Experiment Report: Getting rid of TV

For nearly a year, our family has been living without TV. As we prepare to bring the TV back into our household this week, I thought I would write up a few of my thoughts on the TV-Free experiment, as it draws to a close.

What did we do?
Early last Spring, we pulled the plug on our cable, our Tivo, and our Netflix subscriptions. We left the TV on the wall, but it was only hooked up to the DVD player, and a Roku box that we purchased at that time, with the idea that we might stream online content to the TV.

Why did we do it?
We weren't watching it that much, and when we did we were liking different things: My husband and I found that we weren't watching the TV that often. He was down to mostly sports, and I had just a couple of shows I was following. Our interests didn't overlap, and with one TV in our primary living space, it was kind of a pain point. The TV didn't feel accretive to the atmosphere of family togetherness I was striving for. The kids were watching it some, but I didn't feel the need to preserve it for their sake, given all the press about limiting "screen time." 

It was a money saving move: I was mindful of the monthly expense, given that I was anticipating leaving my job to take a year off. Why pay so much each month for something that we weren't using and enjoying all that much?

The boldness of the plan appealed to me: I kind of liked the idea of doing something unusual that most people wouldn't do. Just to see what would happen. Life is short, why not experiment!?

How did it go?
It went well for the first 6 months: We got along quite well in the Spring and Summer, and missed it a lot less than we expected. I was worried about missing the Summer Olympics, but it turned out we were on vacation and would have missed it either way. Streaming content through Roku turned out to be a bit complicated, and we didn't feel the pull toward any particular shows strongly enough to bother with it more than a handful of times. We made good use of our DVD collection, however, for the kids in particular. We also discovered instant streaming of movies through Vudu which worked pretty well for us.

We added an antenna in the Fall: By October, we were avidly interested in the Presidential race, and it was the prospect of missing the debates that caused us to take our first step back toward TV. The night of the first debate, we made a last second trip to Best Buy for a 1970s style over-the-air antenna. This allowed us to receive the "free" channels, namely ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. But without a DVR or Tivo, it felt like we'd gone back to watching TV the way we did when we were kids. Very retro. But it was enough to meet our occasional "event" needs.

What did we learn?
It broke me of the habit of turning to TV in the evenings to unwind. I started spending more time reading, doing projects around the house, and on my computer. I built new habits and found new ways to relax and unwind after a busy day.

I enjoyed the increased quiet in the house. I found that having the TV off created a quiet and peacefulness in the house that I enjoyed. We live in a small house, and when one person is watching TV, the rest can't really avoid hearing it. It was heavenly to have more quiet.

It didn't cut down on our screen time as much as I thought it would. The kids began playing more games on handheld devices, and watched a fair number of movies. The 5:30 showing of Wild Kratts on PBS became a reliable go-to standby during dinner prep time. My husband and I spent more time on our iPads and laptops than we had before. I began following a growing collection of bloggers, playing on Pinterest, watching crafty how-to videos on YouTube, and writing my own blog. One day in December, my husband came home with an X-Box. So, while we weren't watching much TV, our screen time had mostly transferred to other devices. Not totally, but more than I expected.

Why are we ending the experiment?
For better or for worse, our culture really revolves around TV. Shows come up in conversation all the time. Celebrities are referenced everywhere. Big events, especially sports-related, are difficult or impossible to get online. Lately I have felt a growing sense of inevitability about ending the experiment and turning back on the TV given where and how we live in the world today.

There are things about it we miss. My husband really misses watching sports. (That's the one thing that turned out to be super hard to get in other ways.) The kids miss certain shows. We all miss the ability to record televised events to watch later, or press "pause" during live TV. And I will admit to occasionally missing the ability to stick the kids in front of the TV when they're tired or acting up.

What's next?
The cable guy comes this week. Overnight we will be catapulted back into the 21st century, after living a retro 70s style TV life for much of the past year. We'll have a zillion channels. We'll be able to record shows, and pause live TV. We might even throw in Netflix, just to be sure we've really swung the pendulum as far as it can go. 

And so a new experiment starts. Can we manage the TV or will the TV take over? Will we figure out how to balance everybody's needs? Will it become a source of fun family togetherness, or family strife? Will we be happy to have it back? Or will we regret it and miss the quieter days we enjoyed in 2012? Time will tell. 


  1. You were brave and bold to go without a TV, but as you say, screen time just shifted to other venues. Maybe try limiting it to certain days and times -- always possible with a TiVo. Good luck! Mom

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