Life Outside the Box: 5 things we’ve learned since turning off cable

We’ve been without cable for almost ten years. Even before it was cool to get rid of cable we were  that family, the one who decided it cost way too much for way too little material value.  It all started rather accidentally; we’d had a satellite dish several years, but when we moved into a new place, there was no signal without putting a fifty foot pole in the yard. We weren’t interested in that. The cable monopoly in our town was ridiculously expensive, even the 487 movie channel package they kept insisting it was the best value. So we delayed, and didn’t do anything, and waited and finally, we just decided we didn’t want it. After all, by now we were used to the space, so why bother? For a short time we could still watch one or two local networks with our rabbit ears, but once the switch to digital signal happened, we had nothing. It was like the stone ages, before stations ran programming on the internet, before Netflix, before Hulu.

Since that time we’ve accumulated a nice little stash of movies (which we keep in one of the CD albums for maximum space advantage), and we’ve learned a few things:

1) Commercials really are one the single primary sources of greed. Ten years ago our children would have been 3, 4 and 5.  Yes, we let them watch kids’ channels. Yes, they wanted every single item they saw advertised. But once we stopped showing them all the very exciting things they were missing, they stopped wanting so much. Christmas became more enjoyable, sometimes even a challenging us to generate ideas for gifts to share with the grandparents.  Trips to the store weren’t filled with constant begging for toys. Hunky and I stopped thinking about buying new things simply because they were shiny and exciting.  If we don’t know what we’re missing, we aren’t missing it.

2) We let outside forces of little importance dictate the schedule of our lives.  I realize this problem is more outdated now with DVR and On-demand, but at the time, it was epidemic. Life without a television schedule opened our minds to the question if we had been allowing television to dictate our lives, what else had power over us without our realizing we permitted it? One slight drawback to delayed viewing was the three days we absorbed Season 1 of Lost watching almost nonstop, episode after episode, for the whole twenty-four episodes, but we watched it on our terms! No network told us to do that!  We sometimes lack discipline even today.

3) Media takes away our ability to think for ourselves. When someone appears polished, sounds intelligent and oozes sincerity, we want to believe they have our best interests at heart.  We conclude that the story they are telling is true and accurate.  I realize the fact that every media outlet operates from its own personal bias is no longer revolutionary ideology, but at the time it was amazing to me.   It made me relearn critical thinking and sifting through various sources for threads of truth.  I hope that by limiting television influence we are passing the same abilities on to our children. This world needs more free-thinkers if we’re ever going to change anything.

4.) Television isn’t reality. Even if it’s “reality television”.  Have you noticed the level of dissatisfaction in developed nations is higher than it’s ever been? We have more than we know what to do with and still we can’t seem to find happiness. Maybe it’s because we expect problems to be solved affably in twenty-four minutes or less, or that we haven’t slept with eleven hotties in the last two weeks nor have we been in even one high speed chase.   No, sometimes life is boring and we do the same thing day after day. Sometimes problems don’t wrap themselves up in a neat little package no matter how long we wait. Sometimes there is mess that just keeps going.  We’ve forgotten the things that make up actual reality while watching people fight for immunity in someone else’s imaginary world.

5.) We’ve lost the art of being quiet and still.  I remember a time when I would run the television for noise in the background. Seriously, as though there wasn’t enough noise in my life. We like to feel important, needed, on-top-of-things, so we tune into an endless stream of information, sound bytes, news reels and entertainment.  If we let our minds simply be still and quiet for a few moments, who knows what madness might break out in our heads!  Over time one of my favorite things has become stillness. Rather than my mind whirling and churning on the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, it has learned, over time, to simply rest, to let thoughts gently sift and settle. This isn’t something that’s popular, but in an increasingly hectic world ,it is something that it desperately lacking. Our ability to tune OUT and be still in necessary to our creativity and mental and physical health. Unplugging ( the internet too ) allows our brains to move in slower patterns that the world of media has all but eliminated, and we are suffering because of it.

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