When I tell people that I don’t have television, the typical response I receive is, “You mean you don’t have satellite?” I then go onto explain that I don’t have satellite, cable, or any free public station that can be obtained with an antenna. This part is usually followed by an uncomfortable pause and a look of pity. “Oh… you mean you can’t afford it?” I then remind them I don’t have free programs either, and here looks of the utmost confusion are quite common among inquirers. “Well, why don’t you have television then?”
My father ripped the television out of our house when I was about six years old. He would spend his nights flicking channels, and after about two or three weeks of not sleeping because of his television addiction, he grabbed every television in the house ripped their cords out, and threw the remains in the garbage can. I was completely livid at first, being addicted to Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers myself, but I never really missed it. My father is a writer, and after an appropriate period of mourning I began to delve into the vast collection of fiction and non-fiction that he had acquired over the years.
Though I felt a little excluded from conversations whose topic was the most recent episode of 90210, I soon came to realize how far ahead of everyone I was. I was even reading so much that my parents decided to institute rules restricting my reading. They only allowed me to read one fantasy novel in-between classic works of their choice. This rule paid off. Not only did I understand teachers’ allusions to well known classical literature, but I also began to see novels on school reading lists that I had completed years before. Instead of vegetating in front of a sixty inch screen like the rest of my schoolmates, I began to search for historical, biographical, and how-to books. I wasn’t consciously trying to broaden the scope of my knowledge or to become an expert in a certain field; I was simply interested in learning about what had happened, who had been, and how certain things can function.
The absence of television in my life not only directly impacted the amount of knowledge I have but also directly altered paths I have taken and choices I have made. Television shows every person the same thing. It shows people what to wear, how to act, what to eat, what you should look like, and what your position in society should be. It breeds a conforming population of pop icon wannabes whose knowledge of the world is based upon what they see on a twenty four square inch surface.
I feel lucky to have been spared. Not having television was the beginning of an anti-conformist trend that is still a part of my life today. It guided me from private middle school to art high school, from lacrosse to design, from vegetating to reading and through my love of reading, writing. Not having television has taught me to truly appreciate the quote, “take the road less traveled, you know there will be less traffic.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.