I almost never watch television. People sometimes wonder what I DO with myself without watching shows and sports on television. I love to read; I love to explore; I go on road trips; I like to go to museums and galleries and hang out with friends and do puzzles and cook and — well, frankly — sit in silence.
The American way is to go into one’s home in the evening and watch things, often with alcohol in hand and often alone. A version of this is various family members in separate rooms watching separate programming.
There’s also a trend toward shared television as a bonding experience; people are watching television shows with far-flung friends, sharing the experience via SKYPE or Twitter. Yes, tuning in with friends elsewhere is better than being alone. I found myself reaching out by text message during the recent opening ceremony of the Olympics; I wanted to share the experience with my friend Brandon. Yet it’s sad that people aren’t just together doing something, if even simply watching a show together in person (as a first step towards turning off the damn thing and doing something).
The “third place” concept is an important one, I think. Books such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone and Ray Oldenburg’sThe Great Good Place talk about this need for community-based places beyond home and work (the first and second places in which we live and spend time). These are places where people can gather inexpensively around food and drink in a regular way, accessible and familiar venues. It seems that people are more intentionally seeking out such places that have become critical in an age of greater and greater isolation and loneliness. And I’m thankful for them, even if in my favorite one the television is usually on.
But watching television doesn’t substitute for experiencing life itself.
Why is “made for TV” the ultimate compliment? If something is really noteworthy then, yes, it should be televised, and we should be glad for the chance to have learned about it. But there’s something jarring about that phrase to me… as if putting it on television made something interesting, or as if the most exciting things are inherently those that are on television, or as if it’s not depressing that we look to television when we want something interesting to happen.
What are we afraid of in the real world? What keeps us enslaved in our hermetically sealed homes on our perfectly engineered La-Z-Boys, reclining while we hope for the next big thing to happen? Why is there nothing happening in our real lives that feels so compelling that we forget to turn on the television? Why aren’t there more people who find it normal not to have television and who can think of a zillion things more interesting than whatever is on what we used to (aptly) call “the boob tube?”
No answers today; just the questions. Maybe the answer will be on the news tonight.