Television: Teacher, mother, secret lover (or, How I learned to stop worrying and surf the Internet)

If you had told sixteen-year-old me that at 32, I wouldn’t be watching much television, or that I’d be living without cable, I would have laughed and told you that the idea was crazy.

Yet, here I am.

There was a time where I thought I couldn’t live without television. I felt like I had missed out when I missed an episode of my favourite show, and a feeling of “d’ohhh, I’ll never see it again, woe is me” washed over me. I felt that way on numerous occasions, the most memorable being September 17, 1995 — the season 7 premiere of The Simpsons, where Mr. Burns’ shooter was finally revealed as Maggie Simpson. My oldest sister watched it for me and told me what happened. I did end up seeing the episode a couple of years later, thanks to syndication, but I already knew what happened; the episode, while funny, didn’t have that same appeal as a freshly-watched one.

Time marched on, and I gained more and more adult responsibility like having to work for my own money, studying for exams, trying to profess my fondness for some girl via text, or other things that a late teen/early twenty-something person has to do in order to “fit into society”. The amount of television I watched dwindled, and the feeling that I was missing out on an episode dwindled with it; streaming was becoming more and more ubiquitous, and it was easy to catch up on a show if you had a decent Internet connection and good file sharing software (with an up-to-date virus program, to boot).

Soon came Netflix, and with it the death knell of video stores, where you could rent a DVD of an entire season of a show, in order to fill in the spots where you fell off the wagon and stopped watching because you had to cram for your finals. Besides, all of your favourite shows stopped airing on cable anyway, because of quotas needing to be filled where reality television was concerned; if your network didn’t have a montage of people who thought they could sing, or who walked around naked on a “desert island”, or were being fired by a man who would one day be President, you didn’t do well. Good shows were pushed to time slots where only the zombies were awake, and subsequently cancelled.

Whenever I go over to my mom’s house — who has cable, but laments her decision to keep it — I see shows that I either forgot existed or didn’t know were still on the air, because I, like many people my age, have been so out of the loop. I see some of these shows and I think “this is STILL on?” Most of us can’t afford cable; I sure as hell can’t. So I’d rather pay for a monthly subscription to a streaming service where I can watch TV when I want, how I want, and for however long I want. Yet, despite a myriad of movies, TV shows and other forms of media that are at my fingertips, I sometimes think that it’s not worth it, and decide to go out, or read, or play guitar. My desire to watch television is more of a last resort now than an absolute need.

And I like it that way.

Sixteen-year-old me thought that cable was an absolute necessity at one point. I didn’t think it was possible to live without it; I thought those who didn’t have cable were weird and deviant. But now that I find myself as one of those weird and deviant people, I realize that it’s not a bad thing; I don’t have mindless drivel trying to ingrain myself into my brain in the form of vapid popularity contests.

This path is not perfect, nor is it really idiot-proof; you can still be caught surfing Facebook for hours on end, just the same as one watched TV fifteen years ago, channel surfing endlessly until your favourite show comes on. But you can still turn off the computer and pick up a book. You can still turn off and listen to music you like. The dynamic has shifted. TV is not the only way to be entertained any more.

One last thought: as the Internet keeps growing into an ever-present behemoth, as TV did after its rise in the 1950s, what might be the next thing to replace it? Have we hit the upper limit of how we consume media?

Will TV be completely erased from our history?

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