Hey, I’m an Urban Myth!

Today’s Times had an article about people who don’t watch television anymore, in which an NBC executive is quoted as saying, “the notion that people have forsaken watching cable and network television is an urban myth.”

As the writer of the article (who has given up her television) said, “I have been compared to many things in my life; never, though, to Sasquatch.”

I gave up my television in 1988, out of necessity. I was working as a reporter in Pennsylvania, making a pittance, and working lots of nights. The cable bill kept going up, and channels I liked kept being removed from the basic package, so I canceled it to save money. Without cable, in the mountains, you really didn’t have television at all, at least not with the rabbit ears on my crappy set. I used to watch TV almost every night, but once it was gone, I was surprised at how little I missed it. I read more, I got to bed earlier, and I felt better — staying up until 2am flipping channels and watching crap didn’t feel much better than binging on junk food or getting drunk, and didn’t have any of the social benefits.

I did miss good shows; I first heard of Seinfeld when people at work assumed I knew everything about it because I was a New Yorker. I’ve never seen an episode of Friends or Sex In the City or The X Files or any show involving the initials “CSI.” I have never watched a reality show. For the most part, that’s a good thing.

I also have lost my immunity to television; getting rid of it was somewhat leaving a very loud dance club. The silence is deafening. When I encounter television nowadays, in public places or at my parents’, what principally strikes me is the volume. Everyone screams. Even relatively calm television personalities act in ways that would cause you to tell them to calm down, or ask them to leave, if they were actually in your living room. I don’t like being screamed at, and I don’t like being treated like an idiot, and television does both.

However. There are lots of good shows on TV, and nowadays, you don’t have to watch television to enjoy TV shows. For years I had an actual television that lived in the closet and came out for movie-watching, and also for Netflix rentals of series like The Sopranos, which I was first exposed to in hotel rooms during our exile from NYC after 9/11, and fell in love with. Sitting down to watch an episode of a TV show on DVD is a very different experience from watching television; you can’t flip channels, there’s a defined beginning and end, there are no commercials, and you can do it anytime you like. As the writer said, “No more flipping channels just to see what’s on, the television equivalent of a one-night stand. Instead I am in a committed relationship.”

And, of course, you don’t even need to own a television to watch television. I had my first experience of this during the first season of South Park, when some of the programmers in my group commandeered one of our servers to store streamed video of every episode. I scolded them about taking up server space, told them to burn them to CD, and then asked for a copy. And I watched the whole first season of South Park on my laptop and loved it. Yes, they screamed a lot, but it was smart and funny and entertaining.

I’m in the process of getting rid of the television because I now have a good laptop (a black 13″ MacBook, with remote control and everything), and the increasing availability of shows online (the point of the article) means I don’t even need to pay Netflix.

So, am I an urban myth? I got three “Me too!” responses in Facebook within an hour of posting this article. The NBC executive is hiding his head in the sand, just as people are doing in the newspaper industry and the music industry and the auto industry.

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