I stopped watching TV for a week, and noticed some major changes in how I spent my time
- I stopped watching TV for a week to see how it would affect my day-to-day life.
- I quickly found myself reading more and saying "yes" to more social activities with friends.
- By the end of the week, the experiment made me think critically about why we watch TV in the first place.
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And while I don't quite think I reach that level of TV consumption, it's safe to say I'm pretty into TV. I appreciate the seemingly endless number of entertainment options that exist on various platforms, and often take recommendations from those whose opinions I trust in deciding what to watch.
When I watch TV, I tend to binge it. One episode of "Russian Doll" at a time didn't satisfy; I watched the series in two sittings. I recently consumed all of "Big Mouth" in about a week.
Still, when my editor asked for a volunteer to take a week off of TV, I didn't think I'd notice a significant difference in my day-to-day life by being that person. So in an effort to determine how dependent I actually was on television as entertainment in my own life, I offered to take the experiment on. I committed for a full week, from April 5 to April 12.
For the purposes of this experiment, "television" included anything on a streaming service or cable (so, also movies), and any clips of things that would appear in such places (like "SNL" clips the Sunday after the show aired). I still used social media, but if a friend or connection posted something that would qualify as TV, I swiped right past it. If it was something I really wanted to watch, I'd take a mental note to come back to it in a week.
Avoiding TV for a week became an exercise in patience
As the week unfolded, avoiding TV became an exercise in patience. Because I continued to use social media, there were moments of both jealousy and curiosity I knew I couldn't satisfy when friends alluded to things they'd watched recently. Things that I'd have to postpone my own enjoyment of.
The experiment also tested where I focused my attention: Swiping through Instagram stories, for example, lost a bit of its luster. I stopped viewing them as frequently as a result, and paid a bit more attention to things around me in somewhat mundane scenarios. Subway ads caught my interest a bit more than usual, as I looked up instead of at my phone during my commutes. I even finally finished a book I had been reading; I would have reached the end a few days later if I'd still been watching TV before falling asleep, instead of reading.
Not being able to watch TV forced me to say 'yes' to more social activities
I went to trivia one night, to a comedy show another, and out to dinner with friends a couple times. I may have done some of those activities in any given week, but knowing that I wouldn't have the option of watching TV if I stayed in compelled me to say "yes" to even more socialization than I usually commit to.
It wasn't too hard to avoid television while out, either. I don't belong to a gym (runners, unite!) where flickering screens are lined up against the wall broadcasting an array of competing options, and my bar and restaurant preferences always tend in the direction of quiet and candlelit, rather than sporty, anyway. There's no shortage of options to satisfy my personal preferences in New York, though I'd certainly feel differently if I were back home in the suburb I grew up in, or outside of any major city, really.
By the end of the week, I took stock of why I watch TV in the first place
I considered how easy it is to consume screen-based content, seemingly without even trying. So much is readily available at any given time, and it often accompanies my everyday activities, without thinking twice. I'll play something on my laptop in the background while I'm cooking and eating at home, for example. But this week, I stuck strictly to music as an accompaniment instead, and I think that's how it'll be from now on.
By the end of the week, I did get a little philosophical in considering my reasons for ever watching television in the first place. I realized that sometimes, it's to give my brain a break from things that require more focused thinking. Other times, in the case of the news, or trendy shows, it's to be able to participate in a larger cultural conversation.
And it can be social, too: Sharing a laugh or any kind of emotional experience with a friend, even when facilitated by action on a screen, can be a very specific kind of relaxed intimacy.
Sometimes it can be some or all of these things. And given that, I won't hesitate to admit that I was relieved my experiment ended in time for me to be able to join in watching the "Game of Thrones" premiere with a few friends.