Around eight o’clock every night, I curl up with my husband to stream our favorite shows on our computer: "Game of Thrones," "Walking Dead," "Homeland," "Community," "Parks and Rec," "SNL," "The Daily Show," "House of Cards" (I save "Glee" and "Project Runway" for when he’s not home). We stay up until midnight, at least, though I'd stay up until two binging on the small-screen fiction if he'd join me.
He has more willpower than I do -- I'm forced to turn it off so I don't get too far ahead. When I do occasionally indulge in all-night binges, I wake up miserable and grumpy, and spend the rest of the day feeling so lethargic that all I want to do is sit around and watch more TV. Vicious cycle, anyone?
It's nothing, though, compared to how things were when I had an actual television set telecasting programs into my home non-stop, 24/7, forever. It began when my mother got cable at home -- a gift for my 16th birthday (which I'd been asking for for years).
Returning home from school at 3 pm, I'd watch until I went to bed around 11. Yes, that’s eight hours, almost every day, of nonstop television: "General Hospital," "Donahue," "Real World," "My So Called Life," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Blossom," "The Wonder Years," "Saved by the Bell," "Doogie Howser M.D.,""ALF," "Beavis and Butthead," "Daria," "The Cosby Show" ... all until the sky darkened outside my window and my mother came home to yell at me for, once again, not doing any chores. Then I’d panic because I'd forgotten to do my homework or study for my exam; I was so lost in the world of passive entertainment that my life became insignificant.
At some point, it occurred to me that watching that much television was seriously unhealthy and had fashioned me into a lazy teenager, destined for an unproductive adulthood. College was a savior because there was no television in our dorm rooms. Instead we watched foreign films and analyzed porn for feminist philosophy class. We watched VHS tapes of nature documentaries and, OK, every episode of "Twin Peaks." But we only did that on occasion, when nothing else was going on, and it didn’t matter if I was up until 2 am watching TV because I lived on a strict diet of coffee, cigarettes, Snickers and pasta that petrified my organs and made it possible for me to go without sleep.
Still, anytime there was a television around -- like in a hotel room or at my mom’s -- I quickly fell into the trance that I'd spent my teenage years in. My eyes glazed over and all sounds that weren't coming out of the TV set disappeared. The real world faded out, and there was nothing but television.
When I graduated from college and moved into an apartment, I swore off television. I loved it too much -- it was my opiate. Watching TV, nothing else mattered; my worries disappeared into the ether. Which sounds great, except that I was completely uncreative, and items on my to-do list got pushed down until the very last minute, when I would stress to finish them.
When I started dating a guy with a television -- the kind you have to adjust the antenna on to get reception -- I spent hours at his house watching horrible network shows and ignoring him. When he wanted to have sex, I was too tired. When he wanted to go out, I was too enthralled with my show. When he wanted to talk, I couldn’t hear him. One day, he turned off the set and told me our relationship wasn’t working. Of course there were other problems, but my television trance made it all the more difficult for us to deal with our issues, when I could just ignore them instead.
The problem is that I have no self-control when it comes to television. When one is near, I long for that feeling I knew as a teen: zoning out and letting the productive world fade around me. I long to disappear into a fantasy world. I have always been a reader, but books don’t have the same druggy quality that television does. Books stimulate a more intellectual corner of my brain; television doesn’t require thinking.
I don’t want my daughter to become the lazy kid I was. She's allowed only two hours of screen time a day, which includes TV, movies, apps and games. I’m not sure how this will evolve as she grows older, but I plan to use my experience to help regulate her viewing. Since my mom grew up when television didn’t exist, there was no way for her to know what could result from overdosing on it.
I'm grateful for the onset of streaming television online -- I don’t have to subscribe to a series of cable networks as they call for me to join them on the couch. I can watch what I want, when I want. This gives me a sense of control over my addiction.
Ultimately I will never be able to have real TV, and I’m OK with that. Meanwhile, I just started reading this great book...
Are you addicted to television? What measures have you had to take to control your addiction?