Turn off the TV

About a month ago I decided to quit watching TV, more or less, and quit reading anything related to “news” or “current events” on the internet. I’m not sure why, but a few stories bothered me to a pretty fundamental level: child soldiers in Somalia, unspeakable cruelty to babies (don’t click on that link unless you want to be horrified) and of course the never-ending fount of joy that is the WPE.

I still watch movies. I have always loved the movie format – 2 hours of character development, special effects and plot (hopefully). The best actors gravitate to the movies, much as the best athletes gravitate towards sports (as opposed to areas where athleticism might be useful but not noticed like firefighting, say). People want to share their gifts and movies reach the widest audience. But I digress. The two media are fundamentally similar but one is much, much, much, much more enjoyable and took a lot more work to create.

Back on track. After spending some time reading Leo’s really excellent blog Zen Habits and his comments on TV and how to spend your time I realized that the time I spent reading news, watching news, following politics, writing politics, etc. was helping no-one and bringing a lot of negativity into my life. I worry about Darfur, I do. I worry about living in a decaying country. I worry about the world my son will grow up in, and whether he, like my Bubelah’s father, will someday be faced with a crumbling, hostile and shifting homeland that ejects its best and brightest out into the world without anything but the clothes on their backs. I sure hope not, but I want to prepare myself and my descendants for that possibility. They won’t be ready if I’ve been obsessing on Iraq instead of teaching them how to guard their own health and wealth.

I see more reason to invest that time into improving my knowledge of health, or how to build wealth, or how to raise a child, or frankly into just playing with Little Buddy than I do spending it on the horrific minutiae that is American news. Reading about Israel for the millionth time will bring no-one closer to peace – not them, not me. I plan to vote for Democrats until a viable third-party candidate comes along (in about the year 2854 at this rate). But I won’t spend 3 hours a day reading about the still-one-year-away presidential primaries. Life is too short and I still haven’t managed to read Crime and Punishment past the first chapter.

Here are my list of 10 self-tricks to ending your addiction to TV and the news.

10. Quit turning on the TV, period. Let someone else do it. Just set a rule for yourself that you don’t touch the remote. If they do it, fine, allow yourself to watch it. I found that very quickly I didn’t really want it on. I have very quickly learned to appreciate silence, light music, or just the quiet babbling of Little Buddy over the constant blare of the television. I say that as someone who has always wanted “background noise”; I would have the TV turned on even if I was doing something else just to have that hum in the background.

 9. Get a lot of novels. Read a book. Load up at the library or at amazon.com. It will distract you, trust me.

 8. Get a Netflix subscription. Only watch “happy” movies, and don’t rent season 3 of the Sopranos. I think that’s OK, unless you really want to just eliminate all time in front of the TV. I personally think that movies are OK since you can watch a little bit higher level of art in movies (if you so choose) than on TV. Watch “The Fountain” on DVD and compare it to “Deal or No Deal” and you’ll get my point.

 7. Get the LeechBlock browser add-on for Firefox (if you don’t use Firefox, what are you waiting for – it’s a million times better than Explorer). Block these sites: cnn.com, nytimes.com, msnbc.com, etc. If you’re a conservative, block Fox News.

 6. Read a lot about one subject that’s not news that interests you. Using RSS feeds is great for this. I loaded up my Google Reader with RSS feeds about personal finance and self-improvement and that exhausts my interest in reading every day before I even think of reading the news.

5. This may seem obvious, but don’t buy newspapers or magazines. It’s a waste of money here in the internet age, it’s environmentally wasteful and most of them are trite.

 4. Watch CNN, FoxNews and the Daily Show one last time. Realize that of the three of these, only one is giving non-propagandized news. It’s on Comedy Central and that says something about the “news” you pay attention to, doesn’t it?

3. Read some blogs. Read the ones that are opposite to your point of view: read Daily Kos if you’re a conservative, read Instapundit if you’re a liberal. If you do this for several days, you’ll realize that all of the reading in the world won’t change anyone’s opinion, improve anyone’s mind, or improve anyone’s mood.

2. Play with a toddler. OK, this is sort of a simplistic suggestion, colored by having my own toddler at home, but you’ll realize that there is a lot of pure joy in the simplicity of not knowing anything about the world around you. Just play, enjoy the moment and try to postpone the grim world as long as possible.

1. Sleep. Instead of staying up to watch TV, just go ahead and go to sleep. You can thank me tomorrow.

Give it a shot. Life is short. Don’t spend it watching this.