I was one of those kids who was raised on television. My rigorous regimen included: getting home from school at about 4:30, just in time for my cartoon of choice; at 5:00 p.m. catch an hour of Jack Tripper's antics in Three's Company reruns; 6:00 was the nightly news, which I could afford to skip at that stage in my life and eat some dinner instead; 7:00 Wheel of Fortune or Entertainment Tonight; 7:30 Jeopardy; then, depending on the night of the week, watch some must-see TV. Thursday nights for example: Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, then some other random show NBC was trying to peddle which inevitably failed but I would watch anyway, and finally, L.A. Law! The last slot before bed, 11:00-11:30, was filled by Sportsdesk.
Five hours per night, and that's without including the weekends (and trust me, you don't want to hear about the weekends).
I have realized how much of my life has been wasted sitting in front of that box. As a rough estimate, I have watched about 30,000 hours of television. That's about three and a half years of my life! Imagine what I could have done in that time had I not been watching television! I could have learned a new language, perhaps Mandarin or Swahili. I could have become a black belt in Karate or I could have even read some books and have become really intelligent. Instead, I can tell you that on the Cosby Show, Heathcliff Huxtable's only son, Theo, had a best friend by the name of Cockroach.
As a 26-year-old man, I can only concentrate in 22-minute increments.
And how about the damage it has done to my brain? As a 26-year-old man, I can only concentrate in 22-minute increments before I lose focus and roam around my apartment in a commercial-like trance looking for household products to extol their virtues while singing their jingles. And I still can't stop myself from watching TV. Whenever I think about turning it off, I hear it crying out to me: "Richie, I love you. We have been friends for so long! I know you don't want to turn me off…"
That's why what I did this morning was so difficult. I took the television and put him into the closet. Despite the muffled cries and pleas that he hurled at me, I have decided to go without television for an entire week. Believe me, this is a big deal.
For one week I have decided to maximize that "spare time" I have and see just how much I can accomplish without watching television. What follows is my seven-day diary of a confessed television-a-holic living without a television. May the Lord give me the strength to overcome this challenge.
Breakfast was difficult. I usually eat my morning cottage cheese while watching CNN. I already thought about reinstating the TV. I think I heard him screaming from the closet. Am I losing my mind already? Don't worry, I held firm -- I read the newspaper instead. Unfortunately, I only get the Saturday newspaper so I had to read the travel section. As interesting as it was, I am not planning on a trip to Iceland anytime soon.
I am bored. I missed Boston Public and the Practice. I would even settle for watching The Bachelor right now. I just called everyone in my phone book. No one was home. I just emailed everyone I knew from high school who I haven't spoken to in 10 years. I am bored. I need to find a hobby. Perhaps I'll take up knitting.
Breakfast was much better this morning. I picked up the morning paper and read it during bites of cottage cheese. Reading the paper in the morning is a lot of fun. I feel well informed and even a bit smarter. I still wonder what's happening on CNN. How is Paula Zahn doing? Has she spoken to Wolf Blitzer yet? How's his beard looking this morning?
Tonight I meet with my chevruta, my study partner, where together we learn and discuss a Jewish text. I am ashamed to admit it, but I usually arrive just in time for our session because I watch American Idol first which ends around the time our study session begins. But today, the closest I was going to get to American Idol was looking at the cover of my roommate's old Paula Abdul CD, so I decided to go to my study session early. It gave me time to prepare and review some of the previous material we had covered. It was good to use my brain for something holy for a change. While walking home I decided that I was going to devote some of this week's extra "spare time" to increase my learning of Jewish texts. When I learn Torah, I'm totally engaged and can see its positive influence on me. That's a lot more than I can say for American Idol.
When I returned to my apartment, it was so quiet. So lonely. I noticed the remote control sitting on the edge of the couch, teetering, as if he knew that he was lost. I too am teetering -- between sanity and insanity. I miss late night TV. I miss the Daily Show, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and company. What's happening in the hockey and basketball playoffs? This is not as easy as I thought it would be. This must be what nicotine withdrawal feels like.
This morning on my way to pick up the morning paper, I got pulled over by a police officer. Apparently I have been driving without a valid permit for about 4 months. I got a $110 ticket. I thought about running down the street hoping that the policeman would chase after me, thereby guaranteeing me a spot on the next episode of Cops. But I thought better of it -- if they send me to jail, it will be a lot longer than just one week without TV.
I decided to become a more well rounded person. I took up a hobby: how to make sushi.
With my added free time I have decided to not only increase my Jewish learning, but to become a more well rounded person as well. So I decided to take up a hobby: how to make sushi. I bought a book, along with all of the equipment and ingredients. Today I made sushi for myself, and I'm a regular Mr. Miagi, if I do say so myself.
I also went to the gym. I tried to lift a weight but it fell on me. It's been a while.
Tonight I went to hang out with my friend Shane. We have been close friends for 7 years, but these days, when we get together it's most often to see a movie. I told Shane about my seven-day experiment -- which includes no movies -- and he was very supportive. Instead of sitting next to each other in a movie theater watching a movie, we sat next to each other and talked. We caught up on what was going on with each other and reminisced about old times. We also played trivial pursuit. I think that since I stopped watching TV, I have become smarter.
Days 5 and 6
Friends invited me for Shabbat dinner. It was nice to see them and I enjoyed meeting a few new faces at their dinner table. We exchanged stories, discussed the recent political events and talked about the weekly Torah portion. I was not concerned about any reality TV that I was missing out on, because I realized that experiencing Shabbat was all the reality I needed.
Sunday is usually a big TV day for me. Thank God, I had plenty of things more worthy of my time, one of them being piano. I took up the piano about three months ago. I had a lesson today where I had to play all of the pieces that I have been working on for the last week. After I finish playing for her, she usually says something like, "Ah huh, okay, that's good, but why don't you try playing it this way…" But this week she said, "Good, very good. I really liked that." I told her that I practiced more this week than usual because I put my television in the closet. I think she thinks I'm strange.
Day 8 -- The Aftermath
Although I could have watched TV during breakfast this morning, I read the newspaper instead. I have come to enjoy the quiet.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned this past week is how to view time. I used to have "spare time" which I often looked at as "time to kill." I know it sounds like a clichè, but I realized that time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. Instead of killing it, we can use it for worthwhile pursuits. Instead of plugging into the boob tube, I chose to increase my study of our ancient and holy Jewish texts and plug into a fountain of spiritual knowledge.
Time is a gift, and I should use it to work on improving myself as a human being and as a Jew, not just working in the groove on my favorite couch.
Unfortunately old habits do indeed die hard, and I don't think I'll be getting rid of my television completely just yet. But after my weeklong experiment, I feel like I am back in the driver's seat. Now I realize that I have to control my television watching, and not let it control me. For me, this was no easy transition. But I did it through a simple admission that I had a problem, and that I was willing to change. I said, "Hello, my name is Richard, and I am a television-a-holic."