Coded violet.

Sunday 27 August 2000


Pic of the day: Glarebox enough for me.

Man without a TV

I was born in 1958, and regular TV broadcasting in Norway started in 1960. It took still some years before it spread to the deep valleys of the west coast, and at first not everyone could afford a black & white TV either. I grew up in an area of relative poverty, certainly by today's standard. After food and clothes, there was not a whole lot of money left to burn on luxury. Still, the TV did pop up in home after home. Not ours, though.

To this day, I don't know for sure why my parents never bought a TV, even after their economy improved. I have thought that their religion may have played a role. They both took religion seriously, though they never tried to impress any particular faith on me. But there were also practical considerations. We were living off a small farm, and at the time that meant work, work, work. There really was no time to sit down and stare at a box. What down time there was, easily got filled by all the books and newspapers - my father in particular loved books. My mother was also writing lots of letters. In short, there was barely enough time as it was.

This did not stop me when the neighbors got TV, though. I was already communicating with the cute neighbor girl, who was conveniently a bit younger than me and all. All boys should have a neighboring girl, but that's really another story. The first months after they got the TV, I more or less lived there in the afternoon, watching children's programs with big eyes. I was utterly fascinated by this invention. As are most humans, I know today. But something changed. Not for a while, though.


When I was 15, I moved out. But not into the great unknown - my aunt and her husband tried to take care of me, and I saw a lot of TV with them. Bless their hearts, they really wanted to make me a normal human. But as you see today, this was beyond even their talent. And at some time there, I developed a deep distrust in television.

It helped that I was associating ever more tightly with Smith's Friends, a very pious congregation who at the time scorned television under the slogan "We've got one sewer in our house, and it's going out." They harbored similar affections for radio, comic books and novels, but as you may have noticed I have a different attitude to those. (Not that I listen a lot to radio, apart from the news.)

In recent years, Smith's Friends have taken to using television internally to transmit great events. I don't know how much they have also adopted it privately. Certainly those I know who for some reason have broken with the congregation, rarely waited long before they had at least one TV. I guess this means that they wanted it all the time, but did not dare. Or perhaps it is just considered an essential part of being a worldly human.


At this time of my life, there is no one who would think twice about me watching television, quite the opposite. And I occasionally do when I visit friends. But it is not very satisfying, and I certainly would not want to pay to do so. It's not really a question of religion: The nature programs are not a lot different from Science Illustrated and similar magazines, and I tend to check the news on radio or Internet virtually every day.

I guess there are two things in particular that puts me off. One is the fact that these things are scheduled at their own times, not mine. I would have to arrange my day around it, and I get more than enough of that with a full time job. This could be solved with a VCR or two and some heavy programming, but I just don't find it worth the time and energy and consideration and money. I like things that leave my mind and my time free.

The most sinister aspect however is the way people keep staring at the box even though they don't want to. That really creeps me out. I know from my own experience, and later in life from observing my friends, that faith in the "OFF" button is overstated. They will start looking at a program that interests them. Then the program ends, and they will look at something that does not really interest them. They may go so far as to run through the channels to find something better, but it takes an inordinate amount of mental energy to actually turn it off. Is there anything more pathetic than staring at something while you complain about how bad it is? And I know that this could happen to me too. I have a human brain, after all. Only the way I use it is different.

It's like smoking and drinking. You can stop at any time, but you don't want to. Just you try, if you don't believe me.


But all this is really justifications on my behalf. Yes, I truly distrust the addictive power of the TV; but I do have other hobbies that are fairly addictive too: Comic books, the Internet, computer games. And online journalling. Ahem.

The reality is, I guess, that I simply don't have time to miss a TV. My life is already full with the things I do on my own, and my house is already full too. There is no room for the television even if I would spend the money. (And it's quite pricey - here in Norway we have to pay a yearly fee to own a TV, money the State uses to broadcast an commercial-free channel. Or perhaps it's two channels, now.)

But even people who know me, tend to ask "Did you see that program on [channel] yesterday?" When I say no, they may remember that I don't have a TV. But it seems I'm very nearly the last human who don't. And in the end, it probably won't matter. I expect the Internet to eat broadcasting alive. In the future, all broadcasting will be replaced with pointcasting - programs on demand. If I want to watch the news or a film, I will just click on it. (To some extent I can do that already with my RealPlayer, though the quality right now leaves a lot to be desired.) But eventually the TV will merge with the Net the way the lamb merges with the wolf, and I for one won't shed any tears for it.

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