Kicking the Habit

It’s been one full year since my husband and I canceled cable. It started out as a trial period when we moved. We relocated during the holiday season and neither one of us had the time or desire to wait for the cable guy. At first, we were so busy with unpacking in between Christmas and New Year’s we barely noticed.

After the long, cold month of January set in, I do admit that we experienced some withdrawals. How can I wake up in the morning without Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira’s banter? How could Don’s Sunday mornings be complete without car show marathons? We quickly got used to the sound of our home without a constant background noise. We were unconfined from the schedule we were keeping to be home in time for that certain show we had to watch. It was actually quite freeing!

We rediscovered the radio, Cribbage, and got really savvy with our Internet and iTunes services. Best of all, we take the money we’re saving on the monthly bill and put it toward live entertainment. We’ve seen great concerts, sporting events, and movies in the area in the past year.

In addition to using the Library’s audio-visual section, we use Internet services to subscribe to our favorite shows. We either watch them on our laptop, or hook up our CPU to our television. If you’re thinking about kicking the habit, I recommend reading the September 2010 issue of Wired Magazine. Joel McHale, host of “The Soup” and star of “The Community,” reviews all the great online resources to help you watch your favorite shows.

If you decide to join me, here are some books to help you contemplate your decision. My recommendations span the generations: 

This beginning reader book for ages 5-8, The Magic Box, chronicles a community that doesn’t know what TV is until a magic box drops from the sky of a delivery plane. The box consumes the community’s time, and it takes a lot of mayhem until they decide to push the “off” button.

TV bonds with a child and brings him to a parent-teacher conference in the picture book Todd’s TV. His parents realize how out of control it is when they hear that the TV wants to legally adopt Todd. The satire ends with Todd finally turning the TV off. Todd’s parents didn’t quite seem to learn their lesson because the story ends with them giving Todd…a laptop. I hope a sequel is in the works for the 5-8 age group. 

Reverse psychology tries to take hold in the beginning chapter book The Problem with Pulcifer by Florence Parry Heide. Pulcifer doesn’t watch television, instead he reads books. His parents and teachers try to teach him to watch TV and love it. It just never happens. He always goes back to the big stack of library books on his bedside table. This book is best suited to share with children ages 7-10.

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television’s Conquest of America in the Fifties by Eric Burns documents the history of television and how it has shaped the American culture. I had flashbacks of Mad Men while I read this one! Demands from advertisers were made according to the time slot they sponsored. For instance, Ford Motor Company would agree to sponsor a program only if the Chrysler Building were painted out of a backdrop of the New York City skyline. If a lighter company sponsored a show, a character couldn’t offer a match to light a cigarette. I guess Harry Crane’s character isn’t exaggerating!

The book contends that the way the American family spent time together changed with the advent of television sets in the household. Conversations were held during commercial breaks. The American diet was altered with the inventions of the TV dinner, TV trays, and TV Time Popcorn Tubes. Media access entered our homes with an immediacy and a visual effect that newspapers and radio lacked. If you pick this book up, it’ll be hard to put down!  

Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live In It by Thomas de Zengotita challenges the reader to consider what we still experience that remains uninfluenced by media representations. Once something is mediated, de Zengotita argues that we lose emotional response and lack the time to process our experiences originally. The author lumps television with radio, newspaper, Internet, cell phones and all the other media that is available to us today.

Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives was written by professor of journalism Todd Gitlin. He discusses the constant stimuli that surrounds our culture including video games, action movies, reality shows, and waiting-room TV. Gitlin, like de Zengotita, encourages the reader to take a step back and reflect on the consequences of living in a world of media torrent which encourages disposable emotions, casual commitments, and disengagement from social and political involvement. 

Our director, Ann Marie White, wrote an essay originally titled “Breaking Out of the Box: Turn Off TV, Turn On Life” featured in the July/August 2001 issue of Mothering magazine and later reprinted in the book Television: Opposing Viewpoints. In the article, Ann Marie documents the harmful effect of TV on children, especially very young children, and encourages readers to break free.

Jeffrey McCall offers take-control information in Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences. In the chapter “How You Can Fight Back–Today” he offers advice on contacting television networks, advertisers, and setting rules for family TV viewing.

Lisa Shaia is the children’s librarian who “subscribes” to Mad Men, Modern Family, Running Wilde, Lie to Me, and Grey’s Anatomy.

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