Growing up I wasn’t deprived by any means; I had food to eat, clean water to drink, a sibling to terrorize, and all the normal things in this American life. We went on camping trips and the occasional road trip vacation (Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, etc).
When it came to rules, I would categorize the ones implemented in our household as moderately strict. There were rules in place regarding religion (Seventh-Day Adventism) and our Sabbath (sundown Friday to sunset Saturday), dietary restrictions (no meat, no caffeine), cereal rules (we had to eat two bowls of unsweetened cereal before eating sweet cereal…the trick was to only fill each unsweetened bowl half-full and use a lot of milk), weekly chores, and TV rules (what shows we could watch and for how long). During my elementary and junior high school years we had basic TV, you know the type of free (sometimes fuzzy) local TV you can pull in with an antenna. We were limited to a half hour of this type of TV on weeknights, with more allowance on weekends. Certain shows like Scooby Doo, The Smurfs, and violent shows (including C.O.P.S.) were prohibited.
In 1997, just prior to starting my freshman year of high school, we moved into the country. Although this house was only a 20 minute drive from our old house in suburbia, there were several major differences. One major difference that I noticed almost immediately was that there was no TV reception and I mean NONE. While this fact horrified my brother and I, it was one of the very things that attracted my father to the poorly maintained property. To this day, bringing up Pepper Ridge Lane (the elegant (in comparison) house that all of us wanted to buy instead of the house we ended up in) insights deep-seated feelings of treachery.
My father had a grand vision for our future that involved us living in this rural house with no one close enough to know our business. We were going to grow a garden, and be self-sustaining (it’s now 2014 and there’s still no garden). There was a huge old satellite dish anchored in the properties overgrown front lawn. It was a small beacon of hope for me at first, but it was ripped out of the ground and disposed of soon after we moved in. This left us with videos only, as in VHS videos we had already seen several times. I cried abuse, I cried fowl play…I ranted about not being able to keep up with the times.
In actuality, I probably wasn’t “up with the times” anyway. I attended tiny schools my whole life, with equally tiny classes. Schools in remote places like Scappoose, Rivergate, and Battle Ground. My senior year of high school (2001), our class aim was: “to infinity and beyond!”…kind of lame, but man we had a great class. Most of us practically grew up together, first attending the elementary school (literally across the street) from k-8, then Columbia Adventist for high school. I was the yearbook editor, the class vice-president, and had a steady boyfriend that I just knew I was going to marry.
In hindsight, the absence of TV in our lives forced us to pre-occupy our minds with other past-times. We read more, played more board games, talked more, and hung out with our friends more. What I anticipated would be a horrible life-altering change in my life wasn’t so bad after all. However, I did vow to myself that once I was an adult and able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I would have cable, and lots of it!
As soon as I was truly on my own, I fulfilled the promise I had made to myself back in 1997 when I was a poor, deprived, TV-less child. I signed up for Xfinity’s premium cable package. Since 2006 I’ve had all the channels I could dream of – HBO, Showtime, Bravo, MTV, NatGeo, The History Channel, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, HGTV, E!, etc. No matter what time of day it was – there would be something worth watching.
Although the price for this premium service changed subtly from year to year, it’s been around $160/month (including internet, modem rental, cable box rental, taxes, and fees). That’s a cost of $1,920 per year; a grand total of $15,360 for the past eight years that I’ve had it. Kind of shocking. While it’s easy to calculate the amount of money I’ve spend on TV the past eight years, it’s rather difficult to calculate the amount of time I’ve spent. According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans spend on average two hours and fifty minutes a day watching TV, roughly 20 hours a week (1,043 hours per year). Using these average American figures, It’s reasonable to assume I’ve spent about 8,344 hours of my time watching TV over the last eight years. Just to reiterate, that’s $15,360 of my money, and 8,344 hours (348 days) of my time, all in the name of TV. Money I could have spent paying off student loans, time I could have spent doing more productive things with my life.
The last few weeks I’ve drastically cut down on my TV consumption. Miraculously, the creative/imaginative parts of my brain have started waking up from their long slumber. I’m constantly flooded with new ideas and aspirations (scribbling keywords into a small notebook whenever they come to me). Some minimalists suggest eliminating TV and internet from your household all-together. I’m not quite there, but I did decide a few days ago to eliminate cable from my life (including the equipment and the ridiculous bill that came with it). Believe me, it was truly a struggle to get the customer service rep to agree to this request. They used every line in the history of their Xfinity customer service binders to convince me to keep it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good TV series as much as the next American. However, I refuse to watch TV in a channel-surfing, mind-numbing, inspiration-robbing way. Having the option (and paying for the option) of watching 100+ channels tempts one to spend much more time in front of the TV that they would otherwise.
I’m striving to live my life more purposefully, and this includes what I watch on my TV. The perfect device for this type of TV/movie consumption is a $99 ROKU (there are other very similar and comparable devices on the market). This type of device allows you access to TV shows and movies through services like Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and Amazon. Most of these services cost around $8 per month (<$100 per year). What’s great about these services is that in addition to current shows and movies, you also have access to old shows and movies. The biggest draw for me (in addition to the low cost) is the way in which it has changed my TV watching habits. I watch TV much less, and I only watch what I want to – no more channel surfing. And for all you minimalists out there, it’s also tiny (see pictures below).
Of course there are some drawbacks…some withdraws. We can no longer watch shows on the nights that they premier. Boo hoo. Although this is a minor annoyance, I’m secretly happy that we won’t be among the throngs of people planning their day(s) around certain shows and the time that they come on. It’s taken away that “can’t miss it” mentality.
So this is what it’s like beyond Xfinity.
The class of 2001:
To infinity and beyond!:
Junior and senior year photos:
Can you write in my yearbook?:
Old equipment (left), Roku 3 (right):