Four years with no television, and thankful for it

What I did was something long strived for but not really premeditated, like when I stopped smoking nearly 20 years ago. I mean, the fact that I have now passed four years without any television at home, was an event as natural as the breaking dawn. It simply happened, almost without my even noticing it. It was not the result of a formal decision and setting a phaseout schedule or cut-off date. 

I had long considered the possibility of stopping my childhood TV habit simply because it took up much of my time and attention. The habit was not really strong, and it never deteriorated to the point that I had become a couch potato.  I had a few favorite programs, yes, but I could also go for many months not being able to watch them.

Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first hook into the TV habit.

Nevertheless, I know how it is to teeter dangerously close to a TV addiction. This was when the family decided to install cable in the mid-1990s. There is that odd sense of attempting to absorb everything cable offers because, in the back your mind. you know that you’re paying for every program in every channel that flows through that set-top box 24/7.

Thus, soon I found myself checking the program skeds not just for NatGeo, Discover, and BBC–the original reasons why we got cable–but also for HBO and a few other movie channels. For more than a year, I indulged my perennial interest in late-night war movies, political thrillers, historical documentaries, and occasional romantic comedies and rock concerts (and splurged my otherwise sleeping hours trying to keep up).

Luckily, Baguio’s rugged mountain environment (or rather, our new place located in one of its least accessible peripheries) did not allow the family to maintain for long the “luxury” of cable or satellite. The link was always conking out. So the pre-paid account was simply allowed to expire. And since the local stations’ broadcast signals were terrible anyway, we soon settled down to a minimalist spartan fare of evening news followed by two telenovelas, all on a single channel–GMA Network, it must be told.

Here is where it gets funny. In September 2009, I joined GMA News and had to relocate myself to Manila. I decided not to furnish myself with even a portable TV at home. Of course, my work environment was suffused with television–it was all over the place, and you couldn’t turn your head anywhere without your eyes spotting some TV screen (except maybe in the washrooms). I think it was here where I subconsciously installed inside my head an invisible filter to screen TV signals and defend my sensory integrity. I was totally successful at home, and partly successfully at work. It went to a bizarre extent that I trained myself to automatically zone out of most signals emitted by the tube unless it concerned the task at hand—and even so, only as a cue for me to zoom in on the sound bites, scripts, and timecodes I needed (and, interestingly enough, to hang out with the video-capture and video-edit guys and keep up with the fast-changing technology). As for personal news sources, I increasingly relied on radio and the Internet.

I remember an article written by Kidlat Tahimik (the Baguio-based artist formerly known as Eric de Guia) back in the early 1990s, where he ranted against the TV medium and the “culture of mediocrity” that it peddled. He is more radical than me in this respect, but I understand him better now.

It is said that among the various vehicles of mass media, it is TV that now imparts the strongest marks on popular culture. And so it has come to pass that after four years, I find myself almost totally insulated from the icons and catchwords binding this TV-crazy culture to the public mind. I didn’t know who Vice Ganda was, or what VoicePH is, or why Ser Chief and Maya sent kilig ripples across the nation, or what makes “My Husband’s Lover” click, until I pieced together the stuff that I picked up bit by bit from my relatives, officemates, and FB friends.  I don’t know (and I don’t care) who is involved with whom in the most recent sex-video scandal. Much worse off is my state of comprehension when friends say anything at all about foreign TV shows such as “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones”.

I have become a Neanderthal cave dweller when it comes to TV culture.

Do I regret it? Heck, no, I love it. Have I at anytime felt like I missed some life-changing cultural trend because I didn’t follow it on TV? You bet I haven’t.

The three, four hours daily that I used to spend exposing myself to TV culture have been spent more productively—or so I’d like to believe—in programmed reading, Internet research, tons of writing, and personal interactions with loved ones–while listening to the radio. (I am a radio addict, had always been since childhood, but that’s another story.)

By the way, I feel I also need to say here that I’ve stopped smoking since 1994, and have since rediscovered a thousand and one tastes that I thought I’d lost. I’ve also stopped driving a car since the early 1990s, or more than 20 years ago, and have since found a freedom of mobility unshackled by constant worries of traffic gridlock, parking space, and maintenance costs. My TV-less existence is now going strong at four, and my mind feels more absorbent and enriched than ever.

There’s a lesson in this somewhere.


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