On Not Watching Television

“Making a Murderer? Have you seen it yet?” For the past week this is all I’ve heard, both from online and off-line friends and acquaintances. It’s all anyone seems to talk about. I ran into three different people in the space of an hour all talking about this new show, all saying how wonderful it is and how addicted they are. At some point, when they realize I’m not saying anything, they ask if I have seen it yet.

The first time I saw this is when I went looking for pictures for this blog post.

Notice the keyword there: ‘yet’. It is simply assumed that if I am not currently watching it that I will. The thought that I might not watch it doesn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind. “You will really like it,” my one friend said, after he spent about five minutes gushing about how he binge-watched all the episodes in two days. “It’s right up your alley.”

He’s probably right, but there is one small problem: I don’t watch TV.

I watch live sports, specifically hockey, more specifically the Toronto Maple Leafs. I don’t go out of my way to watch other teams or other sports. Generally it has to be a very rainy day with nothing else for me to do. In that situation, I might flip through the channels and see which sports teams are playing. That’s pretty rare, though.

Indeed, even my diehard Leafs fandom has diminished over the last few years. I used to watch every game, sit through every intermission, read every news story. I knew everything about my team. Lately, though, the desire has not been there. True, the Leafs have been terrible for the better part of a decade now, but it’s not just that. Watching sports seems to have less and less appeal for some reason. It’s getting harder to justify spending 2+ hours watching athletes play a game.

Still, I watch sports, and that’s about it. I don’t watch the news. I gave that up years ago. I used to watch the Jon Stewart show and the Colbert Report, but that stopped about half way through university. I used to watch the Simpsons, as did everyone else on the planet, until the quality went downhill. I haven’t even seen a rerun in years … though perhaps that’s unnecessary, as I still remember most of my favourite jokes and episodes.

Haven’t seen this episode in years. Still remember all the jokes.

In short, I don’t watch anything. There are no recurring shows or series that have caught my attention, but the issue really rests deeper than that. I feel as if I have outgrown TV, as if it has nothing more to give me. This wasn’t always the case, though. Of course not. I was a child of the late 80s and early 90s. I loved watching television then. I religiously followed my favourite cartoon shows, often having my whole afterschool routine model after the television schedule.

Even here, though, there was always a sense that watching television with something you did when you had nothing else to do. If a group of friends invited me to play road hockey, say, I would never pass that down in favour of television. Indeed, if friends ever came over, we played or did things and television was what we did to recharge, or what we watched while we ate a snack in between games. Television was the fallback option, the last resort.

Also, though I liked television as a child, I liked videogames far more. This is still true today. Videogames are simply the active form of television. Instead of passively sitting back and watching, you control the action, at least in some capacity. You stay engaged far more, and you can also take breaks whenever you need to. You don’t have to run to the bathroom while praying you make it back before the commercial break is over. No, you can simply hit pause, or you can save your game and come back later.

Fun fact: if you pressed the Pause button while playing The Lion King for SNES, it would say ‘Paws’ on screen. Get it? Pause, paws? I thought it was really clever.

More fundamentally, videogames are always there. If I wanted to play Mario, I could do it whenever I wanted to, any time of day or night. Contrast that with 90s television, in which case I could only watch the Simpsons, say, at the designated time. If I missed that time I had no recourse, and that wasn’t very fun. True, I could manipulate my schedule to fit the demands of television… or I could just play video games instead.

I suppose you would classify me, then, as a casual viewer, someone who would watch whatever was on but wouldn’t go out of his way to watch something. As a youngster I watched cartoons after school and as a teenager I would watch sitcoms before bed. I didn’t go out of my way to watch the shows; they were simply on when I was most likely to watch at that given time.

That would be 10 years ago. A decade ago I still watched TV fairly regularly, but then something happened. I wish I could point to a big event, some sensational story that turned me off of television forever. That would be cool, but it wouldn’t be the truth. It was simply a gradual evolution. I would watch only two shows before going to bed, and then only one, and then only one if it was a good episode, and then only if I couldn’t fall asleep, and then not at all.

I graduated university in 2011, and by that point I only watched sports. Of course, by this time the world of television had changed. Services like Netflix and streaming let you watch any show you wanted at any time, more or less. Also, the era of reality television (a truly terrible thing) had come to a close and more narrative-driven stories were leading the way. More people were watching shows like Lost or Game of Thrones than American Idol.

I’m told this is an excellent show, and I believe it … but I don’t want to sit through 40 hours watching every episode to catch up.

I suppose if I started watching these shows, I likely still would have, and that would have led to watching more similar shows, which would likely mean I still watch TV today. In a way, then, I’m lucky, for I escaped the grasp of these time sinks.

Think about it. What you get from watching a one-hour show? Entertainment for sure, but how much? Is it truly worth the one hour investment in time? For me, this is what it all comes down to. I want to become physically fit, get the splits, become a chess master, become an author, learn to code computers, training the martial arts, meditate, the list just goes on and on. I also need to work, obviously, and I need to do those mundane tasks like cooking and cleaning and everything else necessary for day-to-day life.

There are only so many hours in the day. I have so many things I want to do. Does watching a television show help me in any way? Does it help me with my goals? No, not in any real sense. For me, it’s a waste of time. I can use that hour better. This wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to use my time more effectively. Rather, I simply became fixated on reaching my goals, and along the way I dropped less efficient habits. Television is simply the most notable one.

The last time I watched a television show was during my ankle injury, where I was depressed and ended up watching the entire series of The Mentalist. I did that to escape my reality, to hide in a fantasy land. Before that, I couldn’t tell you what the last television show was. It’s simply not there, not part of my life.

This has an interesting consequence. For one, it does give me more time to do I want to do, whether it be writing or chess or whatever, but it also means I have no idea what goes on with popular culture and media. Shows like Making a Murderer come on, and apparently everyone is talking about it. I have no idea what it’s about, just as I have no idea what happened with Lost or the latest Game of Thrones episode. I’m completely out of the loop. That’s the price I have to pay for my productivity.

Do I ever miss television? No, because there is nothing to miss. This isn’t like a junk food, where I consciously gave something up. It’s not hard to give up something you don’t use.

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