Farewell, Unreal WorldPosted: October 19, 2011
Those few of my friends who know about the personal choice I made at the start of this month don’t really understand it.
Even my friend and neighbour Oran, who is open-minded and welcoming of every possible lifestyle choice to the point of being impossible to shock, has his doubts about what I have done.
I could walk into his house carrying a purple minature elephant and proclaiming a newfound sexual attraction to holly trees and Oran would be thoughtfully accepting, rejoicing in my newfound desires and, possibly, willing to try it too.
But of this choice, while supportive, he is quick to assure me, gravely, that it can be undone at a moments notice, and that I only have to say the word and he will help me to return to normality.
You see, I’ve not only joined the estimated 1-2% of people who have chosen to live without television, but of that tiny minority I am not in either the “ultra religious wanting to protect children from TV sex” or the “I don’t want modern technology in my home” subsets who make up two thirds of the abstainers. Nor am I one of the people who moved into a house without a TV and never got around to buying one.
No, I had a perfectly good TV, and made a conscious decision that I no longer needed it in my life, and I took it down the stairs and out of the house, and waved bye-bye to it as it walked down the road*
(*dramatic licence – it’s actually in the shed waiting to be boot-faired)
So, what am I, some kind of weirdo? Some kind of anti-technology nut?
No, I grew up like everyone else of my era, with TV a big part of my life. Through my twenties as I moved from bedsit to flat to house, the TV was always one of those “must-haves” that had to be there on day 1, like the kettle, the duvet and the fan heater (those bedsits used to be cold drafty places!).
When my marriage came to an end in 2000 and I moved back home to Dublin after decades in the UK, I started afresh with almost zero possessions, but the first thing I brought into the first room I rented, when suddenly back in bedsitland, was a little black and white TV, which I propped up on a chair in the corner of the room.
And within a year it was replaced by a much better, colour, combi-DVD unit on a proper stand (indeed, I think, the very one pictured above).
But I’m a great man for radio, and I’ve a love of news and current affairs, and they do wonderful programmes on BBC Radio 4, so the TV was not always on. And as the noughties rolled on, and the X-Factors and their clones swept through TVland, it was on less and less. At first days would go by when it wasn’t switched on, and then, sometimes, weeks.
And I have a stack of unwatched DVDs in the corner that can be viewed on the laptop as easily as the TV, and as broadband improved, there is so much content on the web too.
But the TV was still a “must-have”. Or so I thought.
Until I began to think.
My first conscious moment (the waking from TV-enthralled slumber?) came, of all places, at Holyhead ferry terminal, at around 8pm on a cold blustery night back in February.
I had driven several hundred miles to catch the 10pm ferry, having spent a long weekend staying with a good friend and her flatmate who were, frankly, the most TV-obsessed people I have ever met in my life. In their home, the TV was on constantly, X-Factor, Dancing On Ice and I know not what else was constantly watched and analysed, every carefully choreographed tiff between presenters believed as true-life drama, no TV cliche or stunt too transparant to be swallowed whole.
While watching live TV their Sky+ box was constantly recording other material to be viewed later, the hard disk was always full, and the arguments over what should be deleted to make way for more of the same heated and bitter. But I could tolerate that, in small doses, for the sake of seeing my hosts.
But now, having driven like the devil and endured peak-hour tailbacks through the Midlands, I was being subjected to ferry company customer service at its finest. Having got through the initial checkpoint, and passed outbound customs, I was among many motorists now corralled in a holding area, where terminal facilities were available “for your comfort and convenience”
Entering the building, it became apparent to myself and many other motorists that the coffee and snack shop was closed.
The door onto the corridor leading to the toilets was locked.
There was not a single member of staff anywhere to help.
Children were crying, people wanted the loo, I wanted a warm drink in me, and everyone was vexed. All we had access to was a large waiting room with hard plastic seats, and a big, booming television.
And then Eastenders came on, and suddenly no one was vexed, everybody settled down and looked at the screen, and the locked toilets and the lack of “comfort and convenience” didn’t matter to anyone any more, as they were comforted by the ultimate complaint handler – a bit of telly.
At that moment, as the dum dum dum of the Eastenders theme crashed around the room, I felt my world spin, and it was as if I could suddenly see what TV does – drains the passion, the thought, the fight, out of a population, and makes them . . content.
I went back outside, and sat in my car. I knew it was not a plot, it was not deliberate, but yet, the effect was a visible fact – treat customers any way you want, as long as you give them a bit of telly, it will all be OK.
That played on my mind for a while, over the summer, and my spells with the TV off became longer, not so much as a conscious decision, but more because I was finding the endless promos and trailers and constant stripping of programmes such as The Simpsons and Friends and all the “real-life” dramas across many channels to be more and more of an irritation.
And I could see my own childhood favourite, Dr. Who, being sucked into this, with more and more flashy guest-stars, and less standalone, thoughtful and quirky episodes.
I thought about life without TV. Not a life without watching programmes or films, but without the actual set itself, sitting there consuming space and asking to be switched on. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that even the space the TV itself claimed was more use to me than the slim pickings I now got from it. And so the decision was made, the TV would go when my current Sky contract came to an end at the start of October.
A shocked Oran helped my carry it downstairs and out of my life.
It’s not as if I can’t watch things if I want to. I’m not a luddite, and I’m not anti-media. Anything I want is available on the Internet if I really want to get it, but that is more of an active and discerning choice, which I like.
And the very last thing of all that I had told myself I was hanging on to TV for, live news, is now accessible just as easily online as through TV.
RTE have their main news bulletins easily accessible, and the individual stories also, as featured videos (see above). And the BBCs online news video service is even more impressive.
I can still watch episodes of TV if I really want to, I can buy or download, and my stack of DVDs is still in the corner, but, still just as little viewed. But I find I’m not doing that so much.
For the first week that the TV was gone, I felt serious pangs. Which was ridiculous, as I had been going weeks at a time without turning it on anyway, but it more the absence of the ability to turn it on, the loss of an object which had been a focal point of every residence I had lived in through my adult life. Another week has gone by, and the pangs are gone.
I listen to radio (mostly speech), I often listen to downloaded podcasts of shows from Radio 4 and the World Service in the evening, I have extra space where the TV used to be, and I feel . . . liberated, awake.
You were good to me once TV, you coloured my childhood with Daleks and Liver Birds and Life On Earth . . but we fell out of love when it became too stale, and I gave you your marching orders.
And now I don’t miss you one little bit.
And when I see you with someone else, I won’t be jealous.