I decided to turn off my TV. Not for any high-minded reason. I just couldn’t afford it.
When I moved to the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands I quickly learned paradise came with a price. The scenery, beaches and coastlines were stunning but there were a lot of prohibitive costs too. The cost of living is high particularly if you eat out a lot. There are grocery store discounts but local food can still be expensive. Add in the high price of gas and your funds can dry up rather quickly.
I learned to live without a cable subscription because I was too broke to pay for a luxury. And believe me in a world filled with famine and water shortages cable TV is a luxury. I’ve paid anywhere from $120 to $200 a month for an assortment of movie channels, sports packages and specialty networks. When I first came to the island I bought basic cable TV but for some reason my condo only showed a strange mix of religious channels, public access channels and Caribbean music videos. I decided after a few days I didn’t even need that.
Honestly it felt weird at first. You never notice how much you watch cable TV until you restrict your access to it. But after a while I got used to it. I filled my time with other things I enjoyed. Here’s how I did it.
I Developed an Exercise Routine
Cable TV is like an opiate. It’s hard not to watch it. It’s even harder when there’s nothing on to watch. Idleness can be addictive. So I developed an exercise routine. I’m not necessarily talking about anything too demanding or anything that would require a gym membership. I did push-ups. I went walking. There’s a pond outside my condo so I decided to walk around it for 30 minutes. I found a beach, grabbed my iPod and decided to explore. I ran when I felt like it. Then I stopped and walked if I got too winded. Soon I found the hours lost to old episodes of “Snapped” or “Intervention” were now being used to keep myself in shape.
I Watched Things Online
There are several advantages to watching TV online. For the most part you can avoid commercials. You can watch whatever show or episode you’ve missed at your own pace. Lot of websites offer this service for free while also offering additional web content. I always found this more advantageous than using TiVo because I didn’t have to decide whether I wanted to record an episode or the whole series. I also didn’t have to decide which shows or episodes I wanted to keep or discard.
I Investigated My Favorite Music
Think about the last time you spent listening to music all-day and then contrast that to the last time you spent watching cable TV all day. Which was the more productive day? My guess is it was the former and not the latter. My time away from cable TV allowed me a chance to catch up on all the music I missed. I visited music blogs and websites dedicated to free downloads and ways to stream great music from great bands. I also visited social media websites that showcased amateur and undiscovered talent along with websites dedicated to the newest mixtapes. As a hip-hop and soul aficionado I found myself catching up on all the underground artists and groups I listened to in college.
I Developed More Hobbies
Watching cable TV takes up more time than you think. Studies show the average U.S. household watches more than eight hours a day and apparently it can shorten your life span. So I realized when I stopped I would need to fill that time somehow. I decided to take up things I always wanted to do but thought I didn’t have time for. I learned to cook certain dishes. I tried to learn to speak a different language. I went to art museums and read about famous painters. You have time for whatever fantasy you’ve always wanted to indulge. The problem is you’re losing time watching Priceline.com commercials.
I Improved My Professional Profile
Instead of complaining about the job I had I decided to search for the job I always wanted. There’s a process to finding that perfect job though and I always procrastinated mastering that process. My time away from cable TV gave me an opportunity to attack the flaws in my professional profile. I updated my resume, revamped my cover letter, networked for better jobs and consulted career counselors. This eventually lead to a legal job at a non-profit law firm and a one-month internship in Beijing.
I’ve learned to live without cable TV but I’m not a jerk about it. Nobody wants to hear how you’re more enlightened because you don’t watch TV anymore. I share it with people who inquire about it but I realize this path isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people watch plenty of TV and have successful and productive lives. I also think its important to not have hardline rules against watching TV. I occasionally turn it on to stay informed about international affairs. I’ve moved on for the most part though.
Cable TV became too expensive for my tastes. Now I’m too involved in my tastes to go back to it.
Greg Fields is a freelance writer who was born in West Texas, raised in Central California and lives in the Caribbean. He is currently studying for the Bar Exam.