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January 7, 2003

Satellite Signal Discarded

Television and I have a long history. Like most kids, I grew up watching a lot of it. If I remember correctly, just as I was entering the upper echelons of grammar school cable television started to make an appearance. By highschool, we had cable at home, and thereby tons of interesting shows to watch. I never did calculate how much I TV watched in highschool, but it was way too much.

During university I oscillated between having full cable and having nothing, depending on where I lived. Of course, if I had access to a working television that had cable access, I'd watch it. Post-university kept me hooked on cable, up until a brief period straddling my wedding where I didn't have anything but rabbit ears for about a year and a half. That period ended when we moved to our current location and got cable again. Most recently we switched to satellite TV about a year ago and have quite enjoyed the improved picture and wider variety.

Although it may not be readily apparent, I believe I'm addicted to television. As far as addicts go I don't believe I'm very hard-core. First, I only have one television, and it's not a very big and/or new one at that. I also have only ever had one television feed, whereas I have known people with a full satellite feed with a full cable package to back it up, in case inclement weather blocks the satellite feed. The one feed I do have is minimal - only the basic package with two options, enough to give us something to watch just about every evening for a couple of hours. Nevertheless, I am an addict. I find that it is far too easy to just plunk myself down in front of the TV and find a Simpson's rerun or perhaps a documentary on something big and destructive on TLC.

It even goes beyond that. Many months ago as my daughter was learning to walk she discovered the buttons on the TV. In very short order she learned which one was the power button, and would stand in front of the TV turning it on and off and on and off in very quick succession. (The power button has never worked quite the same again since.) This game has come and gone, but she still enjoys turning the TV on once in a while. I realized how bad my addiction was when my daughter would randomly turn the set on, and after ten minutes or so I'd realize that my wife and I were actually watching whatever it was our daughter happened to turn on. I find being sucked in by totally random shows to be somewhat disturbing.

Slowly simmering in the background of all this TV-watching is the state of my house. My wife and I are both procrastinators of sorts, and avid pile-builders. The downward spiral of our household neatness started when she (as my fiancée) moved from her one-bedroom apartment into my two-bedroom condo. The problem was that her apartment was fully stocked furniture-wise, as was my condo. What happens when you add a one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom condo? You get a very, very full condo that is bursting at the seams with duplicates of just about everything.

Ever since that point in our lives we've been dealing with too much stuff. We have no lack of personal belongings, and have even purchased more since. The problem is that there is only so much room in any one home, and we have a definite lack of storage space to provide proper homes for all of our treasures, belongings, and junk. Piles get built and periodically removed in a fit of disgust and reorganization, which makes us feel better for a while. However, much like the gopher whacking game at your local carnival, you get rid of one pile, but another pops up soon thereafter. Sadly, much unlike gophers, the piles stay and make themselves at home.

We have observed that if we apply ourselves we can get rid of our piles, and even make some real progress towards getting rid of our junk and finding permanent, proper homes for the items we truly need or want. The problem seems to be finding the time and drive to perform such a task. During the day I'm not at home, and my wife is in charge of our toddling daughter. During the evening we have some time, but we like to spend it relaxing with each other - where else - in front of the TV. Even during the odd time where we agree that there is nothing worth watching on TV for an hour, trying to accomplish some meaningful household reorganization between shows is pretty darned near impossible.

So, what can we do? Give ourselves limits on how much TV we watch? Go through a weekly schedule and decide which few shows we absolutely want to see and forgo the rest? Buy a PVR and watch all the shows we want, but when we want and without the commercials? These are all solutions to the problem, but we decided that we had to be more radical than that if we were to truly reclaim our lives. Thereby, we've cancelled our satellite feed, and are leaving our cable dead. We're cutting ourselves off from all television save for what we can pick up on local broadcasting - two channels at best.

We had decided that this is the route we should take a couple months back. However, we ironically delayed the cancellation date such that we might see the end of Full Metal Challenge, a show both my wife and I were following quite closely and enthusiastically. With the final show aired, we bit the bullet and cancelled. Two days later, our satellite receiver was stashed in the basement and the batteries removed from the remote control. We're free.

The day that the feed finally stopped almost came as a relief. I looked at our TV and just knew that it no longer had the power to suck us in and pin us to the couch for hours at a time. Of course, we still have the TV-watching impulse. My wife has almost asked me a few times "What's on TV tonight?" and I've caught myself thinking that it's getting close to the top of the hour, and I should see what's coming on. These impulses will be around for a couple of weeks at least, but eventually our bodies and minds will get used to the fact that mindless entertainment isn't just a remote control away.

Even in the few short days that we've been satellite-less, there have been improvements in our lives. My wife and I actually spent an hour talking - honest to goodness talking, heart-to-heart - instead of simply pointing and grunting at the pretty colours on TV. We haven't accomplished as much as we hoped we might, but the social experiment is young yet, so we'll have to give it some time. What I've seen thus far, however, convinces me that turning off our TV was the right choice.

Will we ever turn it back on? Our current thinking is that once our house is finally in order we'll ask for a new TV and a PVR for Christmas this year. Maybe that's just the withdrawal speaking, and by the time Christmas comes around all we'll want is a new TV and maybe a DVD player so we can watch movies at home. Perhaps we won't want even that much, and we'll relegate the TV to the basement, and find a non-electronic focus for our living space. The only way to find out is to wait and see.

Of course, I'm kinda hoping that we do get a new TV and PVR. After all, I don't want to miss next year's Full Metal Challenge...



Not From Toronto Update

I've been busy over the past month constructing the Not From Toronto Archives. You'll notice in the top left column links to both the 2002 and 2003 archive pages. If you want to revisit a past article but haven't been able to find it, now's your chance.

In addition to reconstructing the archives, I have decided to permanently break my ties with Blogger. However, to better serve my readers Not From Toronto will once again be available from the same URL each week, at So break out the bookmark and check back each week.



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