Hi, My Name is Jennifer, and I'm a Couch Potato.
This might sound like an AA meeting intro - and it should. Because I'm a straight up addict. I'm addicted to TV.
Interestingly enough, TV addiction doesn't seem like an addiction that people get too worried about. It's not like I just admitted that I'm addicted to heroin, meth, or even shopping or sex. And yet, it affects me like a "mainstream" addiction. It began with experiencing pleasure, and later, as a way of coping with stress. I've engaged in using it more and more frequently until it has become a ritual, a significant part of my daily life. Negative consequences occur, and yet I continue to seek the pleasure of it over and over again.
Let's back up and I'll put my addiction into context. On my DVR (digital video recorder), I have 20 hours a week of scheduled recordings at any given time, depending on the season. And I manage to watch all of the content I record every single week. This does not even account for channel surfing, movies on the premium channels, and random shows I watch if I happen to catch them.
I regularly record and watch the following:
BlueBloods (1 hour per wk)
Hell's Kitchen (1-2 hours per wk)
Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares (1 hour per wk)
Top Chef (1-2 hours per wk)
Dancing With the Stars (2-4 hours per wk)
Celebrity Apprentice (2 hours per wk)
Survivor (1 hour per wk)
American Idol (2-3 hours per wk)
The X Factor (2-3 hours per wk)
The Voice (1-2 hours per wk)
Harry's Law (1 hour per wk)
Real Time (1 hour per wk)
Saturday Night Live (1 1/.2 hr per wk)
I also watch:
The 5 or 6 o'Clock news
Anything on National Geographic Channel
Law & Order (any version)
Judge Judy/Divorce Court/Judge Alex (basically any court shows)
Dr. Oz (and Oprah when it was on)
I estimate that I watch at least 30 hours of TV a week. With this kind of boob tube schedule, it must sound like I never get anything done, right? Nope - I've figured it all out. I've got a laptop. So, even when I'm not working in my home office (which has a TV), I can work from the couch. In fact, the TV goes on in the morning and is rarely turned off until it's time for bed. I may not be watching it the entire time - but I need the background noise. When I'm reading (I read 2-3 books a week), writing (I'm an author, freelance writer, and screenwriter), or editing/publishing (which I do for a living as a small business owner), the TV is on. Sometimes I think I can't think without it on.
We are a household of 2 adults. We have 4 televisions. The living room, workout room, home office and bedroom each feature a TV. Our furniture arrangements in each room are quite obviously TV-style feng shui.
Has it always been this way? Yep. I can associate any period of my life with what I watched on TV. As a little kid - Fraggle Rock, The Muppets, You Can't Do That on Television, The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Family Ties, Three's Company. Later - anything on MTV, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place. In college, I even scheduled my classes so I could eat, catch a nap, and then watch my soaps (All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital).
So what's changed? Why, after all these years of steady and satisfying addiction, am I suddenly questioning how often I watch television? Well, I recently saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at the movies. During the movie, I thought to myself, Wow, this chick is badass. She's so self-reliant, so cool. She's mysterious and "international". Multi-faceted, complex. I need to write a character like her! And then I came home and curled up on the couch in my usual spot. As I flipped through the stations mindlessly, I vaguely thought Lisbeth probably never spends an entire Saturday sucked into an American Pickers marathon. And that was my epiphany.
Maybe it's a mid-life crisis. I realize I'm not the person I want to be at this stage in my life. Isn't that what a midlife crisis is? Wanting to change while there's still time? When it comes down to it, I simply don't want to be a fat, mindless couch potato. I don't want to waste my life watching people living. I want to discover what I could do with the extra $150 a month that I currently shell out for HD TV and an extra 30 hours a week. Could I learn a new language? Could I volunteer more? Could I get more exercise? Could I learn to be alone with my own thoughts?
We'll find out. Because I'm canceling my cable TV. I hope to make it for a full year. I'm already starting to plan what I'll do to occupy my time, and I'm truly looking forward to discovering my own potential.
I hope you'll join me as I blog about this experience over the next year. Who knows? Maybe after a year, I'll swear off TV forever. Or maybe I'll cave after a single, boring week. Whatever happens, I'm excited to challenge myself and share it with you!
Sunday, May 27th (my 35th birthday) - The TV goes dark.
My Next Blog Topic: The Official TV-Free Experiment Rules