First year of university, I quit TV. OK, to be fair, by that time it was streaming — but the point is: I stopped.
Up until then, TV had always been a big part of my life. Growing up, I would always come home from school, plop down on the futon, and flip through the television channels.
Watching TV became a bonding activity. My brothers, mum, and I would sit around the TV and watch a show or two together every night. By high school, I had my own laptop and started streaming episodes of my favourite shows off of Hulu.
This habit intensified when I got to university. I would return to my dorm room and binge watch, burning through one episode after another. It got to the point where I was watching more shows than I could even keep up with: Grey’s Anatomy, The Mindy Project, NCIS, Law & Order: SVU, the list goes on.
Was it an addiction? I’m not sure. But every time I flipped open my computer screen, a sense of anxiety would swell in my chest. Anxiety that watching TV wasn’t productive, that I was wasting my life consuming the carefully constructed lives of fictional TV characters instead of building my own.
And so I stopped. I couldn’t tell you the exact date I stopped, just that one day I decided to take a break from watching TV for a while, and I guess that break never really ended. This is what has happened since I stopped watching TV over two years ago:
I think some people see my rejection of television as some sort of moral action, some sort of pious self-denial. But it's not like that at all -- this choice just happens to make me the most happy with the life I'm living.
Entertainment is deeply embedded into our culture. By not watching TV, I essentially threw out one of the easiest ice breakers to reach for when first meeting people. I have to find other common ground to connect on. But often I've found that it's actually led to more meaningful conversations.
And, no. I've never seen an episode of 'Game of Thrones.'
With entire seasons available instantaneously on Netflix these days, I guess I'm not even sure if people have to wait to watch most shows anymore. In any case, I like being free of the commitment to stay up-to-date on shows or to finish a series.
For real. Every time I catch a glimpse of advertisements on TV these days, I wonder what strange technology they are using to make them look so futuristic. But I guess that's just what happens to things after you stop paying attention -- they march into the future while you're still drawing on your memory for reference.
5. Unfortunately, just because I stopped spending time watching TV doesn't mean I magically have more time in a day.
For every form of entertainment you give up, there are many others competing for your attention. Even without TV, I still have to put in the work to prioritise my time.
I'll admit, I haven't been completely abstinent these two years. I'll still watch the occasional movie or episode with friends. In May, a friend asked me to make sure he didn't get too drunk the night before graduation. On a nostalgia trip, we ended up watching a couple episodes of 'That '70s Show.' This summer, I watched two or three episodes of 'The Bachelorette' with my short-term roommate in an attempt to bond. As much as TV is a part of culture, it's a bonding activity.
At the height of my binge-watching in university, I was going through a really difficult breakup. I relied on television's power of escapism to distract myself from thinking about the ended relationship. But since I've given TV up, I no longer feel the need to distract myself from my emotions -- I can turn to other outlets, like journaling or exercise -- and actually enjoy the time I spend on my own.
As a freshman, I failed to get very involved on campus. I thought returning to my dorm and crawling into bed to watch 'Grey's Anatomy' was better than trudging across campus to meet people I didn't know at some random event. But when I stopped watching TV, I decided to get involved. This last year, I not only found amazing people but had the chance to help organise the first ever student hosted innovation competition at the University of Wisconsin - Madison as a board member of Transcend Engineering, a student organisation dedicated to entrepreneurship at my university.
Last fall, in the time it would have taken to watch a single television episode, I applied for a travel scholarship to visit the University of Southern California for a women in media event. That one little hour earned me a round trip ticket to Los Angeles where I explored virtual reality and immersive journalism with other young women. And, ultimately, it was that exact experience that piqued my interest in writing about technology, which I'm doing now.
Growing up, I was guilty of frequently staying up late with a book and flashlight under my covers. But by high school, I had stopped being that voracious reader. Since I stopped watching TV, I started picking books up again.
I've found that, at the end of the day, you still need to need to find a way to relax and unwind. When I stopped watching TV, I bought a DSLR camera and started learning photography. And, outside of writing journalistically, I'll write poetry or sketch.
By spending less time staring at a screen, I began to put myself out there more to pursue the things I wanted to do. Did I have any skills or experiences when I started? No. But I began to develop those along the way, even as I made a lot of mistakes. By pursuing real world experiences that I could learn from, I now have a clearer picture of the direction I want my life to take.
Watching TV isn't actually a waste of time if it makes you happy. Just like anything else. While I may be missing out on the golden era of television, I don't see myself reaching for the remote or signing up for a Netflix account any time soon when I can spend my time travelling, reading, and having interesting conversations.