February 1, 2010

Is it still pompous to announce, ‘I don’t have a TV’?

David SparkWe’ve all had this moment. You want to talk to a friend about some great TV program you just saw. Instead of engaging or heeding your recommendation they simply announce, “I don’t have a TV.”

We all know where that conversation leads. Either they’re considerate and just let it go. But more often they tell you with a wave of their hand, “All television sucks” and/or that will be followed up with the declarative statement, “I read.” It’s impossible for this whole episode to go down without the non-TV owner coming off as incredibly pompous and you being resentful and condescended to.

There are tons of things I don’t have. I never feel compelled to publicly announce to people what I don’t have. Why do people who don’t have a television feel compelled to publicly announce that they don’t have one?

Why can we proudly announce we don’t watch TV, yet nothing else?

Next time someone recommends a good book, go ahead and say, “I don’t read books…Everything written sucks.”

Next time someone recommends an exhibit at a museum, go ahead and say, “I don’t go to museums…All art and history suck.”

Next time someone recommends a new album, go ahead and say, “I don’t own a stereo…All music sucks.”

Why can’t we say that? Just like there’s plenty of bad TV, there’s plenty of bad music and poorly written books and bad art.

The reason is TV’s branding has been poor for decades. We happily call it “the idiot box” and “the boob tube.” While we may deride certain categories of music, books, and art, we haven’t collectively denigrated all the output of a single media.

With the Internet it’s now possible to announce “I don’t have a TV” and not be arrogant

Today, if someone announces, “I don’t have a computer…Everything on the Internet sucks,” you feel sorry for them. Good luck trying to belittle someone with that statement. With that admission you set yourself up for exclusion. “Yeah, we’d like to invite you, but you’re not online.”

The Internet has become such a massive distribution platform of all media that the need for a traditional TV may no longer be necessary. Yes, TV-Internet convergence has been going on for more than a dozen years, but that viewing experience is becoming more personalized. Instead of being a self-important Luddite by announcing, “I don’t have a TV,” you can appear as a forward thinking consumer by announcing, “I don’t need a TV.”

Just as mobile phones can supplant landline phones, where many people don’t need a landline phone, it’s possible the iPad could be a substitution for many media devices. As soon as the Adobe-Apple Flash debate resolves itself, you may hear people saying, “I don’t have a TV, stereo, or books, I have an iPad.”

So you never owned a TV?

I’m sure there are people reading this who for years have not had a television and they don’t believe that they’re being pompous when they tell people they don’t have a TV. I know you don’t believe you were sounding self-righteous, but you were. And I feel I can say that with some level of assurance, never having met you. Because unless you were poor or homeless, it’s been very difficult to say, “I don’t have a TV” and not come off as a pompous ass.

Today with ubiquitous video on the Internet, you can probably get away with it, and often be admired. Still, it’s best not to be confrontational.

Next time someone recommends you watch a certain show, instead of responding, “I don’t have a TV,” just say, “OK,” and then ignore their advice. It’s exactly what I do when people tell me, “You HAVE to read this book.” It’s far more polite than saying, “Reading is stupid.”

Creative Commons photo credit Robert Scoble / CC BY 2.0

David Spark, a partner in Socialmedia.biz, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • Hehe! Good post. I actually have a TV but never watch it. Indeed “I don’t need a TV” is a good answer and I guess more and more people will come to that conclusion with the digitalization/convergence of all media. Seems the next bet from the TV set producers to counter that will be 3D. Will be interesting to see whether that works for more than a niche audience.

  • Tom

    But I don't have a TV. When I am put in this situation, just nodding and humoring someone is worse. Sure, I have tried humoring people when they recommend a show, but then they ask about what I do watch. It looks even worse and is more painful when, after half a conversation of humoring them, you have to admit you don't have a TV. Then the person feels that much worse, as they just blabbered on about what you were only pretending to be interested in.

    As a member of the Nickelodeon generation myself, my reasons for not having a TV have much more to do with resentment towards TV networks. Books do not market products (tipically). Art museums do not promote childhood obesity. History museums do not give giants amount of airtime to people like Bil O'Reilly.

    TV had a firm hold on my generation for half my life, and it squeezed us for every penny they could get from us no matter how evil the results were (remember what TRL did to music?). I am happy other more interactive media opportunities have come around to save future generations from having to feel like lame wads because their families can't afford to go to Universal Studios in Orlando Florida. I am glad kids might not grow up thinking Pizza Rolls are the same as food.

    So I'm sorry you feel like I am being condescending by not having a TV. Maybe you should really be looking at why you are so self-conscious when others say they don't have TVs. I do have a right not to have a TV, and I have a right not to have to lie to people about that fact.

    • I like your defense. It's rough to be in a world where everyone has a TV and you don't for aggravation of how it dominated your life previously. Understood. And you have made valiant efforts to try to make everyone in the room not uncomfortable with you not owning a TV. I commend you on that.

      I'm not suggesting you or others lie about the fact. In fact, the argument in this piece is that today you may be commended or seen as a media leader for not owning a TV. You're on the cutting edge, an early adopter of new media consumption if you will. But prior to the world of Internet-TV convergence, this became a rather strong annoyance to the recipients. I appreciate all you did to not make it that way. But my question is when did you become a non-TV owner? Is it recent or has it been going on for more than a dozen years. If the former then you're a member of the advanced media consuming generation.

      And yes, we can create examples of bad TV (as you have done) as we can create examples of what's wrong with all other media. But having a long history of not owning a TV is shunning the entire medium just because you hate Bill O'Reilly. Then again, today many consider it hip to not own a TV. So where do you lie? Are you hip or one who wipes away the whole medium for a few bad eggs or Pizza Rolls?

  • Bart H.

    Nice article, David. And yes, I completely agree with you. It always irked me a little when I heard that phrase, since television is just a medium for telling stories. It's unfair to judge the story by the medium. And of course, if someone decries the internet, I always have the option of loudly screaming “Luddite” while pointing to them and snapping a shocked photo of their mug with my iPhone which I will post to Flickr and later retweet. (ok, to be fair… I don't have an iPhone. But trust me… it's financial and not at all based on an aversion to Macs)

  • I love this dialogue.

  • Ironically a woman just wrote an article for the SFGate called “Family Life Without a TV.” She addresses many of the issues here and there's TON of discussion going on. Give it a read and participate. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfmoms/detail

  • Elsa

    Here's been my dividing line: it's hard to not sound like an asshole if I say, ” I don't watch TV”. So I've generally said ” I don't have a TV”.
    Hopefully I sound deprived or kooky but not superior.
    I try to not tell others the reasons why if I can help it because I get blank stares.
    It's not just what's on that we're watching, but what's on that no-one is paying attention to. I think it's creepy to just have the TV on for background noise, to comfort us or to drug children into sleeping.
    Oddly, people try to give me TVs at least once a year; no one has ever tried to give me a computer.

    If people do ask why, I say because TV shows me what they want me to see and my computer shows me what I want to see”. I realize that is not strictly true these days when TV is more postmodern and cynical then the past. Also, we are now closer to the demographic to be pandered to (adults with jobs, heads of households, young adults with disposable income, young parents etc), so programming is more skewed to tastes similar to mine then say in 1989.
    That being said, I see no reason why I have to be a captive audience to anyone's advertising any more than the constant saturation you get walking to the bus stop.
    I'll watch the worst crap on TV with my mouth hanging open given the opportunity. It's better if I don't give myself the option of pissing away any more time on something passive-I sometimes zone out with netflix movies after work.
    At this point I just want to limit my exposure to all the frantic activity and ad frenzy when I'm home relaxing.
    Great discussion, interesting.

  • belltown

    I say I don't have a TV all the time. I grew up without one.

    That doesn't mean in any way shape or form I don't *watch* TV. I love the medium! I watch the shows I like online. I write spec scripts as a hobby. I took a tv writing class in college. I follow my favourite showrunners on Twitter.

    The only reason I say 'I don't have a TV', is to let the person whom I'm in a conversation with know that I didn't catch the broadcast. I didn't catch House at 8 or Bones at 10 or whatever – so no, I haven't seen yet how adorable Boreanaz was in that suit or what a great actor Hugh Laurie was in whatever scene. But I will!

    And no, I don't think it sounds pompous whatsoever.

  • Interesting to note that the people who are defending the phrase “I don't watch TV” as not being pompous are the ones saying it. The people who are the recipients of that line have historically felt that it's pompous (again, I argue that's changing).

    It's easy to claim that something is not pompous if you're the one saying it. It's a totally different story if you're the one hearing it.

  • If you are proud of not owning a television, yet watch TV shows on Netflix or Hulu, it seems pompous to me. If you don't have a TV and don't watch TV shows, go ahead and say you don't have a TV and hate television — we're all different. I guess I'm 180 degrees from your point, David.

    I have issues with NetFlix because of their online popup ads that evade popup blockers, so I'd rather DVR my shows and fast-forward through the commercials. Also, kids can get plenty of exposure to unaffordable vacation ads and unhealthy consumables in the right-hand and banner ads on pretty much every site. The Internet is more active to consume than TV, but in my opinion it is not inherently better or less invidious.