In some class way back in high school, the teacher conducted a survey of the number of television sets each family possessed. I remember feeling quite proud that my family had the most: five–one in the den and one in every bedroom. One of my classmates had none–her parents, who were foreigners and known to be strict, did not allow it. Predictably, we all thought that very strange.
My, how things have changed. A five television home is probably less of a rarity today than a television-free home. If I were surveyed today, I think I would still come out a winner, because now WE are the family with no TV, and I am glad! [edit: this is no longer the case–see the note at the end.]
From the outset, we made a conscious decision to limit the intrusion of television into our home. We don’t think TV belongs in the bedroom. We have always had one set. in a main room: in the living room when we were in apartments, in the den when we had houses. We have never intentionally owned more than one TV at a time, although occasionally we have had two due to outside circumstances. We inherited a large cabinet TV when John’s grandmother moved into a nursing home. We put it in the basement (and by basement, I mean an unheated concrete basement where we stored things and did laundry) and never used it. When the upstairs TV bit the dust, we started using the basement one. You have to really be dedicated to a show to want to sit wrapped in blankets in the cold to watch it. That really helped curtail the kids’ viewing at the time!
That was in our first house; our second one came with a built in TV (at least 20 years old) in the kitchen. Until it stopped working (it never got more than two channels) it got used very rarely–mostly to catch a UT game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when I was stuck in the kitchen. When my grandmother died we inherited her small black and white set with built-in VCR; we moved it from room to room for the little kids to watch movies on when there was a conflict between them and the big kids, but it was gone within a few months.
Long ago, we switched to basic cable, which meant that there was very little on that anyone wanted to watch anyway. The TV became for us a movie-watching machine. Then, right before we moved here, our set finally wore out. We moved in without one. We were given a used one which only worked briefly, and we have decided at this point not to get cable at all, so again we just used it for movies. While Emily was home this summer, she kept hers in her room–a first ever for us! but of course she took it with her. We will get another one at some point, but we won’t be getting cable.
One of the big treats of vacation for all of us is watching unlimited cable. But John and I often find even with all those channels, there is really nothing on. When I stay in a hotel alone (for a birthday treat–what heaven!) it never even occurs to me to turn on the television. My family gave up watching television for Lent when I was in the 8th grade, and I have never gone back to daily mindless watching since. From time to time I have been devoted to a show or two, but that ended when The X-Files went off the air, close to ten years ago. Emily introduced me to Secret Life of the American Teenager, but we can catch that on the computer.
The computer. Yes, we will have to talk about the computer. We may not have a TV, but at one happy (oh so brief) point we did in fact have five working computers, and they were in the bedrooms (and in every other room). So I cannot feel too superior about my kids not watching TV, can I?
Update: When the house we were living in when this post was written burned down and we moved here, we were given several television sets. And nowadays everything comes bundled, so we ended up with 300 channels to watch. At one point we had four televisions connected to cable. These days, we have three: the main one in the den which is used almost exclusively for movies, sporting events, and political spectacles; one in the playroom, which stays on the Disney channel because Lorelei is a spoiled youngest child; and one in Emily’s room (because she is a grownup and can have hers there if she wants). Lorelei is the resident expert on how the cable works; John and I don’t have a clue. Jake gave us our first-ever flat screen set for Christmas. We watch one episode of Star Trek as a family each night on DVD, and I still don’t watch TV.