September 4, 2008

Out There: People Who Live Without TV

For many Americans the thought of life without TV is akin to
forgoing food, shelter or, God forbid, the Internet. But about 1 to 2 percent
of Americans do abstain from the boob tube, and they might seem like strange

A recent study of those who live without found that about
two-thirds fall into either the "crunchy granola set" or the
"religious right, ultraconservative" camp, said researcher Marina
Krcmar, a professor of communication at North Carolina's Wake Forest
University. Krcmar interviewed 120 people from 62
different households who do not watch television, as well as 92 people from 35
households with TV, and described her findings in a new book, "Living
Without the Screen" (Routledge, 2008).

Aversion to television,
it turns out, is a common ground for the very liberal and the very

"I interviewed one guy who was 31, single, an artist
living in Boston, who saw himself as countercultural," Krcmar told LiveScience. "The next day I had an
interview with a religious woman with ten children who lived in the Midwest.
These people seem like they would disagree about almost everything, but if you
ask them about television the things that came out of their mouths were almost

Why do people give it

Krcmar herself lives on the dark side, having given up
television about 13 years ago.

"It's just something I don't want in the home - it's a
perpetual annoyance, like a gnat," she said.

The motivations for most people who abandon TV fall into
three categories, Krcmar found.

Some give it up to avoid exposing their families to the
excessive sex,
violence, and consumerism
they feel are promoted onscreen. Others object to
the medium itself, claiming television intrudes too much into their lives,
interferes with conversation and takes time away from the family. Finally, some
people have a beef with the power and values of the television industry and
don't want its influence in their homes.

In contrast to the average American adult, who watches three
hours of television a day, non-watchers fill their time with a plethora of

"Non-viewers had a greater variety of things that they
did with their free time than viewers did," Krcmar said. "It's not
just that they were reading instead of watching TV. They were hiking and
biking, and going to community meetings and visiting with friends. Overall,
they tend to do more of everything."

Are they right?

Science does in fact support many non-watchers' worst fears
about TV.

"The research tends to show that increased exposure to
television and violence results in greater
aggression in children
," Krcmar said. "That's a pretty consistent

Though not all children become more violent, and everyone
reacts uniquely, it's fair to say that what we watch affects us.

When parents did cut television out of their homes, they
reported that their kids didn't bug them as much for junk food and toys
advertised on TV. They also said giving up television made their children
easier to manage.

"It's sort of counter-intuitive, because people think
their kids would drive them nuts without TV," Krcmar said. "But
parents found that kids became very good at entertaining themselves and didn't
need to be entertained all the time by something that was lively and active.
They didn't complain about being bored."

Downsides of life
without TV

People who had relinquished television didn't report too
many downsides. Most felt satisfied getting their news from newspapers and
radio, and while some people said they felt less connected to pop culture,
"many adults noted that as a point of pride," Krcmar said.

Even most kids in non-watching households seemed to agree
with their parents that they were better off without the reviled medium, though
a number of kids around ages 10 to 13 said they resented feeling left out when
other kids talk about shows and actors on television. By the time they reached
later adolescence around age 14 and 15, though, most had come full circle and
said they didn't really like TV and didn't mind doing without.

For those who want to experience some of the benefits of
life without the tube, but don't feel ready to go cold turkey, Krcmar said she
thinks good things can come just by setting limits.

"I think you can have the benefits just by having kids
watch less television," she said. "Be selective about content. You
don't go to a restaurant and let them eat anything on the menu. Instead you say
choose something that's healthy that you would enjoy."

A similarly restrained approach to TV could go a long way
toward protecting kids from the downsides of TV.