virtual children by Scott Warnock

A year (and counting) without cable

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So we got rid of cable about a year ago. The kids are not alright. Of course, they’re bitter about it, and maybe rightfully so, because I’m not convinced any of us are better off. You know, you get rid of cable to live a more intellectual life, to get more in touch with yourself, with your family. But is any of that happening?

Yeah, we probably do watch less TV, but TV watching is still going on. I know that studies galore show how bad TV is as a lifestyle habit, but in line with Steven Johnson‘s Everything Bad is Good for You, TV shows have also become increasingly smart. Johnson says, “But popular television shows — and to a slightly lesser extent, popular films — have also increased the cognitive work they demand from their audience, exercising the mind in ways that would have been unheard of thirty years ago.” Indeed, I know my big-chug style consumption of The Wire left me stunned at how it rivaled anything I’d ever seen or read before in story depth and complexity.

Instead of quality serials, though, we’re laying around watching the delights offered up by what our antenna can pick up. We’re glued to Sanford & SonCharlie’s Angels, Three’s Company, and Different Strokes. Not exactly the recipe for higher family IQ.

This is how we get our TV nowadays. Yes, this is an antenna.

I’m not even sure we’ve reduced raw screen time. The kids still sneak in plenty of FIFA and Clash of Clans and, of course, Minecraft — probably more than they would if they had some juicy cable to watch. I have even noticed, to my dismay, that one of my kids now spends time, and this has to be a new low, watching narrated videos about video games. That, to me, is the equivalent of putting a spoonful of Quik on top of your Cocoa Pebbles.

We’re not reaping the reward of family bonding time either. We all pack up and go on vacation to spend some time together, but our vacation is filled with sometimes devious efforts by the kids — “Seriously, I think I’m allergic to Boston air!” — to stay in a hotel room so they can catch up on shows. The rare times we assemble around the electronic hearth we spend, since we’re back in the world of antennas, having old-school arguments about who’s going to get up to adjust the antenna.

So we’re not TV-less intellectuals as much as we’re cable-less rubes.

Also, because we’re not paying for TV, we’re doing what almost everyone else in an illusionary “free” situation does: Trade money for time, specifically time spent watching ads. And oh what ads. Imagine the ads that would appeal to the Charlie’s Angels daytime demographic. Instead of high-quality ads about cars and beer, we watch ads encouraging lawsuits for hard-to-pronounce illnesses and promos for devices to cure your bad back.

But maybe while my kids aren’t learning much from the shows, they are getting something out of the ads. In an unfortunate, non-TV related injury, my poor wife toppled down the steps recently and twisted her ankle (she’s all better now). As she described this event to me, including how she laid there for several minutes, our little guy overheard us. He looked up and said to her, “You should get Life Alert!”

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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9 Responses to “A year (and counting) without cable”

  1. its like you read my feeble mind! Thinking about doing the same. We will have to chat….

  2. Life-alert suggestions this soon? Yep. You both sound doomed.
    But if I suggest another option I will appear perilously close to he-who-shall–not-be-names-online so I must retrain from suggestions of unplugging altogether.

  3. You make a good argument for keeping cable tv

  4. Ditching cable had eliminated empty TV watching for us. No Sanford & Son or Charlie’s Angels. Although, it might be because our antenna does a lousy job and we’re too… Lazy? Disinterested? To fuss with it. Instead we’ve discovered some fantastic series on Hulu and Amazon Prime. And Netflix, of course.

    The boys also put Quik on their cocoa pebbles, but their You Tube time and their video game hours are limited. They haven’t complained much at all. I am still surprised by how easily they rolled with it. Plus we all read a lot. The older boy started practicing at the drums.

    I miss lazy Saturday channel surfing some times. And I hate that we often end up on 4 different screens watching separate things. The only thing worse than that cacophony is listening to boys play Minecraft with eachother online.

    At any rate, there are negatives and positives to be sure, but for us, it was definitely worth it!

  5. Funny article and as I finished reading it and chuckling at the end, my husband walked in and I told him what your article was about. His response … don’t even think about it we are not getting rid of cable. So there you have it!

  6. No mention of my beloved Roku? We’re thinking about cutting the cord again as well. As long as the girls have their programs, there’s peace in the house. There’s a whole other piece to be written about people who dig deep into Netflix’s crevices to find something, anything to watch during a snowed-in weekend.

    Love your essays!

  7. You cheap bastard!
    I couldn’t get past the first paragraph.
    I blame Obama for the terrible situation you have put your kids in.

  8. You are way braver than I thought you were Scott. I could get the kids to do it as a protest (sticking it to the man, no more cable-town , yada yada yada). My husband would never survive. He hasn’t picked up a book other than “How To Take care of Tropical Fish ” in 25 yrs. I think my daughters and I would be fine except maybe Game of thrones, Outlander, Vikings… hmm maybe not. Nice thought though.

  9. Most critics of visual media regard this period as the true golden age of television. I can name a dozen series on broadcast, basic, and premium cable that are among the most compelling entertainment ever aired. Film, sadly, is slowly being relegated to the medium of super hero movies and effects-driven spectacle. Television has emerged, in recent years, as the place where grown-ups find great stories. I trueoy love visual media and I honestly can’t imagine missing out on Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, the recent Ken Burns series The Roosevelts, American Horror Story, and many others. And, the sophistication of modern cable systems also gives people access to a massive library of great films, whenever they want them. If you don’t enjoy visual media, then I totally get this. But sacrificing access to such great content deprives you of what, in many cases, is excellence in TV not seen since the late 1950s early 60s.

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