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It's TV Turn Off Week--can you do it?


April 24-30 is the official TV Turn Off Week! I've been TV-free for more than six years, along with my co-authors Bert, Eric, and Beth, and none of us will ever go back.

Imagine what you might do with that time? It's usually a misperception that one is too tired to do anything but television, but many people have to lose electricity or have their TV break before they realize that. [Many researchers claim that people don't watch television because they're too tired to have sex, but rather become too tired to have sex because of television.]

For Turn Off Week, I don't think it's cheating too much if you, say, download a show from iTunes and watch it on your computer while you're waiting for something to render... ; )

Or, get your movie fix by going to a theater. It's a different thing (at least according to film critic Roger Ebert--not an expert on the brain!) who refers to it as something like, Television has a passive hypnotic effect, but watching a film at the theater is absorbing--you are completely engaged. But many of us intuitively feel this--when you finish watching television, you usually feel even more tired. When you finish watching a film, you often feel at least mentally energized--wanting to think and/or talk about it. (There are several different explanations for the difference, including the technology of non-digital film projection vs. television, the environment, the mindfullness, etc.]

I won't repeat everything I said in my earlier post Kill the TV, Keep the Shows, but a few of the quotes from the Scientific American Mind piece on television addiction include:

"Most of the criteria of substance dependence can apply to people who watch a lot of TV."

"...University of British Columbia studied a mountain community that had no television until cable finally arrived. Over time, both adults and children in the town became less creative in problem solving, less able to persevere at tasks, and less tolerant of unstructured time."

"To some researchers, the most convincing parallel between TV and addictive drugs is that people experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut back on viewing."

"Even researchers who study TV for a living marvel at the medium's hold on them personally. Percy Tannenbaum of the University of California at Berkeley has written: 'Among life's more embarrassing moments have been countless occasions when I am engaged in conversation in a room while a TV set is on, and I cannot for the life of me stop from periodically glancing over to the screen.'"

At the Conference on World Affairs, Dr. Thomas Lewis, who I referenced in the Why face to face still matters post, talked at length about how drops in social and community involvement track closely with the arrival of cable to an area with no TV reception (most heavily documented in the Canadian studies mentioned earlier). He mentioned scenarios where a community loses power for several days in a row, cutting off their nightly TV ritual, and they suddenly get to know their neighbors for the first time. (Other factors are at work there as well, but it's not that hard to imagine that the lack of TV played a role.)

Throwing out my television has made a greater difference in my life than anything else I've ever done. But again, I recognize that there are some people who have the discipline to watch only very specific programs, using time-shifting to skip ads and news promos, as opposed to saying, "Let's see what's on TV..." For me, I found television to be too much of an event horizon; the only way for me to break free was to get rid of it completely. Of course, getting rid of TV just means I have more time to obsessively check my email.

So, is there anyone here who isn't already diligent with their Tivo, who is willing to disable the TV tuner (unplug cable/antennas, etc.) for a week and watch DVDs or shows on the computer? (Under the assumption that for most, viewing habits change dramatically when you shift from having television available 24-7 vs. watching specific shows--as mindful choices--on a computer.)
Note: If you have kids who might really struggle with this, there are more resources on how to do this at tvturnoff.org.

Be sure to stock up on Sudokus. Although... I think those evil little number puzzles are far more addicting than TV. That said, they're better for your brain and don't do that whole "orienting response" described in the article I referenced:
"The effects of the orienting response include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, constricting of the blood vessels to major muscle groups, blockage of alpha waves to the brain for a few seconds, etc."

[Bonus link: Communicatrix writes a poem about TV Turn Off Week]

[Picture and video are from Adbusters.org]

Posted by Kathy on April 24, 2006 | Permalink


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» TV Free from The Alpha Mind
Kathy Sierra (whose blog I must really like—Im tempted to comment on it every day) reminds us of TV Turn Off Week. Im so glad its easy. Ive been virtually TV-free for ten years. (Virtually means I watch other... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 24, 2006 4:33:23 PM

» Faça um bem ao seu cérebro - Semana mundial da TV desligada from [ Últimas Palavras ]
Pois é galera, vi hoje no blog da Kathy Sierra que estamos na semana mundial da campanha Desligue a sua televisão! Pra mim, pelo menos, não vai ter muita dificuldade, já faz um bom tempo que eu larguei a caixinha de emoções&#... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 24, 2006 8:15:58 PM

» TV abstinence from The Bell Curve Scar
Kathy Sierra talks about TV Turn Off Week in this post. Not a problem for me. I find so little of value coming from the networks these days. I will confess a mild craving for Lost, but I dont need a TV for that now. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 25, 2006 6:27:18 AM

» Turn off the Boob tube from The Scientific Indian
TV Turnoff WeekGo on. Ramya and myself have been TV-less for almost four months now. The experience has been nothing short of liberating. Of course, I am not recommending that you to go completely non-visual. If you have broadband internet connection you [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 25, 2006 7:12:26 AM

» TV Turn Off Week from Moving innovations
Well, last week it was, anyway. And at the time I did read the article on the generally wonderful creating passionate users blog. While I tend to agree with the general sentiment, it has always been hard to actually act on it, even though that is the only [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 1:03:12 PM

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Would you make the mistake of assuming a valuable free gift with your next mobile phone is too good to be true? How about if it was through a trusted name like Tesco? Includes free laptops, HDTV's, Wii, Playstation etc. Check it out now [Read More]

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I've been TV free for a full year now, and only get occasional glimpses of it when I'm at a friends house or at a bar. The commercials actually make me mentally queasy now that I'm not longer desensitized to them. It's particularly jarring for me when I can't hold a conversation with someone in a restaurant because they keep glancing at a nearby TV.

As for Sudokus, they've become my morning "brain stretching" in the morning before I get down to work. Taking 10-30 mins to solve one of the little buggers has proven to be a great way to wake up my brain at 7am and I get into the zone easier for programming.

Posted by: Larry Myers | Apr 24, 2006 4:04:00 PM

Me and my wife, we got a TV as a marriage present. We got rid of it 6 months later. Now it's 4 years and we never regreted. We go to cinema, we watch movies on a laptop like twice a month and it's just enough :)
What I don't understand, everytime I tell somebody we don't have a TV, they either think we're so poor or so crazy. And noone ever believed me life is better without TV...

Posted by: bobes | Apr 24, 2006 4:10:57 PM

Great post.

I recently decided to completely give up television. Although I did not watch a lot of television before, giving it up completely prevents that inevitable "Lets see whats on..." to pop up into your head.

With dvd's and the internet, avoiding television completely probably won't have a huge impact anyways.

Posted by: Scott Young | Apr 24, 2006 4:15:06 PM

I have a TV but only use it to watch DVDs.

Posted by: EFL Geek | Apr 24, 2006 4:17:04 PM

Another very good resource for how television affects the brain and learning is Joseph Pearce's Evolution's End. Very interesting information about how the medium affects how you're stimulated and the related content of the shows.

Posted by: tim kelly | Apr 24, 2006 4:18:20 PM

Whose idea was it to schedule "TV Turn Off Week" when there are only six hours left to go in 24?

Sorry, maybe next year ;)

Posted by: Bill Mietelski | Apr 24, 2006 4:40:22 PM

We have a TV but we rarely watch it. We made a conscious choice not to have it in our primary living room, but instead put it downstairs. We use it almost solely for watching DVDs.

The hard part though is being a GB Packer fan; for me the TV is generally only on during the NFL Season, even then I feel guilty and often try to do something else productive while the Packer game is on.

Posted by: Jim | Apr 24, 2006 4:59:57 PM

Just under two years and (not really) counting. I don't even miss missing it.

Every once in a while (every couple months) I get the urge to watch/rent a movie. But that's what the Mac's 23" LCD is for :)

Posted by: Mad William Flint | Apr 24, 2006 5:21:20 PM

I too have been TV and commercial radio-liberated for 2yrs now and it's just plain better way of life. Sometimes you feel out of the loop when people are discussing their favorite characters from the OC or Biggest Loser, Survivor, or whatever the latest reality crapshow is. But those aren't the people I want to associate with anyways- Books, DVDs and coffee shops are where it's at. Actually del.icio.us and digg are my equivalents of veging out and "channel surfing." You are spot on with this post as always. I also recommend tuning out FM radio and replacing it with satellite (i use Sirius) and podcasts via the iTalk on your iPod. I wrote a prescription for how to handle the daily "mental fragmentation" that occurs from being blitzed with so many clips and soundbytes here->


Posted by: Sean Tierney | Apr 24, 2006 5:28:01 PM

There are definitely different levels of "TV watching." I watch an average of one hour a day (The Daily Show, Colbert Report, South Park, and Drawn Together) plus the occasional stand-up special. My parents probably watches as many hours of TV shows as I, but they don't even have cable, they get DVDs through Netflix. So who watches more TV?

I write this while staring at well over 50 RSS feeds and a dozen Firefox tabs. TV may be worse for the brain, but at least it's possible to not have anything to watch.

Posted by: Adam Bloom | Apr 24, 2006 6:04:49 PM

I didn't need to make an effort to quit watching television. It started to bore me. The news is always at least several hours behind the Internet, and the gossip/rumors are even further behind, lol.

I do think it works fairly well for comedy, and occasionally there's a documentary that's worth catching (although its stunning how little information is conveyed via the typical television documentary, compared to what you can learn by spending a half hour with a book).

Posted by: Kirsten | Apr 24, 2006 7:08:02 PM

What's a television?

Oh yeah, that box that used to live under my stereo...

Posted by: Cyndi L | Apr 24, 2006 7:22:37 PM

Kathy this is SO true, I've *only* watched movies and TV shows for the past 4-5 years on the computer and the experience is 100% different, actually my monitor is bigger than my TV! (TV is a *very* old 14", monitor is a pretty 21" flat CRT, and a secondary 19" old moni where i can track the progress of important mails or anything I'm waiting for)

Watching "TV" (that is, watching "cable") is a passive activity, you change the channels to see if you find anything worth watching, usually w/o luck, AND you waste 18 minutes per hour watching commercials. 99% of them totally non-intersting for you (worse than google ads)

Instead, if you say "I want to see X tonight", its proactive, you see it when you want it, how you want it, no commercials.

Also, when I first stopped watching "cable", I watched a lot of movies, and I mean a LOT of them. And I learned a lot, I got to see the classics etc. Its really simple:

Around 18 mins per hour while watching TV shows on prime time are commercials, the length of a normal movie is 90 minutes aprox, so if you watch 5 hours a day of "TV", you're thowing away the chance to see the classics (Hitchcock etc), european movies (those that ironically never are on TV), or just doing something more productive.

To the point: even if you're a movie gore or a TV addict (you follow 15 tv shows from 6 different TV Networks), don't do it on the cable!, watch it on the computer, you'll get to see stuff of your choice and better.

Posted by: Edgardo | Apr 24, 2006 7:50:30 PM

Thanks for this, Kathy! This week I had already decided to cut down on my kids' screen time and I feel even more motivated now. I told my ten-year-old "hey, it's TV turnoff week" and he said "that sounds like fun! Do you want to play Scrabble?"

We had only a 13" tv when we lived in California and had just one kid... we rarely, if ever, watched anything. Now we watch almost every night. Whatever's on. Pretty enervating. Maybe we'll ditch our TVs.

Posted by: Anne Z. | Apr 24, 2006 7:57:05 PM

I've been TV free for about just over six years now. My son is 9 and he's been able to watch parent selected videos or DVDs - so I've been spared the begging for every toy advertised on television.

I feel like I THINK so much more now - I actually think of television watching as a waste of my time. I'd rather research ideas and information on the internet and then read books or journals to dig deeper into the subject matter.

I find televison shows, commercials and newscasts so friggin' irriating. All gloss and no no substance - just flash and soundbites to catch your attention and create stress and worry. There's never an exploration of the deeper reasons behind anything.

TV?? *shudder*

I'm MUCH happier and a much better person without it.

Posted by: Karen | Apr 24, 2006 10:16:30 PM

Right on!

I have been without ownership of a TV for 3 years now. Reason being, I moved to Japan. Hard to pack a TV in your luggage. After I arrived, my work schedule was such that every 6 months I would be living in a different city, so I figured it would be best to minimize any luggage I would have... So no TV.

Well I got used to it. Really used to it.

I think if Japanese TV wasn't in Japanese, it would be of nearly no value to me to watch. Days feel longer. I have more energy. I only watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it by renting movies...

Will never look back!

Posted by: Harvey | Apr 24, 2006 10:46:15 PM

I've been off TV for over a month now since I moved to the new place wihtout a TV, and I haven't had the desire to get one. And I must say I couldn't feel better now, I rest better, eat better, think clearer, gain control back of my own life and, most of all, pick up on reading again! I say, it's TV turn-off year! Really, who needs a TV if all it offers is nothing but negative and entertainment news, scandals, shameful political bigotry, and all sum up in one word: noise.

Posted by: Lo Vui Keng | Apr 24, 2006 11:24:33 PM

I've been pretty much TV-free for 5 years, and I love it. Along with becoming vegetarian, one of the best things I ever did!

Posted by: Michael G. Richard | Apr 24, 2006 11:29:18 PM

Can I get "Creating Passionate Users" on DVD? ;-) It's so amazing how each of your posts makes me smile and think.

Posted by: robi | Apr 24, 2006 11:53:53 PM

I run two board game blogs, write articles for board game journals, and host a weekly board gaming group. Whatever am I going to do with my time?

I've had no TV for more than ten years now, although I sometimes watch TV episodes on the computer or rent a DVD. And I have kids, too.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Apr 25, 2006 1:12:11 AM

After moving out from my parents house I never owned a TV, and in this 18 years I never missed it.

Posted by: Sam | Apr 25, 2006 1:46:28 AM

TV really is like crack. There's so much good stuff on Sky at the moment, I really have to wrench myself away from it for other stuff. It's mainly the 8-11pm part of the evening, when they have excellent series like "Thief" which has just taken over from "Over There" following the latter's season finale a fortnight ago. I love these series, but they're such a thief of time. I'm torn between upgrading to a new high-def TV and jacking TV in altogether. The worst thing is though, without it, I think my 3 year old would drive my wife mad. This morning, he woke up at 6 after my 7.5 month old daughter who has a cold had kept my wife up most of the night. She was so exhausted, but he was insistent on getting up, so I, on my way out to work, got him his breakfast & sat him in front of the TV downstairs. If he'd been left, he'd have woke up Melissa & that would have been it for my wife for the morning. How do you train a 3 year old boy to sit quietly & play alone or read his picture books?

Posted by: Matt Moran | Apr 25, 2006 4:03:51 AM

I wonder what the results would be of the study you cite if computers and the internet were introduced into the community instead of cable TV. ;)

Computers can be just as mindless, junk filled, robbers of time, that isolate members of a family. One technology is not inherently better than the other. Sometimes we just replace one addiction with another. It all depends on how you use it. I try to limit myself on both, and spend more face-to-face time with the people in my life.

What we really need is technology turn off week. Can you do that? ;)

Posted by: Mary-Anne | Apr 25, 2006 7:09:22 AM

The other benefit is losing weight! (No, this is not some post about getting out and doing some exercise, although that is of course a good thing). There was a study recently in Oz that concluded that you burn more calories staring at a TV that is turned off, than staring at one that is turned on - apparently related to the hypnotic effect you referred to - everything slows down.

Posted by: Connor McDonald | Apr 25, 2006 7:25:49 AM

What a great post! Because I don't watch TV, I have noticed that I am a bit of a social outcast at work. It seems that the only thing that gets people talking to each other is American Idol. I try to talk to them about the latest exciting technologies and how they're affecting society and culture, world news, etc, and I get no response, but they light up when Lost comes up.

I don't want to sound judgemental, but it is sad to see how the TV-watching that people do in their private time creates a social rift, and makes it very difficult to make meaningful social connections with one another.

Posted by: Sally Carson | Apr 25, 2006 7:29:47 AM

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