They say that ninety percent of TV is junk. But ninety percent of everything is junk.
-Ted Sturgeon (as quoted by Gene Roddenberry)
One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten about my pop culture consumption was my friend Tom who said “Keith watches as much TV as anyone else, he’s just better at it.”
I have a big-screen TV (perhaps might even classify as “giant”). And I haven’t regretted this purchase for a second. I bought it at a great price and have had hundreds of hours of enjoyment from it. From The Matrix to Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, it is my steadfast partner in moving images.
To many minimalists, a giant TV is contrary to their lifestyle. In fact, many are opposed to TV in general.
The key for me, though, is intention.
Here are a few of the methods I have used to turn “the boob tube” into an intentional and valuable part of my entertainment, art appreciation, and learning.
1. Decide what you will watch before pressing Power
For a while in 2016, Wifey had a medical concern that meant she could only watch TV for about an hour a day. This meant that any time there was something she/we wanted to see, it had to be rationed and planned. This was a key element in how we are more intentional with our TV viewing now.
We have developed a habit that we decide before we even turn on the TV what we will be watching. Do we want to finish Iron Fist? (see #8 if the answer is no) Or is it time for the Walking Dead?
I do not “channel surf.” I always have a very specific plan of what I am watching and for how long. If I do desire some unwinding time, I have a couple of sitcoms bookmarked on Netflix that are great for 20 minutes of downtime.
Every moment at a screen should be intentional.
2.No TV in the bedroom
It feels odd that this still needs to be said, but – don’t have a TV in your bedroom! From the quality of your sleep to causing friction in your relationship, putting that box in your bedroom is asking for a world of trouble.
Joshua Becker laid out a long list of reasons, but the simple fact that you will almost guaranteed sleep worse should be more than enough.
The bedroom should be your sanctuary. Keep the outside world outside of it.
3. One TV is plenty
I have a friend who has five TVs in a house for two people. That is some serious “just in case” for entertainment. Another friend bought a third TV because he moved into a house that “had a spot a TV should go.”
One TV has always been enough for Wifey and I. If one of us is watching something the other isn’t interested in, the other can read or do another activity. Neither of us watches sports, so there is very little “live” programming ever consumed in our household.
Also let’s be totally honest, we have two Netflix-capable phones, a tablet, and a desktop in the house. We are not screen-poor.
I will note that this can change depending on who is in the house, children, etc. When I was young I got a lot of value from having a TV of my own because my father loved Three’s Company reruns while I preferred the world news.
If you share one TV, you will make more intentional choices.
4. The Ffwd button is your friend
Get a PVR or other recording device. This seems counter-intuitive for a minimalist, but network television has 25% of every hour given over to ads.
I’m well aware that the monetizing model of network television is such that you watching those ads is your payment for the show. The product networks sell to advertisers is your eyeballs and attention. I just choose to step out of that process.
The two most empowering buttons on your remote are Ffwd and Off. Take control of every moment you put into that show. If you like reality shows, skip past the repetition and recap that fills in so much of the airtime.
Wifey and I have a Sunday morning routine of watching Saturday Night Live on our PVR. Anyone who complains about the weak sketches needs to learn the easy way to turn a 90 minute show into 45 minutes of compact enjoyment.
I will also Ffwd through parts of shows that I think are filler or just don’t work for me. I enjoy the ‘present day’ parts of Arrow but have always disliked the flashbacks.
Bottom line, if no one is paying you to watch something, *you* get to decide how you watch.
5. You decide the time
Clear your PVR in your time. Appointment television is a phrase that should remind you that the broadcaster is setting the time for the appointment.
Become the one who sets the meeting.
6. If it’s worth your time, it’s worth all your attention
One area I am working on in being more intentional is second screening. Too many times I realize I missed an important plot point because of the twitch. My iphone lit up with a notice (more on notifications in a later post) or I opened the imdb app to see what I know that actor from.
Leaving the phone in another room works the best for me, but even putting it out of arm’s reach is usually enough to break the automatic habit of grabbing it during a slow point.
I am very against live tweeting for a number of reasons. As well as draining away your attention, often you are not really interacting, you are just “talking during the movie.”
Live tweeting is always very strange for shows that aren’t… well… live. Across the timezones, folks will be watching “live” over several hours. As I don’t watch anything during its broadcast slot, I really don’t see a choice for twitter other than unfollowing those who choose to use their social media to summarize TV shows.
If this sounds a little judgmental, it’s only because Walking Dead can get spoilered 2 hours before it airs in my timezone. And I love Walking Dead.
And if you aren’t watching, you’ve already assigned a value to watching.
7. No TV in the bedroom
8. You really can quit any time
Momentum is the enemy of every minimalist. Far too many “choices” aren’t choices at all they are automatic actions based on previous decisions.
Evaluate every on-going show every time you watch. Are you tempted to second-screen? Are you ffwd’ing through more than you used to? It might be time to get that one off your list.
Many serialized TV shows now are built as a season-long arc. The downside of this is it is more challenging to stop and start as you can with more episodic shows. The upside is that if you aren’t digging the direction this year on 24, come back next season and see if they’ve hit your zone again.