Is the TV-free life for you?

That’s the question I ask in my current Living With Less column over at MSN Money. “Can your life be richer without TV?” refers to wealth both actual and abstract.

Non-watchers told me they save money (sometimes a lot of money) on cable costs and tend to spend less (sometimes a lot less) because they and their kids aren’t bombarded with ads and product placement. They find their lives are richer in other ways, too.

And they get more sleep.

Seriously: The folks I interviewed who are TV-free or nearly so (yay, Netflix and Hulu.com!) get a ton of things done. They cook great meals, volunteer, join boards, play games with their kids, mentor youths, exercise, clean their houses, read a lot — and yet they still get eight hours of shuteye.

(None of them admitted to blogging, though.)

Understand: I’m not anti-TV. I’m just anti-most-TV. There’s so much junk out there that I fear for our future as a species. Example: In a world where so many people are hungry (and so many Americans are unhealthy), why are we cheering for a guy as he eats four pounds of pancakes or five pounds of beefsteak?

Yes, I do find enjoyable things to watch when I’m visiting my friend in Anchorage or my daughter in Phoenix. But once I’m home I don’t rush to the library to borrow every season of “Dirty Jobs.” Other things have replaced TV in my life. The last time I owned a television was March 2004.

Please note: I am neither judging you nor feeling morally superior because I don’t know who’s on “American Idol.” (In fact, I’m not even sure that show is still on. Is it?) I’m simply suggesting that a lot of us — especially our kids — could do with less tube time.

Please go read the article and leave a comment either here or there. (Or both.) I’d be interested in feedback. Specifically:

  • Do you watch less or more than in the past?
  • Do you have cable or the high-tech version of rabbit ears?
  • If you have children, do you limit their TV time?
  • Have you ever discussed going TV-free with your partner/kids and if so, was the reaction extremely loud?
  • What’s your secret guilty TV pleasure? I’ll start: This summer while up in Anchorage I watched all of “Torchwood” with my hostess.

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  1. The tv is not a temptation for me. We use it very minimally to watch a few movies, play the occasional video game. We do watch nbc’s thurdsay evening lineup (the office, parks and rec, community). So that’s 2 hours a week of tv. During the summer it’s never on unless we wanna check the weather radar on our local channel. I’m not exaggerating. We don’t have cable or an antenna and rely on just living in the city and being able to pick up a signal from the tv itself. We have all these stupid channels that don’t come in and it takes 5 seconds for the picture on a channel to appear when you change the channel so “flipping through” is extremely inconvenient.

    I hardly feel good about not being addicted to the tv though because I believe the internet has fully replaced that addiction. Instead of surfing channels, I surf websites. And it’s scary how much time I spent online each day when it’s all said and done. It’s funny how the tv always gets a bad rep but little is said about the negative effects of mindless internet surfing. Anti-tv people will often even catch shows online and think it somehow doesn’t count as watching tv. Let’s see…in each case you are staring at a rectangular screen getting lured into a giant non-productive time-suck. How is it any different?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Amber: I don’t think there’s a difference, either. There is good stuff on both TV and the Internet — but so much dreck in both places that Internet addicts can’t exactly feel morally superior to television addicts.
      Neither medium has to be a non-productive time-suck. But both often are.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. I gave up cable tv about 10 years ago, which in my par of the country means no tv reception at all. I’ve more than compensated for it by more hours spent in front of the computer. I tell myself I’m “reading,” but I’m really jumping from subject to subject (all of them interesting) without any coherent goal.

  3. The first season of Torchwood was great. Then they got a little sloppy. I haven’t had cable for the 10 years I’ve been out of my parents’ house. My boyfriend and I watch hulu or rent (sometimes buy) dvds. We still manage to watch WAY too much this way and still don’t get much done. I can only imagine how lazy we would be if we did have cable. MY guilty pleasure the last few months? I just finished the 5th season of Family Ties on DVD. THAT was a fantastic show. I can’t wait for season 6 and 7 to come out.

  4. Not TV-free but free TV! I’m an admitted TV-aholic so, much as I like the idea of no TV, I wouldn’t go without it. In the past year I’ve discovered all those sites for watching TV on the Internet for free. I was surprised to find it was completely viable and, thanks to limited commercials and more choice, preferable.

  5. We are definitely not tv free but we gave up direct tv two years ago and haven’t missed it. Our kids watch PBS or movies we borrow from the library. Occasionally we watch shows on the computer. I have a tiny tv in my kitchen and I will watch the news while I work in there.
    The computer/internet seems to have taken up a lot of the time we used to use to watch cable. The only real benefit I see is that my kids no longer get prolonged exposure to the kid geared commercials on Nickelodeon and Disney.

  6. You know I have been trying to decide if I should let TV cable go and replace it with free shows. I’m still debating. There is a comfort to the noise and voices during the night. The end result will most likely be ‘lose it’, but until then my fear keeps me trapped.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lynn: How about leaving the radio on? And, eventually, weaning yourself off and getting accustomed to silence? It really can be golden.
      I sometimes have the classical station on — much better for me than the frantic beats of more modern sounds (and the jarring commercials that accompany). If you don’t have a classical station in your city, find one that streams on the Internet. (I suggest the Seattle station, KING-FM, king.org.)
      Often, though, I just have quiet — or as quiet as North Seattle can be. There’s always the stray siren from Aurora Avenue or my neighbors having a party.

  7. We watch less TV than in the past.
    We have “free” digital TV (need high tech rabbit ears, only get main channels).
    One toddler, she gets ZERO TV.
    When we first cut cable four years ago, I felt HGTV would be a loss, he felt ESPN would be. But we did it and were surprised it wasn’t that bad.
    We usually watch shows now on Netflix or Hulu. We’ll watch probably an hour a night, although there are plenty of nights it never gets turned on at all.

    We’re too busy trying to raise a toddler/house work/careers for much of it at all. I like not feeling bound to TV.

  8. Okay, click on my name and you will see I blogged about the same thing yesterday. Thankfully, it does not look like, once again, I am just copying someone else’s topic!

    I miss TV! I do, I really do!

    When my children were little, they got 30 min of tv on school nights and often only an hour on weekends. We had other things to do–ball, dance, swim team, etc.

    Yes, I do spend more time on the internet. It’s not the same experience. Just read my blog and hear me whine.

  9. We have a television ‘box’. But my son & I have had no “external” imagery since 2000…no antenna, no cable. Netflix and boxed DVDs are our entertainment. I don’t see **HOW** anyone gets anything done if watching a “schedule” of shows daily. ;^D I see “TV” sometimes when in a waiting room at the car dealer or doctor’s, and am FASCINATED with the sh** that is on there !

  10. lostAnnfound

    we cut back two or three months ago to basic cable and so far nobody seems to mind it. My husband still likes to channel surf, but now he only has 21 channels to do it and so he usually ends up giving up and reading instead (a good thing!). I wish we had done it years ago.

    • Donna Freedman

      @lostAnnfound: I put the Envi-Tote in the mail yesterday. Happy shopping!

  11. We canceled our cable service a little over 2 years ago and don’t have an antenna. We watch an occasional movie borrowed from the library, but we don’t miss TV at all. I can tell you (although I’ve never seen it) that American Idol is still on. We get together with extended family during the week for game night and if it happens to be on the night American Idol is on we always have to cut our games short so they can rush home to see their show. Thank goodness my husband and I don’t have this addiction.

  12. Bagel Girl

    Actually, it might be interesting to separate out the responses by age. We had a lot less TV (no cable where we lived) when the kids were growing up.

    But now that we are retired we watch alot more. NO reality shows, though, but some series are as good as movies. And no one feels morally superior for giving up movies. I wonder why that is?

    Also, we have plenty of time to read, which I do in monstrous amounts on a daily basis. I also volunteer at a food bank and we travel as much as $$$$ allow.

    Anyway, just wondering about how this might be different for diffeent times of our lives.

  13. I admit I am a TV addict and my husband is an internet addict. I have cut our cable back but since it is our cable, internet and phone, it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Especially as my husband has gone back to school for his phd, online. We are not giving up the high speed internet, lol.

    I love when folks always suggest reading as an alternative. If I gave up tv, I can (and have) read everything in my local library that even vaguely interested me in about 6 months. That’s never a really good long term solution, as books can wind up costing me much more money than tv once I exhaust the library (and I have not had good luck with paperbackswap).

    But kudos to those folks who find other things to do with their time.

  14. I don’t own a TV, so I download torrents and typically have them playing on the computer while I do dishes or cook dinner. I’m trying to stop that, though, because I’ve found that even though I’m only a little less efficient when I have TV on, being a little less efficient means losing time that I want to spend on other activities. My current project is a quilt, and I want to turn the TV shows off and focus on the quilt wholeheartedly, but I’m afraid that measuring and cutting patches will be boring without anything to listen to. It’s just hard to break a habit, I guess, but I’m going to try it tonight!

  15. When I was growing up, we had a small black and white tv. It would last for a while and then lightning would strike it. We would wait six months to a year and then buy another small black and white tv. This happened several times, and color tv’s were available.

    When my husband and I had sattelite we would keep it on during football season, and then suspend the service for several months. I only watch two nights a week, and I wouldn’t mind going without it all together. My husband, however, just has to have football. I keep the cable for him. As soon as I find a free or low cost way for him to see his games the cable will be shut down. I don’t have the right internet company to get ESPN 3 on the computer.

  16. We don’t have satellite because I’m cheap and they made me a bit mad. Sooooo, I love it because I never watch it but my son and husband are having a hard time. They are having withdrawals!!

  17. Unfortunately, I’ve found that there is more quality television out there than there used to be. It’s often hard to find. Sure, I could be more productive if I didn’t watch television, but I also like this particular form of entertainment. I went many years without cable in order to save money, and now it’s practically free where I live, so I might as well enjoy some of the better-written programs. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      @Flexo: I agree that there is good stuff out there. I saw some of it with my daughter and my best friend. Even some of the TV-free folk admitted to checking out certain programs online now and then. At some point I probably will want to get all the seasons of the “The Closer” et al.
      I like excellent fiction and nonfiction — but sometimes I read mysteries for fun. It’s the same with TV.
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  18. No TV. Netflix or a movie from the library once or twice a month for me. DH rents extra movies form the local shop with his fun money. I like to read too much to want to always watch the pictures someone else makes– like the ones in my head better.
    And I enjoy silence in the evening after music and chatter all day at work.

    But we do spend too much time on the internet–me blog-surfing, him facebooking.

  19. Okay, well, you asked, lOL. And I have not read the other replies. That said, I raised two children. We did scouts, we did sports, e’ve always cooked all meals from scratch, we’re active in church, had a family game night, were active in politics, worked, and got eight hours of sleep each night-AND we’ve had TV all our lives.

    Tv is an entertainment tool, just like anything else. Would you have the same discussion about the internet?? Of someone who plays role playing games every night?

    Tv has value as entertainment and as a teaching tool-we just finished watching “the pacific” as a family.

  20. I don’t have television (no reception without cable in these here parts). I’ve thought about getting it many times, but the few shows I watch are all available online so it seems pointless. I also enjoy just plain silence, so I find that if I’m someplace where it’s on a lot, it definitely gets disruptive. If I get a big enough raise next year, though, I’ll consider it again.

    That said, I spend WAY too much time on the internet, and not enough of it on news sites to feel as informed as I think I should be.

  21. I probably spend the same amount of time watching TV but maybe get in a few more shows because we DVR everything and can skip commercials.

    We have AT&T U-verse with 300 plus channels. I probably only really watch less than a dozen of them.

    My husband spends far more time than I watching TV. I work on my blog and he watches a show.

  22. I’ve been TV free for five years now. The only thing I really miss is Washington Week in Review, and I get that on an audio podcast via iTunes. I do watch DVDs via Netflix (my most recent guilty pleasure is the first season of Glee). There is something very freeing about waiting a year to see what’s hot.

  23. Very thoughtful article, Donna! For my husband, the actual television is a necessity. My husband writes video game reviews and uses the TV for work. We discussed giving up cable a few months ago, but when I called Comcast, they said our Internet price is a “with cable” price. Without the cable, our Internet monthly bill would actually go up to within $2 of our current bill for Internet and cable. Ridiculous but we thought, “Hey, if cable is only costing us $24 a year, might as well keep it!”

    I’ve found that I crave cable most when I feel directionless in my own life. Insipid TV programs fill the void that having no direction leaves. Since finding some direction (deciding what I really want to do with school, life and work), I’ve given up shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “Gossip Girl.” I realized that those shows were not very intelligent, in no way enhanced my view of the world, and really, were just sucking away my time.

    Now I watch two hours of TV a week – Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order: SVU. Though I know it’s just TV, I swear L&O has changed the way I think of some issues and has even helped me in a couple law classes. 😉 If I miss an episode because I have more important things to do, no big deal. I’ll catch it online later in the week.

    If I want entertainment, I try finding it in books or in DVDs from the library. They’re free, and I’m more likely to watch something I’ve never heard of because of that. Regardless, I think all of us would benefit from a little less TV time (or a lot less in some cases).

  24. TV is just not a part of my life anymore. I used to watch shows while I was on the treadmill, but I’ve realized I prefer to run outside, even if it’s dark or raining. Not watching TV frees up an incredible amount of time. It is how people can work full-time, spend lots of time interacting with their kids, exercise, have hobbies, and get enough sleep. And maybe read and hang out with their spouses too. Seriously.

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