The older I get, the more I realize that stuff is just not that important. Don’t get me wrong, I like money. In fact, I’m really quite fond of it. With money comes financial security as well opportunities to travel and do fun and new, exciting things. Stuff, on the other hand, is just stuff.
In that vein, one of the most important decisions I made when I moved out to Kansas City seven years ago was that I would not buy a TV. I’ve been going seven years strong without one, and other than not being able to have people over to watch the big game, I can’t say I’ve missed it even slightly.
Television is, quite frankly, the biggest time suck in the world. Just imagine for a second how productive you could be if you dropped Oprah for sending out some more marketing, going to networking events, or making a few more offers. Think how much more educated you would be if you skipped ESPN for books on business, self-improvement, or just about any topic you find interesting. Think how much more fulfilling your life would be if you dropped The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or Sixteen and Pregnant or Jersey Shore or whatever degenerate garbage they’re showing these days for spending time with your family.
What is TV Good for?
Now, this doesn’t preclude television on the whole. I think we get virtually nothing from watching midday soap operas or reality TV or some random college basketball game between two teams we don’t care about, even if we are with friends and family when it happens. But getting together with friends and family to watch the Super Bowl or with your spouse to binge watch “your show” together is different. I’m certainly guilty of that with regard to Breaking Bad. That kind of thing is more akin to going to the movies together. And while this might not be the most effective way to spend time with those you care about since it’s rather passive, it’s infinitely better than just vegging out in front of a screen that flashes colors and sounds at you for hours on end.
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And that really is where I would draw the line. The only television I would watch (and that goes for TV shows on the Internet, too) is with family or friends or something that is educational. If you have a favorite podcast (like, say, the BiggerPockets Podcast), listen to it while you go for walks or while driving or doing a simple and tedious tasks. I really don’t recommend just sitting there passively absorbing whatever blather one of the 4,368 different TV stations has on. Indeed, with that many channels, one would expect that the quality would be pretty low overall. And one would be right.
An American Spends 30 Percent of Their Time Watching TV
In the United States today, the average person watches an incredible five hours of television a day! That means the average person spends 20.8 percent of their life sitting in front of a screen showing people playing make believe in order to form false friendships with imaginary people all the while interspersed with ads trying to sell more of that stuff—much of which, again, you don’t need. And if you sleep seven hours a night, that means that just shy of 30 percent of the average American’s waking life is wasted away in front of a glass screen.
It amounts to 76 days a year. And given the average American lives 78.8 years, that amounts to an unbelievable 16.4 years of the average life is spent watching TV. It’s just not worth it, folks.
Studies have shown that students who watch TV on school nights get worse grades, and others demonstrate that watching TV reduces the amount of time kids spend reading and improving their reading skills. Furthermore, it appears that the TV is partly responsible for the breakdown in social capital that has happened throughout the United States in the last 50 years. Social capital comprises various social networks buttressed by trust, reciprocity, and cooperation—and virtually every measure of it has declined since 1960.
Robert Putnam wrote the definitive work on the subject, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, back in 2000. He noted that:
“…Those who watch an hour or less of television per day are half again as active civically as those who watch three hours or more a day. For example, 39 percent of the light viewers attended some public meeting on town or school affairs last year, as compared with only 25 percent of the demographically matched heavy viewers. Of the light viewers, 28 percent wrote Congress last year, compared with 21 percent of the heavy viewers. Of the light viewers, 29 percent played a leadership role in some local organization, as contrasted with only 18 percent of heavy viewers. Light viewers were nearly three times more likely to have made a speech last year than were equally well-educated heavy viewers (14 percent to 5 percent)” (Putnam 229).
“Time diaries show that husbands and wives spend three or four times as much time watching television together as they spend talking to each other, and six to seven times as much as they spend in community activities outside the home. Moreover, as the number of TV sets per household multiplies, even watching together becomes rarer. More and more of our television viewing is done entirely alone. At least half of Americans usually watch by themselves, one study suggests” (224).
It’s just not worth it, folks.
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Perhaps you may say that TV is fine as long as it’s done in moderation. I would agree that moderation is better, but I would still recommend just tossing it out entirely. Go watch the big game at someone else’s house, or go to the local sports bar. In the long run, that would be a helluva a lot cheaper.
In some ways, I would make the same case for the Internet and social media, although given the realities of modern life, moderation is probably the only possible solution. One study found that Facebook, by itself, cost Britain 2.8 billion hours of worker productivity! Or in other words, about $130 million pounds or $200 million dollars. That being said, the Internet is a more complicated matter, as so much of business and life is run through it. But in my judgement, for TV, it is simple.
Quitting the Addiction
Some people may feel like there is something missing when they give up TV. Indeed, I could relate this to when I quit smoking with Allen Carr’s great method. There were times when I felt like I should go smoke, even though I didn’t have a desire to. I ended up just walking around outside in circles for a few minutes until that feeling went away. Something like that might happen when you quit TV (some have, after all, argued that television is addictive). I would recommend the same course of action. If you don’t know what to do, go for a walk, read a book (Barnes and Noble could certainly use your help), go to the gym, or ask a friend to lunch. TV sucks you into a passive vacuum. The goal is to replace it with something more active and fulfilling. For that to feel normal, it will probably take some time.
But I highly recommend to get out of the habit of watching TV and preferably just get rid of your TV altogether. Just think of how much more productive your work life will be and how much more fulfilling your personal life will be when you can do things that really matter instead of endlessly watching a series of images accompanied by sound played in a sequence over and over again.
Well, readers: What do you think? Is television something you could give up—or does Netflix support a happy life?
Weigh in below!