The Value of TV: A social event

We've all been to "Bingewatch Hotel," where you check in to an eight hour marathon of Stranger Things interrupted only by trips to the fridge or pee breaks. For the busy dancer / student / employee that we are every other day of the week, this relaxation makes for a highly desirable way to spend a lazy, gloomy Saturday weekend.

A small part of me cries out as I mentally run through my ever-lengthening to-do list. But my "let-no-minute-go-to-waste" mindset still manages to find a huge upside a binge session: social TV! This multitasking-time management approach to TV watching makes your time on the futon doubly effective. Check it out.

Times have changed from the person who didn't even own a TV in college to the me right now. The fact is, I do watch TV (shoutout to my dad, for buying me a flat screen TV so large that I had to move my couch to the back of the room just to be able to get the entirety of the screen in my range of vision). But my pattern of TV consumption today is radically different from that of the Nicktoons-addicted elementary school Austin, or the cable-deprived college Austin.

These days, I make time to get into a few shows. BUT I am extremely selective about the shows I keep up with. In my opinion, there isn't a single show on television that is worth anyone's undivided attention if it's not a shared experience that encourages worthwhile and meaningful conversations with others. For me, a TV show is only worth your time if the programming can serve as a jumping off point for some degree of human interaction. Shows with this kind of broad impact eventually become enduring cultural mainstays and relevant topics of discussion for years to come, much like any fine piece of visual art or literature. 

Think of it this way: If you hop on Facebook, and you accidentally learn about the thing that happens to that one guy in that one show - FROM 16 DIFFERENT PEOPLE - you might be in the midst of a TV cultural phenomenon that is worth your attention.


Take my biggest TV vice, Game of Thrones. I'm the first to admit that I have an obsession with HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's series of testosterone-fueled, deeply political series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. Each and every Sunday during GoT season, like a religious service for practicing Catholics, you can reliably count on me making my way to a friend's place to enjoy the bloodshed, political intrigue, and inevitable discussion that occurs after the show, as we don our tinfoil hats to hypothesize about wacky theories concerning the motivations of various characters.

In this case, GoT served it's purpose as a free social event (well, free for me, the moocher who doesn't pay for HBO) that brings people together for the express purpose of entertainment in the same way that a football game or bar outing may do so. A small fraction of the value of the show lies within the 50 minutes of TV time. The overwhelming value comes from the hour before, where we sit around drinking beers catching up on each other's lives as the previous week's episode serves as background noise; the hour after, when we rewatch the episode, while making jokes and talking through the onscreen action; and the intervening week before the next episode, when we interact with each other digitally with new theories that pop into our heads.

Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking BadHow I Met Your Mother: All early- and mid-2010's examples of highly-acclaimed TV series' that will impact a generation of viewers. I believe that these are worthy of your attention just as much as any good piece of classic literature. Sure, you may not have seen M*A*S*H* or Cheers, but the groundbreaking nature of these TV phenomena will far outlive the production run of the series. 


(Unrelated note: My desire to always maximize utility has led me to develop a chronically recurring case of "Netflix Paralysis Syndrome." When faced with hundreds of options, a victim of Netflix Paralysis Syndrome will be overcome with indecision so powerful, that the user will compulsively walk up and down the digital aisles to the point of memorization. In the end, the multitude of choice will overwhelm the victim, since they would hate to waste their time on a less-than-perfect use of their evening. They inevitably default to watching something they have already seen, usually Arrested Development or Orange is the New Black - before promptly fall asleep during the opening credits.)

Overall, the idea is that the TV should be a tool that helps you maximize the hours in your day rather than stealing them. Enjoying TV with friends can act to effectively increase your daily use of social time, as whatever your program of choice can function doubly as both entertainment and social time.

Here's the first step: Whenever you get in a conversation with friends about the tenuous strength of your favorite character in Game of Thrones, propose watching the next episode together. Better yet, turn it into a viewing party, involve the interested people in your dance community. Build these connections!

And just like that, you've turned a time sink into a social opportunity, while still getting your hit of Mr. Robot.

Did you also find a way to break (mostly) free of the influence of the TV? Alternatively, do you think anything on TV right now has long lasting value that will be discussed by the next generation of hipsters? Comment at me, and I'll try and sneak in a little bit of that show into my schedule.

The Value of TV: A companion of sorts.

In a previous post, I talked about how college had pulled me away from the programming that was broadcast on TV, an ever-present source of entertainment prior to that time. I want you to know that I'm not trying to downplay the value that a TV can provide. It's too easy to let the TV use you, instead of the other way around. This series of articles is aimed giving you a sense for how you can use your TV.

I find that parking in front of the TV for hours on end is often the least productive use of your limited hours in a day. As I discovered during the span of years when I had no TV at all, my productivity skyrocketed. But without some sort of background chatter, I hated the silence that I was engulfed in. This is just one useful and productive feature that your TV can serve.

TV can function as a generator of background noise.

Like many people, silence freaks me out.

Luckily for me, living in a large city has the benefit of being constantly surrounded by a ceaseless, nondescript, industrial hum. Cars and trucks of every imaginable size, high-powered industrial fans, and mobs of people create a cacophony of noise, pierced only occasionally by a shrill ambulance siren or an unpredictable sports-related shout of excitement. Even at work, the buzzing of the various pieces of equipment around me provide some respite from a death-like stillness that would otherwise drive me insane.

Whenever someone tries to sell me on the benefits of a sensory deprivation tank for relaxation, I quickly and awkwardly change the subject.

Even temporary phases of quiet get to me. The whole reason I enjoy camping is the novelty of the experience, the company I get to spend time with, and the joys of mimicking my primitive ancestors struggling to light a bonfire with which I can cook things. But the second the sun rolls over and the rowdy neighbor-kids pile into their tent for the evening, the usual sounds of the city that helps me get to sleep is absent. Instead, it is replaced by a creepy silence interspersed only by the cries of a lonely cricket trying to hook up.

I and many others find solace in noise. A part of it is the natural human desire to be surrounded by activity. As social beings, even the most introverted among us subconsciously craves the attention of others. Our ancient ancestors found safety in numbers, and our reptilian brains do also. 

One study in particular arrived at the conclusion that craving background noise is a learned behavior, acquired through years of constant exposure to TV / radio / music. Regardless of the rationale behind our fixation on ambient noise, the fact remains:

The TV can become that noise that we want. 

I enjoy cooking, cleaning, or getting ready in the morning with some random background noise / conversation. I set my alarm clock to the radio, despite my disdain for radio music and my distrust of mainstream news reporting. There's something soothing about having people you kind-of know talking at you, regardless of whether you are paying attention or not. Whereas I prefer to let my radio run or turn on YouTube Let's Play channels to act as an ambient noise maker, others fire up an episode of Friends or Seinfeld.

If you find that this kind of background noise helps you get through your day; embrace it.

Some people enjoy doing menial tasks while being entertained by the attention-grabbing voices and live studio audience laughter of late night talk shows. Others fall asleep to the ASMR-like quality of Bob Ross' soothing voice, as he calmly talks you through the act of painting landscapes. And for a handful of people out there, the dynamic ups and downs of sports games serve to keep you alert and focused on whatever else you are working on.

If this describes your level of attachment with the TV, then you have gone a way towards optimizing your use of TV. 

I know I personally find it difficult to write while watching / listening to voices, whether they are talking or singing. As I am typing this right now late at night, the usual excitement of the city life and street performers that I hear from my window has been replaced by big city-style ambient white noise, a humming sound that I find both comforting and soothing. Paying attention to the voices on TV steals away a fraction of your mental attention, so you should try and find the tasks that require little mental attention if you would like to watch TV while multitasking.

Pulling away from the TV can cause you to free up more time than you even knew you lost. There's a specific time and place for when the TV can add a positive benefit into your daily routine. Have you found any other ways by which the TV hasn't sucked away all your time? Share with me in discussion box at the bottom of the page.

More about using the TV:

How I turned off the TV

There's no debate here: the most challenging part of being a "dancer and (insert other profession here)" is finding the time to keep up with both of these aspects of your life. On some days, your dedication drives you straight from work or school into the first available evening dance class at the studio. Other days, your black hole of a couch sucks you into an endless loop of nonsense television programming.

One of the biggest time wasters prior to my time in college was my TV. I managed to pull myself away from that seemingly inescapable force. Here's how.

Now before you get all defensive about this internet author trying to take away your precious TV, check this disclaimer: TV played an undeniably influential role in my childhood. Doug, Rugrats, and Rocko's Modern Life made up my Nickelodeon pre-dinner trifecta. Modern music came to me through repeat broadcasts of Total Request Live on MTV. Interestingly enough, despite their assumed differences in life philosophies and problem solving strategies, both the American Gladiators and MacGuyver served as my childhood heroes (the fact they both had mullets had nothing to do with my adulation).


The disclaimer continues. My childhood years as a TV junkie had a lasting influence on the way I interact with people, even now as an adult many years later. I occasionally allude to Legends of the Hidden Temple in everyday conversations, often in reference to any blatantly-simple manual task that someone is unable to complete as a "Silver Monkey." I, along with every other adolescent male in the 90's, fell in love with Sabrina the Teenage Witch herself, Melissa Joan Hart (who, by the way, hasn't aged a second past her mid-twenties, as I discovered after seeing her on a recent episode of Family Feud).

And then, in college, I quit TV cold turkey. 

It was surprisingly easy to do in retrospect. No withdrawal, no hangover. Just the peace that comes from simplifying your life through minimalism, and the confusion that comes about when you suddenly have LOTS of free time.

First, the fact that my dorm didn't even offer free cable TV quickly diverted my attention away from the tube. I mean, at the price they offered TV, I could buy hundreds of packs of instant ramen noodles, enough "sustenance" to last any college student a month. I quickly lost interest in the nightly broadcasts of my high school obsession: Crime Scene Investigators (CSI), a program that was so wildly popular that a college chemistry course had been rebranded to include "forensic sciences" in the course title to serve as the metaphorical cheese in the mousetrap, ensnaring gullible freshmen in the jaws of an otherwise dull chemistry class. CSI somehow managed to captivate the attention of a wide range of audiences, despite the cookie-cutter nature of the plot points of every episode. It's basically live action Scooby Doo, my absolute favorite childhood early morning programming.


Even if I did get cable wired into my room, I didn't even own a physical TV. Not having a TV saved me from sinking untold hours into this form of entertainment. In those years, the only TVs affordable for the collegiate budget were those comically outdated cathode ray tubes. And these beasts were notoriously heavy. Additionally, I was notoriously lazy. There was a tremendously steep energy barrier that kept me from transporting one of these behemoths up 4 flights of stairs to my dorm room. This is one of those rare and noteworthy instances when Sloth doesn't act as one of those Seven Deadlies, but rather acted to free up untold hours of free time that would otherwise be spent in the pretend company of actors who don't even acknowledge my existence.


The TV-less trend that began in freshmen year of college continued over the next few years, even through graduation and into my first couple post-college jobs. There are a fistful of years that are essentially a cultural black hole in my knowledge of media, as I was devoid of TV based entertainment in the last half of the 2000's. Grey's Anatomy? You mean that old book filled with hand-drawn illustrations of the human body? I had it. The Office? No thanks, I work in a lab. Lost? I was lost.

I was ripped away from the entrancing nature of the TV by a set of circumstances that were largely beyond my control. Instead of attempting to "remedy" the situation by subscribing to cable and buying a tube, I took it as an opportunity to explore my role in a TV-less world. In this world, I didn't depend on entertainment being delivered to me; rather, I sought out to LIVE and seek out experiences that were tangible. Had I given into the pressures of rejoining the world of TV, my college stories would certainly be fewer in number. Somewhere, there exists an alternate parallel universe where I could tell you every plot point of the Sopranos, but had no interest in Filipino cultural dance.

The situations surrounding my media blackout allowed me to approach life in a new way. The TV is notoriously effective at draining away your free time. Consider my personal distancing from the tube as an anecdote that may help you figure out where your time has disappeared to: Did your XBOX suddenly hit you with the "Red Ring of Death"? Instead of rushing out to get a replacement, take a month to replace that gaming time with extra hours of sleep, and track how your mood and overall happiness changes during that time. Alternatively, go pick up a new hobby. Learn fencing, join an IM sports league, take an online class - take advantage of the negative situation and gain something from it. 

Have you been denied access to TV for some reason or another? Tell me about how you came away from that loss with a wider set of experiences in the comment box below.