noticed a not-so-funny thing happening: they went brainless. They started telling jokes that were annoyingly loud and dumb, attempting slapstick stunts that threatened to break furniture, and getting, well, mouthy to me and my husband.
Most cartoons (though of course not all) work on the premise that kids love non-stop motion, unpredictable punch lines, humor that mocks people, and the shock-factor of disrespecting things we’d actually probably like our kids to grow up respecting. Oh, and then throw in some thrilling explosions, zapping noises, and the resultant pain (or death), all of which are to inspire adrenalin or laughter, not compassion. It’s subtle, but these shows are not just an easy babysitter when we’re fixing breakfast. They’re training kids brains and emotions in directions I just don’t think they’re meant to go.
4. Television is a team sport.
I’m definitely not anti-television as a whole. Some television experiences are downright good wholesome fun.
Good wholesome fun, though, is better when enjoyed with friends. That’s been one of the best unexpected side-effects of not owning a television. When there’s a game we want to watch, we call around until we find a friend who’s happy to have us join them to watch it. I find watching sports with friends to be twenty-gazzilion times more fun than alone.
We also don’t have a gaming system, but the kids’ grandparents do, as do a lot of their friends. I’m happy to let them enjoy these things to the fullest with friends while I enjoy the stress-free status of not having to regulate how much time they spend on another device. Yes, I let them play games on our computer, but after going so many years without this as an option, they’ve learned plenty of other things to do with their time. Some kids who come to our house probably have a moment of confusion and terror when they realize there’s no gaming system, but I like to think it’s a little service we provide in having our kids remind them of other ways to play.
Also, in Africa again I was reminded of what we used to do about movies when we lived there, far from a video rentals or Netflix. Often when we’d get together with friends, we’d ask what movies they had, and we’d trade. I love the personal quality guarantee of having nearly every movie you watch personally recommended (and even purchased) by a friend.
5. Let’s be honest, though: Netflix is nice.
So speaking on Netflix, let me debunk any accusations you may be harboring that we’re just freakish people who have prudishly poo-pood all screens, and if we only knew your favorite show, we would not be so rash.
I’ve got my own favorite shows too. And I regularly watch them. And some of them are even pretty dumb or crass at times.
We’ve been using Netflix on our computer for a while now, and I certainly don’t think it’s wrecking our life. Nor is uTube. My husband is quick to convince me that a little laughter at the end of a tiring day can be a healthy blessing. And there are some dang good movies out there I’m thankful I get to see.
Do I ever want a big television to watch these things on instead of our little laptop screen? Nope. I’m happy with a small screen. It keeps television from becoming the focus of our living room, or the focus of our life. Our little screen keeps movie-watching, well, frankly, probably less exciting than it would be an a wall-sized screen. But that’s just what levels the competition between a TV and other things I could be doing.
And I’m okay with a little less excitement in my life. I get plenty of excitement already just trying to live my own little life.