A Toronto Transformation

Growing up TV-free (a survivor story)

antique radio dial

There’s an episode of Friends where Joey, incredulous at someone’s claim that they don’t have a television, asks, “You don’t own a TV? What’s all your furniture pointed at?”

When I was little, my family had a small TV tucked away in a pretty little cabinet in the corner of our living room. To the untrained eye, it looked like we didn’t have one at all, which was exactly how my parents wanted it.

We ate our dinner together at the table, and talked to each other. It was a very rare treat to eat in front of the tv.

At first we had a cable subscription, but the rule was that we weren’t supposed to watch anything in the summer, then my parents cancelled the cable completely and we could only watch VHS rentals, often from the library, which, admittedly did instil in me an early appreciation for BBC productions, such as this crazy yet charming slice of imagination.

Still, sometimes a ten-year-old just wants to rent a non-enriching MK and Ashley Mystery, you know?

I was always fascinated by the constant presence of the televisions at friends’ houses, places with giant screens, multiple screens, on-every-hour-of-the-day screens!

The reactions I got when I told people about the lack of tv in my young life are kind of fascinating in retrospect.

Kids just squinted at me suspiciously and pronounced me “weird” or asked if I was a mennonite or something.

Adults were worse. Most would get defensive, thinking that my parents’ choice was somehow a judgement directed at them. As much as I hated not being allowed to spend as much time as I wanted lounging in front of a screen, I hated people making fun of my family more.

So I learned not to tell people. Instead, I figured out that I could listen to global tv on my radio, tuning in to Friends, Frasier and the Gilmore Girls like they were 1930s radio dramas, so I was up to speed on a few shows, and babysat at houses with extensive cable packages whenever possible.

Meanwhile, the lack of tv at home meant I was forced to find other ways to fill my time and stifle boredom. It helped to make me a voracious reader and to make me crafty, curious and creative. It meant more time spent running around outside, playing games and chatting with the neighbours.

I think it was really good for me. That time to be quiet and bored is something I’ve been missing lately. I’m surrounded by screens now (though I still don’t have a television) and it’s way too easy to shut boredom down or distract myself from any other negative feelings with the click of a mouse. There’s always some new must-watch show to see, and while I do like to support the arts, I maybe don’t have to do so single-handedly.

So while I’m not ready to can my netflix subscription completely, I do think it’s time to take a page from my parents’ book and start scheduling in some daily boredom to see what my brain creates.

Did you grow up watching tv? Do you find your iphone/laptop/other gadgets have taken a toll on your creativity? Let me know in the comments!

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4 Responses to Growing up TV-free (a survivor story)

  • Mari says:

    I grew up watching very little tv as a child. I played and wrote and read. Now I am surrounded by screens. I have started plugging my phone and computer in as soon as I get home, and my next step will be turning off the tv more. I have a giant stack of books to read, waiting on my nightstand. I find I do read more when the weather cools- nothing like a good book, blanket and a cat!

  • Emma says:

    Great post! I will always love the idea of listening to TV shows on the radio. You must have missed so many of the jokes!!

  • I always had a TV growing up, but we weren’t ever allowed to watch it. I didn’t really watch TV shows till high school, and that was when I was in Australia so everything was always 1-2 seasons behind the US and I always knew what happened in the TV shows since, well, they had already aired in the States! I’ve never had a cable subscription of my own, but I do have Netflix. I don’t think I’ll ever give that up, but I definitely can’t see myself getting cable. I already spend too much time watching Netflix sometimes, so I sometimes instill Netflix-free days and am amazed at the amount of stuff I get done those days!

    This post is very similar to my feelings towards growing up without a microwave. You should’ve seen the look on some of my coworkers’ faces when I revealed that fun fact the other day! You would’ve thought I said my childhood was spent on the moon.

  • Amy says:

    We had a TV, but no cable. I remember the TV always being on, in the background, but not really paying a ton of attention to it – but I was really embarrassed about not having cable! These days, our TV is in the basement family room, not on the main floor of our house, so we don’t watch a ton and our four-year-old goes weeks without watching any TV at home. That’s the way I want it!

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