We took the plunge into this new digital age and are no longer cable television subscribers. There is nothing groundbreaking to this in the sense that many of our friends don’t (or never bothered to have) cable. They seem to be just fine without it, as are a good number of other people. However, I was curious to see how we’d react to not feeling that indefinable sense of community and connection that comes with broadcast television. In other words, we were slicing the consumerist umbilical cord. (An aside: I was all proud of myself for creating that phrase only to Google it and discover someone else had already coined it).
It was not only that feeling of being sustained on the pulse of mainstream news, entertainment, and slew of ads (how else could we manufacture our own desire and want?) we felt unsure about abandoning, but also how our use of the medium for so long had affected our viewing habits. To clarify on habits: channel surfing. I love to sift through various stations to experience the satisfying stimulus that accompanies the rapid consumption of moving images and sound assaulting your brain while your thumb repeatedly hits the same button over and over with magically different results every time. I’m also an insomniac (this portion of the text is currently being written just before 4am) and channel surfing can be your friend on long nights left awake and alone on the couch. Giving up cable meant parting ways with a friend. It also meant getting clean and admitting I tended to have a problem focusing or concentrating on any one show in particular. Leaving cable is a sobering experience on many levels. And something where you need to rehabilitate and learn how to walk all over again.
It made sense for us to do it. We were spending decent money every month on something that didn’t produce a lot of benefits. We watch only a few shows and, those that we do, we rarely remember to be home or flip on the TV to consistently consume them. We don’t have a DVR and never bothered utilizing our old TiVo. Purchasing a Roku several months ago proved to be a logical solution to our tendency towards inconsistent viewing. It also helped to create a stepping stone for us to make the decision to leave cable entirely. The Roku offers a convenient platform to stream and between Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime, we have quite a few options and mostly everything we watch is available on one of these services or the countless others that are procurable. We also still have the traditional DVD delivery service with Netflix to make up for anything we feel we’re missing out on that isn’t attainable with an internet connection.
Though we had a lot of alternatives to cable, we knew we were sacrificing some things. The list was short, but it made us wait and probably procrastinate on pulling the trigger. There was the issue of seeing things a day (or few weeks) late. Many of the shows, especially those on Hulu Plus, appear after the episode airs. It wasn’t an issue for us to wait, but it is if you stumble through any kind of entertainment news or “like” something on Facebook that regularly updates and posts information to your news feed and your eye catches an aspect of character or plot that you would have rather not read. I’m not one to be angry about spoilers. I rarely care and it doesn’t actually “spoil” any of my experience per se, but it’s akin to my recent experiences in job interviews where you find out how close you were to the final cut. There is not only something emotional about not being selected, but an additional pain to realizing how close you were for it happening to you. To blindly encounter a piece of information an hour or two before you were going to watch it just feels an unnecessarily cruel play by fate.
This seems petty in some ways and easily avoidable, but it also meant awards shows would suffer from the same circumstance. We’re not particularly excited by any awards shows or hold our breath in giddy anticipation for who will win, but it’s something nice to share and relates back to that feeling of being a part of the broadcast community in a family that is involved in an activity at the same moment by the act of watching, live tweeting, commenting on an event.
This also relates to any enjoyment of sports, but we’re not big sports people. I only watch baseball (and just the Red Sox at that) and the occasional Patriots game. In summary, the sports team from my area is superior to the sports team from your area. Anyway, not knowing who is going to win, have a big game, or suffer humiliating defeat is part of the excitement of watching the game. It was another facet to consider in this debate over television.
Our final issue with discontinuing cable service was local news. We like being aware of what is happening in our state and community. Though local news will always be a pathetic translator of what qualifies as actual news and works more to keep viewers actively engaged by being sure to include a story about pets and animals in every broadcast just to show some dogs and cats on the screen, it at least would carve a few minutes for relevant issues and concerns. This can quickly be solved with browsing through the new organizations’ websites or downloading their apps.
We weighed the pros and cons even though we knew dispensing with cable was going to be the decision we favored. Since I tend to dole out advice now and then: even if you have your mind made up about something, be fair to yourself and weigh the option by examining all of the associated and relevant information involved in making that choice. It gives your brain time to sort it out and possibly insert an idea or topic that hadn’t originally occurred to you. The proof of this is the years I’ve spent writing papers. They never get worse the longer I worked on them. Give your mind a chance to take in the knowledge and process it.
Though my brain is good at that, it’s not too adept at kicking habits. The YouTube channel has managed to replace my channel surfing. However, it is harder to quickly hop through in quite the same swift speeds so I’ve found myself just committing.
The expulsion of cable from our house has led to not only a significant monetary savings, but more importantly, to a reduction in wasteful time-spending. Once we’d watch something, we’d tend to watch more or get into the fix of channel surfing. Though streaming services have recently tried to get you hooked by immediately starting a new program after your current viewing finishes, it is much easier to extricate yourself. You know the next show or another one is waiting for you whenever you want it. There isn’t the same sense of immediacy cable produces. Our time is now expended on increasing our musical output with learning additional songs, having a chance to frequently read in the evening, and new or reinvigorated interest in a myriad of other activities.
Though I miss the comforting womb of broadcast television with its warm and nourishing presence, the cold reality of life without it isn’t that hard or difficult. Though we’re still connected through, an albeit different, series of tubes and devices that I feel at times is equitable to a kind of life support. Not in the sense that it is necessary to our survival, but rather it supports life.