The Case for Not Owning a TV

by | BiggerPockets.com

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.

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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.

Related: 7 Habits You Didn’t Know Were Derailing Your Finances Every Month

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.

The Repercussions

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).

Furthermore:

“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.

Related: 10 Seemingly Harmless Habits That Sabotage Ambitious Millennials

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!

About Author

Andrew Syrios

Andrew Syrios is a real estate investor in Kansas City and a partner in Stewardship Properties along with his brother and father. Their company owns just over 500 units in four states.

27 Comments

  1. Tim Puffer

    It’s incredible how many hours people spend in front of the screen. I knew it was a lot, but didn’t realize it was 5 hours per day!! Crazy. 4 years ago I used to come home from work and play Playstation for 2-3 hours per night. Once I gave that up and watching TV altogether I was able to learn more and start toward investing in real estate.

    I wonder what people could accomplish if they even cut that 5 hours in half?!

  2. Adam Britt

    You have some excellent points, and many that I agree with. And big props for cutting that TV and throwing it out of the house! You have some awesome self control to stop both smoking AND television!

    However, I do want to play a little devils advocate here. I don’t quite follow the typical logic. Don’t watch TV … instead you should read. Why? What makes reading some silly novel any better than watching it happen on a screen? Both are an equal waste of time. If I spend 3 months reading Lord of the Rings, I dare say I would have wasted significantly MORE time than if I had just binged watched the movie … and I’ve learned nothing “of value” either way.

    Don’t watch TV … instead you should go to the game. Granted, you didn’t say this. But I got the distinct impression that you would be more sympathetic to that idea. Especially if you go with family/friends. But why? Watching other people play a game in real life isn’t really different (in my view) from watching it on a screen.

    I anticipate some people would say, “Oh, but it is the EXPERIENCE. You are benefiting with your family and friends by going to the game together!” To which I might ask, “Why do you think that experience is more valuable than what we could have had in front of the TV? It costs more time, more money, and you see the exact same thing. Take the TV outside and watch the game. There is an EXPERIENCE.”

    Seems to me that this article strikes a good chord with the excellent book here on BP that Scott Trench wrote. Entertainment is a waste of time. And so it is, I admit.

    However, it seems to me that it may simply be a difference in focus and goals. If I had enough “Passive” investment that I could afford to live off of the rent/interest, I would probably spend 99% of my time with my wife. Watching TV, reading books together, going to the beach together, playing video games together … all of the things that we enjoy doing now but are simply pressed for time to do. Heck, in my wildest imaginings, I wouldn’t even have to get out of bed half the days a week! Ironically, “Netflix and chill” is both a barrier, and a goal in that regard. We spend too much time on it, so that we are less productive. But we only want to be more productive so that we can spend more time on such things later.

    Sorry, I think I’m rambling now. I get the feeling that many here work because they love work. They thrive on productivity. I work because I must work to eat, and I work harder because I want to be able to STOP working one day. I suppose that is why other people here are wildly successful, and I’m hardly able to get started.

    • Andrew Syrios

      Thanks Adam, although you don’t really need that much willpower to quit smoking, at least if you use Allen Carr’s method. At least in my experience.

      I agree with you to a degree on the points you made. But with regards to reading, I would say 1) it’s obviously not good to be reading all the time, 2) it depends what you read, self-improvement, business books as well as classics, biographies and other interesting stuff like that stimulates the mind whereas, say, a trashy romance novel or dime-a-dozen book by a politician does not. Finally, 3) reading is an active experience that requires you do something whereas with TV, you can just veg out. This is a very important difference.

      I agree with Scott to tone down the amount of entertainment you consume, but the big key I would argue is that entertainment should be consumed almost exclusively in a social setting. There’s no problem watching the big game on TV (after all, how many really big games are there), but if you do it with friends and family, it’s a social gathering that can help cement and maintain those relationships. Consuming such entertainment by yourself, or even with others if they are “just in the room too” is no good. And even this type of socializing is inferior to other more direct types, like getting together for dinner or a game of cards.

      Overall, TV is just one piece of the entertainment-industrial complex that consumes so much time out of our lives, but I think it’s the worst offender. The Internet is close, but the Internet has many more redeeming qualities.

  3. Jerry W.

    Andrew,
    Good take. I watch TV occasionally with my wife, but still watch less than 5 hours a week. I cannot recall getting anything useful from TV except weather forecast or some cultural event notice where my wife might want to go.

  4. Chris Ayers

    I believe TV, internet, and any other entertainment based media is they can be what you make of them.

    Watching for hours a day is definitely not productive, but what if you’re bonding with your family over an educational show? My kids have learned so much by some kid shows. Yesterday my 3 year old said “Look I’m shunting blocks.” How does she know what shunting is other than watching Thomas the Train?

    You could easily waste hours on youtube and reddit or you can use those to gain practical knowledge.

    Everything in moderation.

  5. Erika G.

    I used to be a TV junkie, but since I had my son, I’ve learned to wean myself away from it. But to be honest, my son learned a lot of educational stuff from watching youtube videos. At age three, he learned how to read and speak phrases he couldn’t learn from his day to day convo with us his parents and his nanny. But he has schedule and time limit on using it. 2 hours a day is what i implement on him.

  6. Angel Gutierrez

    I stopped watching T.V. in 2003 and I raised both my girls without it.

    They both did exceptionally well in school and to this day, neither one even OWNS a television set.

    Anything you ever wanted to “watch” is on the internet, so why bother with PAYING good money for 2900 channels of garbage?

    Then, at the request of my daughters, I quit smoking (a pack a day of course) on November 1, 2007. That was the day me and my daughters all got braces for our teeth. Theirs weren’t that bad…. mine were. They were “concerned” it would hurt. So I did it along with them.

    Trust me when I say that you won’t miss either one(TV or smoking). They’re just little stupid habits your brain thinks you need to keep you busy.

  7. Brad B.

    Great post Andrew. I grew up without a TV so it hasn’t been difficult to continue to not have one as an adult. Back then, it was a big deal to people I interacted with as they wondered what in the workd our family did with all our time. But now with the internet in every home, it’s not quite as big of a deal. TV is one thing I know I don’t need to introduce to my life…I waste enough time without it. A big part of life is about overcomeing whatever it is that we get unhealthy “addicted” to – entertainment, money, work, podcasts, books, iPhones, alcohol, ourselves, etc, etc.

  8. Favian Duarte

    Andrew, what a great post and thank you for sharing!

    You said it perfectly, “TV sucks you into a passive vacuum. The goal is to replace it with something more active and fulfilling.”

    From 2009 – 2016 I went without TV and when I look back at that time I can honestly say I was extremely more productive because I spent more time actually doing more fulfilling things. In late 2016, I got cable again and can honestly say that was one of the worst decisions I’ve made. 99% of what is on cable is garbage and it is so easy to just turn the TV on and sit there for 15 min, 20 min, next thing you know it’s been 3 hours. I’ve kept it for the purpose of the financial news channels, but will be getting rid of it entirely again as I can access that through the internet.

  9. Barri F.

    I haven’t had a television for years, since my youngest moved out, and have not missed it. There are too many books (both fiction and non-fiction), podcasts, blog posts, articles, etc. to occupy my time and my mind. Although, I must confess that whenever I travel and stay in a hotel, I end up binge-watching HGTV once the day’s activities have wound down!

  10. Todd Radus

    We barely watch TV, I don’t have cable nor do I have an antenna, we have a TV but it’s mainly there to keep the dogs company. Outside of the time it waste and takes away from study or reading the commercials will kill you. You are constantly being told you are sick, what pills you need to take, what to eat, how much to eat, what to drink and so on. The internal pollution sent directly to your sub conscious in my opinion is detrimental to your actual physical health and emotional well being. I must admit I like a lot of science and some other documentaries and some science fiction once and a while. I however have netflix (no commercials) and I would say spend less then 4 hours a week and those are usually at night just before bed.

    My mother on the other hand is completely addicted to the TV, conversations with her reference shows constantly that I have never seen. Who am I to tell my mother what to do with her retirement, we try to get her out as much as she will go.

    I think TV could had been one of the greatest inventions ever, instead however, it’s just a tool used by politically motivated sources and advertisers to ensure that your opinion is exactly what they want it to be. Once you shut it down and take back control of your opinions and decisions you might find that the TV was far more influential in your opinions and purchases then you ever thought.

  11. tillamooktim on

    You are 45 years to late for us! Never had one in the house for over 30 years. Our son went to school and teachers would ask the class to watch a peculiar show. Our son told them we didn’t have a TV, they couldn’t believe it! This is what I’ve always said about TV “consumes time produces nothing” Stalin said it was the best brain washing tool ever designed and wanted one in every home in the Soviet Union.

  12. Philip M.

    My daughter was assisting me in making a repair at a rental property. I like to have the kids involved with what I do and it’s how they earn money. It took about 3 hours. She remarked after we left that the tenants (family of 6) did not leave the TV’s the entire time. She also noticed that they had a TV in each bedroom and also the kitchen. I told her that is why they are tenants and then we discussed it. We do have one TV that is in the family room. It is off most of the week and used primarily for watching a movie together on the weekend. We also don’t have cable / satellite. I find it funny to see people’s expression when I tell them that we have one TV and no paid TV service. We have internet and antenna.

  13. Nancy Huffaker

    I haven’t had a TV in my house since we needed to buy cable to watch (I did grow up with a tv as the center of the living room in the 70s, but have never missed having it. Although, living internationally, I have had internet in my house for the last 4 years and often find myself sucked into some of it’s tentacles. When I repatriate this summer, I will be living without internet in the house (it’s easy to use the library’s free internet on a daily basis for work I need to do).

    I find myself much more social and active without either at instant disposal.

  14. Erin McCarthy

    I loved your article and couldn’t agree more! I haven’t had a TV for 20 years and haven’t missed it one little bit! So much of life is missed by sitting in front of that box…not to mention all the food you mindlessly eat while sitting there doing nothing!

  15. Sam Schrimsher

    Enlightening article, i didn’t realize people were spending such a large chunk of their lives watching tv, and how it impacts childrens grades. I went from a pretty big tv watcher to not at all. Cut the cable about 7 years ago due to a finiancial strain. It was weird for a month or two, then it was no big deal. Glad to have the tv out of the picture, no pun intended, especially in regards to my daughter. We’ll probably do a bit of movie watching or what not on the weekend (still have a tv, no cable) but i want that to be a very small part of our lives.
    My problem now is i spend way too much time surfing the net. Working on that.

  16. Ben Burds

    It took some convincing for me, as a 21 year old in college, but I think this may have just been the last string. I had a teacher last week tell me “successful people don’t sit behind a TV and watch other people be successful” so here I am packing up my not more than a year old 55-inch TV beautifully mounted on my wall to give to my girlfriend… maybe a nice large paiting will cover up the numerous holes in the wall from the mount.

  17. Andrew Syrios

    You know, it’s interesting to note the comments which seem to break down into two categories; 1) TV is OK as long as it’s in moderation (which I mostly agree with, although think it’s better to just go all the way) and 2) I quit TV and am so glad I did.

    I’ve yet to hear anyone say they gave up TV and regretted it. And that’s in general, not just with regards to this article. Food for thought.

  18. Calvin Matthews

    My cable box went out right around the time I started my miracle morning practice so I considered it a sign. It was uncomfortable the first week, I didn’t realize how programmed I was. We decided to get rid of tv altogether, it really refocused attention on being more present. I thought having the TV on in the background was a passive activity but there’s a lot more activity that’s going on in the brain then we realize.

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