Ditch that idiot box

You can get much more out of your life, once you’re free from the spell of the TV

TV being hit by an arrow

My earliest memory of television is watching cartoons as a child, which then changed to watching shows with the family in the 1980s till colour television made its debut in India. Sunday mornings back then were reserved for ‘family shows’ which were entertaining and educational at the same time. As time passed, the saga of sitcoms that started with mythological epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha took over our lives. What followed was a spate of sitcoms often sharing a similar plot, just different characters each time.

TV has become such an integral part of our lives today that we design our homes based on the location of our TV sets. We time social events and outings so as to not clash with our favourite shows. I live in a home where TV rules the roost; so, when I was challenged by a friend to try living without one, I was flummoxed! Can life really exist beyond the vibrant colours and the soothing ‘cacophonic’ background that a TV provides at all times? I knew that it would be a challenge to find out but I decided to give it a shot…

Leading by example

My first destination was just across the street, to Manoj Nayak’s home, an engineer by profession and a networking enthusiast. Manoj gave up watching TV three years ago as he grew disillusioned with the content being relayed by TV channels. While this brings to mind the famous Springsteen hit ‘57 channels and nothing on,’ it is also a reflection of how the media has lost sight of basic objectives in reporting news, choosing to sensationalise it for higher TRPs rather than presenting facts in an unbiased manner. But that would form the basis of an entirely different debate! Manoj prefers to get his news from the Internet where he can choose to read only what interests him. He also watches movies and listens to music on the Internet. He ‘chooses’ not to watch what he doesn’t want to.

Rebecca and Sujay Madhok have been married for 17 years out of which they have lived without a TV set for 15. In the initial years of their marriage, they lived in a joint family with a TV. Gradually, they found that their lives were being governed by show timings of their family’s favourite sitcoms and reality shows. People didn’t want to make time to talk or meet at the cost of missing a show. Therefore, when they moved out, they decided they wouldn’t be slaves to the ‘Black Box.’ When they were not at office, they spent time pursuing their hobbies with a passion, exploring the countryside, socialising with friends and family, reading, watching movies together or just chatting. “We did find ourselves at a loss when popular TV shows were being discussed by peers, but we did not succumb to the temptation,” says Rebecca. Having said that, Rebecca and Sujay bought a TV last year when they moved to the US. They thought it would help them keep in touch with things back home and also enable them practice ‘selective viewing’ of their choice.

Consider this

If you’re thinking—they can do it, so can I—think again. These are people who have no kids hence they don’t need to ‘use’ TV to tempt, molly coddle, blackmail, punish or reward. I know I’ve used the TV very often with my kids [and still do] just so I can get a break, read a book, take a nap and some times, get out of the house. However, what’s compounding my guilt are some of these parents I spoke with. Read on…

Vibha Kamat, who is a French teacher, has been living in Mumbai without a TV set for the last 19 years. Luckily for her, she and her husband love reading and filled their evenings with books and conversations from the beginning of their marriage. Since they had a desktop computer even then, they would get CDs of movies, programmes and documentaries that they were keen to watch. Their kids grew up in the same environment—reading books, playing with their friends, pursuing hobbies and watching cartoons on the desktop. While Vibha and her husband miss watching sports events live at home, they are very sure they don’t need a TV to fill that gap—they just go over to a friend’s place and make the sport a social event.

Anup Gupta, Director of a financial planning and broking firm, couldn’t do without his daily dose of television. As it is with most men, TV was a stress buster after a long day at the office. While his wife would be absorbed in some saas-bahu soap available in plenty across Indian TV channels, his kids would practically live in front of the TV. On the one hand, communication between family members dwindled; while on the other, staying up late to watch TV shows and sports events started affecting his health adversely. He decided to take the lead and set an example for his family by getting rid of all the TV sets in their home. “My kids were shocked as they found it hard to believe that their Papa could give up watching TV all together,” says Anup. They have not had a TV in their home for 12 years now but they have had the time to make some beautiful memories which they cherish as a family.

And then, there’s Farzana Rana, homemaker and mother of three kids who has had a love-hate relationship with the television. Every time she feels that the kids’ grades at school have declined, she gets rid of the TV and is amazed at the calming, almost therapeutic effect it has on everyone. Grades improve, tempers don’t flare, tantrums are in check and there is time to pursue hobbies like reading or bead-work as a benign calm descends over the household. However, the relentless requests by the kids to bring it back leaves them almost helpless as they realise they are in a Catch 22.

Was I up to it?

Having spoken with many people [including some children] over the past few days, I have gathered that more and more people [especially women] are developing ‘TV fatigue.’ Although the initial fascination we had for the ‘Black Box’ has worn out, we don’t necessarily want to do away with it all together but being able to plug it out completely may take a lot more will power from some of us. If you can’t trust yourself to be able to ration the time you spend watching TV and give it the correct position on your priority list, then kicking out the ‘Black Box’ for a few years should help. Once you’re used to it not being there, you naturally will start exploring other things to do with all the free time you’ll have at hand.

As for me, I wouldn’t say I’m totally sold to the idea of not having a TV set at home but I think I’m on my way to making the transition to the other side. For now, it will have to begin with ensuring that meal times are honoured by having the TV switched off.

Ideas for your TV-free time

  • Read, read, read
  • Do gardening
  • Play cards or other games like 20 questions or charades
  • Chat with family and friends
  • Join a cycling group
  • Join an NGO
  • Learn a new craft—candle making or paper twirling
  • Socialise more often
  • Rent movies of your choice and watch them
  • Learn a few magic tricks
  • Try bird watching or trekking
  • Relax… you don’t have to always do something. Put your feet up and just chill.

A version of this was first published in the December 2012 issue of  Complete Wellbeing.

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