Could you go TV-free?

At the end of a stressful day, many of us love to lie back and zone out with our favourite shows. Switching on at the end of the day can become habitual, rather than doing it because we genuinely want to watch something. With the advent of streaming services, this has become another form of extreme consumption, with many people “binge-watching” whole boxsets of shows in a weekend. The old way of watching one episode a week of your favourite series, ending on a cliffhanger and having to wait a whole 7 days to find out what happens next is dead. Yes there is more choice now, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Research shows that binge-watching is bad for our health, interfering with sleep by preventing our brains from truly winding down before bed. Over time, this reduces our immune systems, and increases our risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

When our TV broke about a year ago, we decided not to replace it. Our youngest child, who was 4 at the time, went through a 5-day withdrawal period where he asked for the TV constantly. But after that, he stopped. Gradually, he is learning the art of providing his own entertainment, rather than sitting passively in front of a stream of images (and often adverts for more stuff, which we are actively trying to reduce). He does watch a film of his choosing once a week (on the laptop), on a Sunday, which has become a special treat, rather than the daily exposure of before. He seems happy with this now, and never asks to watch anything else during the week, he loves looking forward to “Sunday Film Day”.

Some days I do miss that hour towards the end of the day, while trying to cook dinner, when small children are tired, when we used to put the TV on. But mostly I don’t miss it at all. My son listens to more audiobooks instead of watching stuff, and enjoys his Sunday Film Day. I am reading more books than ever, and also have some favourite podcasts. I have been catching up with crochet and knitting projects, and enjoying a good conversation or two. I do occasionally watch a programme, but I’m much more selective about what I choose to consume.

Could you go TV-free?

Book review: In Praise of Wasting Time

Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.

Thoreau

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and in particular the challenge of doing nothing. So when I came across this little book, I had to read it. At only 128 pages, this is a must-read for anyone curious about the benefits of dropping everything and just being.

Professor Lightman outlines our fixation with time, with how long everything takes, with filling every minute of our waking time with activities and projects. He argues that our lives have become “frenzied”, that we get angry if we have to wait to see our GP. We have lost the ability to take the meandering way home, to daydream,

The problem, Professor Lightman argues, is that we are constantly plugged into “The Grid” – the internet, digital communication and social media (although he does also argue that the general pace of life outside of this has taken on a frenzied pace). Consumerism and an obsession with productivity have lead to a “heightened awareness of the commercial and goal-oriented uses of time” at the expense of genuinely free time for reflection and doing less. Even the speed at which we walk has increased in recent years.

He extols the benefits of unstructured time in terms of our creativity and mental “replenishment”. This non-stop stimulation from technology is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, leaving us with an inability to be alone with ourselves.

Lightman also talks about how childrens’ lives are overscheduled and the amount of pressure parents feel to have their children reach certain milestones by particular points in their lives, to keep up with peers. Play, both for children and adults, has many well-documented benefits. The joy of doing something simply for fun or amusement allows the mind to focus on means rather than ends.

The author outlines the well-known benefits of meditation on wellbeing, although he says that this is not strictly necessary, what is needed is simply downtime from The Grid. Downtime enables us to rest and develop our creativity.

Whilst this was an interesting read, I did not come away feeling like I had learned anything new. I think many of us are well aware that our lives and those of our children are increasingly overscheduled, and the disadvantages of technology for our mental wellbeing. What was most interesting to me was in the final chapter, Lightman talks about the difference between chronos – sequential clock time – and kairos – time created by human events, such as a meal or a relationship, a memory.

Surprisingly, despite mentioning meditation, Lightman does not really mention mindfulness, which I think is the key to what he is getting at – when we are aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, then we can truly slow down time (as it were) and begin to create some space in our lives to appreciate the little things, to create gratitude, appreciation and the sense of kairos he mentions.

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