Screen Obsession

As you may recall, for just over two years our family was TV-free. This doesn’t mean that we were screen-free, though, since we still had three computers and a couple of smart phones. I still watched TV shows online and my kids watched DVDs on the computer.

For the adults in the house, not having a TV meant that we didn’t watch TV “just because”. We didn’t channel surf, or use the TV as background noise. But I made up for my decreased TV viewing by spending a lot of time online. My blogging and blog commenting picked up a lot when our TV died. I spent more time on Twitter and Facebook. I guess you could say that I replaced channel surfing with internet surfing.

Two months ago, we joined the ranks of families with TV again. And it’s been interesting how having an actual TV has shifted our focus.

My husband, who bought the TV to watch sports on, is using the TV to (wait for it ….) watch sports. He sees more than he used to, but I would still say he clocks in at an hour or so most days. I have stopped watching TV on the computer, and instead I watch it on the television, but my viewing hasn’t actually picked up. I can’t watch TV when my children are awake, and when they’re asleep I’m often working, so the TV doesn’t really play a large part in my life. My kids, on the other hand, are a different story. While we maintain strict limits on TV viewing, just having a TV somehow opens the conversation in a new way. They may not watch more TV, but they talk about TV a lot more.

When 2-year-old Jacob wakes up in the morning, he asks to watch TV. When I decline his request (as I always do at that hour) he asks to play on the computer. And failing that, he tries to sneak my iPhone out of my pocket. The child is in love with screens, just like his big sister Hannah. I have never seen Hannah walk away from a TV that was turned on, which is why we limit it so much. Left to their own devices, I’m pretty sure my kids would stare at a screen most of their waking hours. To say I’m less than thrilled is an understatement.

I have to be honest with myself, though. Much as I talk the anti-screen talk, I am pretty addicted to screens myself.
I spend a good portion of my own life in front of a screen, in fact. I write blog posts and read other people’s blogs. I check my email and tweet pretty constantly. And when I’m not on the computer, I’m often futzing around on my iPhone. I am a screen addict, even if I watch as much TV in a week as the average North American watches in a day.

If the idea of putting my phone away somewhere for a full day makes me twitchy, and I am constantly staring at a screen, what can I expect from my kids? I have to be willing to walk the walk myself if I expect them to. Right now, I am clearly not walking the walk. It’s true that my work is entwined in my online presence, so I can justify it. But I am kidding myself if I think that every minute I spend staring at a screen is productive and necessary, or somehow benefiting my life.

I am making 2011 about space. The de-cluttering and organizing and schedule-clearing have come fairly easily to me. But there is a big part of my life that could really use attention, and it’s my computer use. The idea of cutting back makes my palms sweat, which is probably (definitely?) a sign that I need to ask myself some hard questions in this area. I need to streamline my technology use, cut back on my screen time, and set a better example.

I don’t want to be constantly tied to my phone and my computer. That means that I’m going to have to make a conscious effort not to be. This is not going to be easy for me, so I need some help. How do you streamline your computer use? Do you set aside dedicated time to tackle email, and then avoid checking it the rest of the day? Do you set limits on your Facebook and Twitter use? How do you maintain connections online without letting it take over your life? I’d love to hear!

How the Mighty Have Fallen

A little over two years ago our TV died. It was a Wednesday afternoon. Hannah had just gotten home from preschool and I was attempting to entertain her with a DVD we’d borrowed from the library while I started working on dinner. Only the TV turned itself off and wouldn’t come back on. It soon became apparent that it never would.

I panicked at first. I had a 3-month-old and a 3 1/2-year-old and we were just heading into winter. How would I get anything done without TV to keep my preschooler occupied? But as I shuddered at the thought of having no TV, it also occurred to me that maybe this was an opportunity. Our family loved TV. Perhaps going without TV for a little while (two weeks, or three at the most) would give us a chance to re-adjust our priorities.

Two weeks without a TV came and went. I found, to my surprise, that I could manage quite well without a TV. Hannah learned how to entertain herself in other ways. And while I didn’t have the TV to keep her busy, I also didn’t have to contend with the twice-daily meltdowns over TV that had been happening before our set died. Not spending over an hour every day negotiating over TV, and calming down an irate preschooler when I turned the TV off or denied a request to watch more than compensated for losing the electronic babysitter.

About six weeks after our TV died we officially gave up TV. We canceled cable, re-arranged our living room, and embraced a (mostly) TV-free lifestyle. Jon and I still spent plenty of time in front of the computer, even watching some TV shows and movies that way. But it took six months for Hannah to figure out that she could play a DVD on the computer. And by that point, we were able to re-set our TV guidelines. One DVD a day, on non-school days. We watched TV, but it didn’t own us. I didn’t want a TV anymore.

I didn’t bargain on Jacob. He was 3 months old when our TV died, at the time he wasn’t a factor. But now he’s 2 years old and he loves sports. If my husband Jon watches a hockey game on the computer Jacob is right there, sitting in his lap and exclaiming excitedly. Jon is a sports fan, so watching sports with his son tugs at his heart strings in a special way. They’re bonding over a game in the same way that he bonded with his own father. And a lot of sporting events simply aren’t available online – you need cable to watch them, and you need a TV to watch cable.

Post-haircut cheesy grin
Who can say no to this face?

And so, this past weekend while Hannah and I were out on a date seeing Tangled, Jon and Jacob did some shopping. They returned home in the late afternoon with a 46″ LED TV.

The boys show up with a new TV
The boys return in triumph

That evening, our friend Mike came over to help Jon install the new set. I watched, and tried to corral the children with limited success. It took slightly much longer than the original time estimate of 9 minutes, but at the end of the evening we had a snazzy new TV that was installed on our wall very securely. In spite of the fact that our studs are apparently too far apart or something. Once again, whoever built this house fails to impress. But that’s not the point here, the point is SHINY NEW TELEVISION.

The kids get in on the TV installation action
The kids ‘help’

Two men in search of a stud
Two men in search of a stud [insert joke here]

Using power tools

Jon and Mike at work
Almost finished

We haz TV
Look, it’s a TV!

Living room, re-arranged around the TV
Furniture re-arranged around the new TV

In spite of my own reservations about having a TV again, I do have to admit that this TV is gorgeous. We have agreed to some TV limits with Hannah, and she seems to understand the deal. I’m really hoping that after 2 years without a TV, things will be different now that we have one again. I guess that only time will tell. For now, we’re busy catching up on all our shows.

The family watching football on the new TV
The family watches some football

Have you ever been TV free, and then gone back to having a TV? How did it go? And even if you haven’t, I’d love to hear how you set reasonable limits on TV with your kids. How do you avoid TV battles, while still letting your kids watch? Tell me all about it!

A TV Filled Vacation

In November of 2008 our TV died. I was in the kitchen trying to make dinner and so I had parked then 3 1/2-year-old Hannah in front of a DVD to keep her occupied. Only it didn’t work, because the TV turned itself off and never turned back on after that.

At first I panicked. At the time Jacob was 3 months old, and we were heading into winter. Plus, I love TV. The idea of not having it gave me the shakes. Which is actually one big reason that Jon and I decided to wait a while before replacing our dead television. Maybe a little bit of TV detox was in order. We went a couple of weeks, and a couple of weeks longer. Finally, after about 6 weeks or so we decided to give up TV for the time being. We disconnected our cable and unhooked our Tivo and stopped browsing the fliers for a hot deal on a 46″ LCD.

It’s been over a year and a half now since our TV died. During the first 6 months or so we were able to keep our daughter Hannah away from any TV at home. It was actually really lovely to not face the daily TV battles that we experienced when we had TV. Eventually she realized that she could play DVDs on the computer, and so she watches 3 or 4 movies a week that way. Luckily, we haven’t seen the same TV battles with the computer. She seems to understand the limits, and she watches her show during Jacob’s naptime and then turns it off and does something else.

Hannah was glued to the TV for much of the trip
Hannah glued to the TV while we were on vacation

Given how long we have been without TV, I was curious to see what would happen when we were on vacation last week. We had a TV in our rental townhouse, and cable showing children’s programming around the clock. Hannah knew this. Even Jacob figured it out pretty quickly. Would TV still hold the same allure for 5-year-old Hannah that it did for 3 1/2-year-old Hannah?

The answer was an emphatic yes! From the time that she got up until the time that she went to sleep Hannah wanted to watch TV. If we were out enjoying ourselves she was OK, but even then she would frequently ask about when she could get home and how much TV she could watch. She sat glued to the television every waking moment that we allowed it. I have seen some kids who get bored with TV after a while. Jacob does, for instance. I have never seen Hannah reach that point. Maybe she would after a few hours, but I’m not sure I want to find out exactly what her limit really is.

Having a TV affected our vacation for Jon and me, too. I quickly found myself trying to structure my day around when certain shows would be on. I channel surfed and watched things that didn’t really interest me just because they were on. Even the commercials got to me, and I started thinking how nice it would be to have a new pair of shoes, a nice summer dress, a glass of Coke. I can see how not having a TV has shifted my lifestyle. Not all for the better, to be sure, but in some very real ways all the same.

We are not screen-free at our house by any means. We own 3 computers and one smart phone. I’m hoping to get an iPhone of my own when the new ones come out. There is no shortage of electronic stimulation. But for our family, it’s been easier to set limits on the computer screen than the TV screen. Comparing our family vacation to our daily life made that crystal clear.

Are your kids TV fanatics, or do they find sitting still that long to be boring? What about you? Have you ever gone without a TV, and what was it like? And how do you find computer screen time to compare with TV screen time? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

PS – June’s Crafting my Life series is about money. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 24th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

A Year With (Almost) No TV

Our one and only television died just over a year ago, on November 12, 2008. It happened rather suddenly one afternoon. We tried to turn it on and it just … didn’t. I called my husband and asked him to come home early, because I didn’t know what I would do without the TV. How would I make dinner, or get any time to myself? I couldn’t see how it would work.

After we recovered from the shock, we decided to take advantage of the situation to try going TV-free for a while as an experiment. We thought that the most likely outcome was we would hit the after-Christmas sales and pick up a nice set. In the meantime, we could unplug. After Christmas, though, we were going strong and we decided to give up TV semi-permanently. We cancelled cable, disconnected the Tivo and re-arranged our living room furniture.

Now we’ve been TV-less for over a year, something that I could never have imagined on the day our TV broke. What do we do with ourselves and our children? Have we become completely insufferable and holier-than-thou hippies who just love to look down their noses at others? Here is my summary of what the year has been like.

The Good

Getting rid of the TV has eliminated the TV-related battles that we used to have with our daughter Hannah. Almost every day there would be a total meltdown because she wanted to watch something and we decided that it wasn’t a good idea. It was a major source of contention, and getting rid of it was a huge relief on that front.

Getting rid of the TV has also reduced the amount of time we all spend mindlessly watching stuff. I used to have it on for at least a couple of hours pretty much every evening. I would even keep it on in the background while I did other stuff, like cleaning or sewing. Now, the things we see are much, much more deliberate.

This one is sort of silly, but we regularly get phone calls from our old cable company offering us all kinds of incentives to re-subscribe to their service. Like any other telemarketer they pretty much always call in the middle of dinner and lay it on thick with the sales pitch. I will admit, I take great joy in being able to inform them in my most superior tone that I couldn’t possibly consider their offer, since I don’t even own a television. If you are going to pester me to buy something, I get to be as smug as I can possibly be, I say.

The Bad

Being without a TV isn’t all sunshine and roses. Since we got rid of the TV I feel terminally out of the loop. I am not familiar with that funny commercial, I don’t know what movies are showing right now, and I don’t have that window into the cultural zeitgeist that TV provides. It’s not entirely positive, I’ll grant you, but there are few better windows into the collective consciousness than television.

Also, I miss being able to sit down comfortably with my husband to watch a movie. Maybe we could even hold hands or share popcorn. That just isn’t possible anymore, at least not the way our computers are set up.

The Continued Presence of TV

Even though we don’t own a television set, we do own three computers. There is no shortage of available screens in our house, and we often use those screens to watch television programs or movies. I keep up to date with my favourite shows through internet streams. Jon watches sports on the web. And Hannah realized over 6 months ago that if you put a DVD into the computer, it plays itself.

We watch much less TV than we used to. I average in the neighbourhood of 6-8 hours a week. Hannah averages 4-5 hours. Jon gets in only a few. But we do definitely get our screen time. And both Jon and I spend a lot of time online in front of our computers. So the honest truth is we haven’t even really given up our viewing at all.

At this point, we have no plans to buy another TV. Who knows if that will change at one point? It certainly may. But for now, we’re pretty happy with our lifestyle as it is.

Out of the Loop

We’ve been living without a TV for just about 8 months now. We’ve long since rearranged our living room furniture and canceled the cable. Thanks to the wonder of streaming feeds on the internet I’m even able to keep up with most of my favourite shows, although their number is dwindling due to the effort involved. I rarely even miss it anymore.

Except when something big happens. Then, suddenly, I miss the TV a whole heck of a lot.

For instance, you might have heard that Michael Jackson died (stop me if I’m getting ahead of you). Yesterday was his funeral. And I missed pretty much all of it. We get the paper and I check out the news online, so I have a rough idea of what’s going on in the world. But there’s nothing quite like TV for broad coverage of breaking news and big events.

TV was where I first learned that Princess Diana died and where I watched her funeral. Or for that matter watched her wedding when I was just a little older than Hannah is now. I’ll never forget that Tuesday morning in September 2001 when I turned on the TV and saw smoke from the Twin Towers rising over New York. No other medium could have captured those events in the same way, and I doubt I would have felt the same way if I hadn’t seen the TV coverage.

Olympic games, election results and awards shows are all better on TV. And the ubiquitous specials – these often don’t show up online at all. I haven’t even mentioned the commercials. As much as I don’t feel really comfortable with consumerism and commercialism some ads are very funny. A select few even hold special places in our society’s lexicon. I myself have asked ‘where’s the beef?’ Or lamented that ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’

There are a lot of upsides to living without a TV. I talk to my husband more. I don’t waste as much time just sitting and watching things I don’t even really enjoy. I don’t have to deal with the same TV-related whining from my child and she does more drawing and playing outside. It’s honestly surprised me how well I’ve survived without one given my level of TV addiction when I had one.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses over here at Casa de Holier Than Thou. I feel out of the loop. I feel as if I’m not participating in the cultural conversation in the same way. It’s like everyone else shares an inside joke that I’m not a part of. This death of Michael Jackson, which is a huge cultural event, has passed me by. I managed to catch a few snippets, but it’s not the same.

If anything is going to convince me I need a television, it’s this. Being that person who doesn’t understand what everyone else is talking about. Missing out on the big events, the things that bind us together. There might be downsides to our shared culture but I am a part of it for better or worse and without a TV I don’t always feel as if I can claim my place in it. It makes me just a little bit sad. 🙁

Giving up the TV

In November I chronicled the death of our TV, and our decision to go without it for a while. The last time I posted about this, we were talking about hitting the Boxing Day sales. So now that Boxing Day has come and gone, what’s the scoop? How big is our new widescreen? Have we signed up for HD? Or have we given up the trappings of our materialistic society and started a soup kitchen out of our garage?

(Oh, and if you are totally bored by the saga of How Our TV Died One Day, this will be the last post on the subject, I promise.)

The story is that for now, there is no story. We’re doing (mostly) OK without the TV, and so we’ve decided to extend the experiment. We’re not setting any sort of timeline, just taking it day by day. In fact, we’ve even gone so far as to cancel cable and Tivo, and re-arrange our living room furniture. Why orient the room around something that isn’t there? We might as well save money and enjoy a new set-up that’s more conducive to conversation, right?

Calling the cable company to cancel

Calling the cable company to cancel

Jon and I are still catching up on our shows through the magic of the internet, so for us it’s not actually like we’re giving up much. Hannah remains the most affected by the loss of the magic box. When we visit her grandparents she’s glued to their set, but I don’t really worry about it since she doesn’t watch any at our house. Her idea of great entertainment these days includes books on CD, her singing Barbie doll, and Hallmark E-Cards. The girl loves her some Hallmark E-Cards.

Disconnecting the Tivo

Disconnecting the Tivo

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though. We’ve all been at home since Dec. 19, and for much of that time we’ve been snowed in. It’s too deep for Hannah to play in, and Jacob is too young to really enjoy it, so we’re more or less trapped indoors. On top of that, many of the family activities that we had planned were canceled or postponed. You know, because those of us here on the ‘wet’ coast don’t like to drive in the snow. And, may I add, with good reason.

Car in the ditch

Car in the ditch

We’ve held firm, though. Because as much as there are moments when I fantasize about plugging my kid into Dora and doing my own thing, what I don’t miss is the TV-related screaming. No TV = no TV-related screaming. And also I know that as of Monday school will be back in session, and I will have 3 days a week to do all that stuff I can’t get done now. These past two weeks may have felt long at times, but it was always a temporary situation.

Clearing snow from the roof

Clearing snow from the roof

Maybe I’ll even miss it a little, having all this time together with not much to do. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. For now, though, we’re going to keep up with the experiment. And this is the last that you will hear about it, at least until we cave in and buy a new TV. And have no doubt, it’s only a matter of time. The only question is, how much time?

Still TV Free

It’s been two weeks since our TV died, and I wanted to give you all an update. When we last left our story, the stalwart entertainment device had breathed its last breath. Jon and Amber decided to see if they could last a couple of weeks without TV. Where are they now? Have they shrugged off the chains of our capitalist society and become raw food vegan anarchists? Or did they give up after 4 days, buy a new TV, and become unrepentant couch potatoes?

The boys hauling the TV away

The boys hauling the TV away

We remain without a TV for the moment. We did finally haul the old one off to the recycling centre, so we’ve acknowledged defeat on that front. Besides which, having no TV is a principled stance. But a dead TV taking up your whole living room? Well, you’re moving into Jeff Foxworthy territory, if you know what I mean. 😉

Redneck Twelve Days of Christmas

Without TV Hannah spends a lot of time drawing or concocting imaginary games with her toys. I haven’t felt compelled to buy a new television on her account. While it is a useful babysitting device it’s also the source of much anguish, which her parents are glad to be rid of. We still have 3-year-old meltdowns, but they have significantly decreased in number. At this point, she’s just accepted that the TV’s gone.

Two figures by Hannah - the one on the right is an elf. Click to enlarge.

As for the big people – well, we do cheat by watching shows on our computer. When hockey games are available, Jon watches them, and I’m up to date on 90210 (yes, yes, I know). In the internet age we can be without a TV, and yet have more access to electronic media than ever before. Luckily, Hannah is blissfully unaware that this is an option. She’s seen a few YouTube videos, but she doesn’t know that she could get full episodes of her favourite programs.

The empty corner

The empty corner

We’ve held out this long, but we don’t really plan on going without TV forever. At the moment we’re thinking we might hit the Boxing Day (Boxing Week, Boxing Month – how long is it now?) sales after Christmas. We’re also thinking about how we might reconfigure the TV and our home. My personal hope is that we can have a fresh start, a chance to re-examine and change our relationship to the TV.

Dust bunnies and a light spot on the wood - all that remain of the TV

Who am I kidding? I’m sure that once we get a TV back in our house it will be the same as it ever was. Maybe even worse, as we gorge ourselves on all the television we’ll be missing. Still, I have my hopes. A girl can dream, right?

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