Man Buys Television After 32 Years Without One, I Bitch About Television

A man bought a TV after spending 32 years without one in his home. Here's the article.

The article resonated with me, for as some of you who know me in real life are aware, I do not watch TV. I do this in spite of the four televisions in my home. Sure, I do other things on the TVs here, like watch movies and play games, but I don't watch TV. I feel like I'm a better person for it. By not watching TV, I am free to do other things. I do not see a lot of commercials for products I'm not interested in, and I am not bound to the television at certain time slots so that I can watch my favorite programs.

Before I go any further, I should mention that I am not totally detached from the world of television. I've been known to watch TV when I'm with other people, to pass the time. I've seen (and enjoyed!) a few TV shows on DVD and via my computer, too. But, I simply cannot bear to sit in front of a broadcast-receiving television. In this post, I'll try to explain and justify my reasons.

Damn, how long has it been since I stopped watching TV? I'd say at least a year, closer to a year and a half.

Some time back then, when I actually made the conscious decision to let it go, I realized that I wasn't really getting anything from the TV that I couldn't get from the Internet. Some may wonder what makes television and the Internet so different to me. Allow me to try to explain what bothers me so much about television.

When you sit in front of the TV, you can change channels, and that's really all the input you have. Everything that goes on is just fed to you; there's nothing active about consuming television media. This might not sound bad; hey, you get to sit around and just absorb the things you like without any work involved. But consider the commercials you're bombarded with day and night. You absorb the stuff you like, but every 10 to 15 minutes, you have to sit through a commercial that is trying to influence you to do something that, chances are, you would have no intention of doing, had you not seen that commercial.

If you have a TiVo, this probably doesn't apply to you for all of your television viewing. But let's assume you don't have one, for the sake of my argument.

We'll use television news as an example. If you're like the average American who watches four hours of TV a day, though, you're not watching news all of those four hours. You're probably watching CSI. But anyway yeah, news! News is good. It lets us know what's going on in our communities and the world, right? Sure, but if you're watching the news, you're only getting to learn about what some people at ABC News, Fox News (heh), or CNN decided is important for you to see. When you read news online, you can read whatever you want, from a variety of sources around the world, at any time you want. This can be a source as reputable as CNN, or as weird as some crackpot journalist who claims that reptiles are running our government. The news information can be of local scope, like your own town or city's local news...or the local news in Bangkok. And then again, maybe you don't want regular news. Maybe you want to know what's going on in the hilarious world of celebrities and pop culture. The important thing is that you make the choice. Furthermore, there are no advertisements for weird pharmaceutical products, new cars, fast food restaurants, or other things that you really don't need.

An active medium like the internet also has the advantage of having a finite amount of content per web page. This is nice, because once you are done reading something, YOU choose what content you want to read/access next. If you were watching TV, sure, you might be able to sit in front of it for hours and hours and not see the same thing program twice...but what are the chances that what you're watching is actually something you want to see? Like I said, all of the content is chosen by someone in an office somewhere. Along with the finite content per web page, there is a near infinite amount of content in the entirety of the constantly-expanding web. The Internet is so vast that the content cannot be controlled on a large scale; sure, everything you read at might be very much controlled by some dude you don't know, and that might annoy you, but you can always go to another web site; there are...a lot of them out there.

Lastly, what might be my biggest gripe about television content is that the vast majority of it is chosen not by the viewers, but instead, it is indirectly chosen by the advertisers. Who do you think pays for the programs you see? In America, you do not pay for it. There seems to be a curious cycle related to the homogenization of the television content that airs here. I believe that it goes kinda like this:

  • Viewers watch what they like best, and they choose this from a pool of programs that come on at different times and different channels. There are other independent variables like availability of the viewer, but when a viewer becomes a regular viewer of a television program, they tend to make time for the program instead of doing other things. (Unless they have a Tivo or some other similar device.)

  • Advertisers want to get the products they sell/represent on TV so that they can reach audiences who they think will buy their products. Their best chance of doing this is usually to advertise to the largest possible audience.

  • Advertisers pay for spots on television programs that they think will reach an audience that will buy the product they are selling; the price is decided by how many viewers the show has, which gives advertisers a rough idea of how many people will see their commercial. This gives the content providers a weird measure of worth for a television show; a show is only worth airing if it has a large number of viewers.

  • When deciding on new shows to air for a season, content providers are cautious about trying new things that don't really fit in their formula, because they might not be able to get advertiser support, or people may not like the program at first.
Because of this, we end up with a system that produces fewer and fewer programs with original ideas, and more and more versions of CSI. The pool of available television content becomes increasingly homogenized, because no one wants to take a chance on something that might challenge this tried and true method.

The Internet is different because anyone can publish content if they know how to; this has become easier in recent years with free hosts like Blogger, that makes it really easy to get a website up and running even if you have no prior experience with any aspect of web publishing. If you want to produce content for the medium of television, you'd better be prepared with a huge sack of money and the patience to deal with a lot of red tape. Another great thing about the Internet is that there's no finite size for the pool of available content, nor are their time restraints on when you can watch something (these time restraints are only just starting to be broken with home recording devices like TiVo, and a lot of people in TV Land are unhappy about this). Lastly, like I said before, browsing the Internet, like reading, is active, because the content does not present itself to you; you must access it. Active consumption is good, because it gives YOU control; not some guy who works on the top floor of a huge building, wears a tailored suit, and doesn't really care about your wants.


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