I think cable television service is going the way of the cassette tape.
Easy for someone to say, but cable has been around since just after World War II, if the ole’ Farmer’s Wikipedia is to be believed. I imagine cable as the grandpa of current technologies. It’s seen some things, it’s had its ups and downs, it’s changed over a lifetime, and it still serves as an entertainment and information staple in many households and, dare I say, a sort of media consumption role model for younger generations. But all things eventually pass, and cable is starting to look reeeeeeeally frail.
Case in point, my wife and I have never subscribed to a cable TV service, and we don’t miss it at all. We both had it at our parents’ homes before getting married, and decided that we’d try starting our household without it. We could always add it. Since then, we’ve only thought about it passively a handful of times, and have never really seriously considered it.
Why? Well, first of all, we don’t think we need it. Second, we’re very budget-minded people. Although we could afford it, the combination of being cheap and not having missed it much has kept it off our recurring fees list, and honestly, out of our minds. Also, I’m kind of keen on self-improvement, and it seems to me that most of what’s on cable is worthless anyway. Whatever your thoughts are on the quality of programming, I’ll bet you’ve said more than once in your life the classic cable phrase, “400 channels and nothing good on.” We just took it a step further and never paid for it.
And yet, we still consume popular media and watch screens (perhaps more than we should). Here’s what we do instead:
Internet Based Subscription Services
I had Amazon Prime throughout college for free/half price and it’s a service that I really enjoyed, so I kept it up after moving on. It’s a good service without the streaming video, but that’s a bonus. The subscription we watch most is definitely Netflix, which is what introduces us to most new content.
I passed on the following advice to someone else thinking about turning off their cable: if you have no other services, Netflix is the one to use. If you have Amazon Prime already, give it a try and see if there’s enough on there to sustain your entertainment wants. If you have Netflix and you’re considering Prime, I wouldn’t do it for the streaming. The streaming is a bonus on top of the free, speedy shipping. It’s a nice bonus, but I wouldn’t personally pay for it unless I planned on making use of the shipping benefits.
Which, yes, is a euphemism for gaming. I’m going to claim, with admittedly no scientific evidence in tow at all, that gaming is better for your brain than just watching something. It makes pretty rational sense to me — when you’re watching television or a movie, you’re just receiving the output of the program. When you’re gaming, you’re having to actively interpret those outputs and make corrective inputs of your own. It’s much more fulfilling to us to accomplish something in a game than to watch the antics of the Gilmore Girls for 3 hours.
There’s an added benefit here in that my wife and I tend to play games together. We’re interacting and working together more when we game than when we lay on opposite ends of the couch and watch TV. Again, we still have a few programs we follow or catch a movie together sometimes, but we probably game twice as much as we simply consume media.
Not to say cable TV precludes you from self-improvement any more than what we do for relaxing entertainment, but I’d rather spend 3 hours writing, reading, working on my website, or exercising than staring emptily at a show I’ve seen twice before. With subscription based, you’ll usually get through programming faster since there are no commercials, and most of the time there are clean breaks between episodes or titles that serve to remind you of the passage of time. Gaming has its mental limits too. Since you’ve got to be engaged enough to perform the inputs you’ll be more aware of when you’ve had enough.
With much of our entertainment coming from a computer rather than just a television, we can easily break off and write an article for the Yahoo! contributor network (hypothetically, of course), open up the books that we’re both working on writing and add some ideas, or since we’re seated upright in chairs and not laying sleepily on the couch, stand up and go do something.
It can be funny how strongly people hold on to old patterns of behavior. We live in Kansas and a recent severe storm knocked out our power for a few hours. We had been streaming weather news on our computers, so when the power went out we lost our feed. I fired up my smartphone to get some ongoing coverage and my wife called her mom to make sure we weren’t missing anything. Her mom used it as an opportunity to emphasize that this was why we needed cable.
Of course, she didn’t realize that you can’t plug a co-ax straight into your brain. No power. Our TV was out too. But it’s funny to me that our not having cable disturbs her at some level.
In part, it’s the mark of a new generation that has learned to be skeptical of many things. Entertainment is changing rapidly, and the internet has changed the world in tons of ways, media being one of them.
Cable TV may still have its place. There have been things that we’ve missed due to not having it. Even so, it was obviously not severely enough to make the call and sign up for service. Maybe the time is coming to put cable out to pasture.