Experiment No 23 – No Aimless TV
In this experiment I cut out my habit of filling time with Netflix and YouTube. No more unplanned TV, no watching while eating, no killing time with screens.
The main purpose is to discover what happens when I don’t have this crutch. But I also hope it will make my eating more mindful, lead to more reading, and trigger some insights about why we are so attracted to the most passive known type of entertainment.
This experiment begins October 18th, 2016 and ends November 17th.
10/18/16 – Day One
Already noticed an urge to watch YouTube instead of read this morning. I find when I wake up kind of cranky, often because I have something difficult on my to-do list that day, I want the total effortlessness and comfort of watching something first thing. But I left it off, picked up my book, and the urge went away almost immediately.
10/19/16 – Day Two
Well Day One was interesting. It was a fairly rough day, moodwise — not because of TV, but the inability to watch TV in response was actually kind of challenging. I just had to do something else. I cleaned a bit, did quite a bit more work, read my book a bit.
There were lots of moments when I would have normally watched something and I had to find something else to do. This felt weird and kind of strained at first, but after a minute or two of the non-TV alternative activity, the craving to watch was gone.
The day definitely had a different character. Slower, and more vivid, which at times made it harder. I felt like I had a lot of extra time, because I don’t pack screen-watching in around my breaks and “transition points” like mealtimes and beginning and ending work.
10/22/2016 – Day Five
I’m feeling really good about this experiment. It’s quite simple — I have an urge to turn on a show, often a response to indecisiveness about how to spend the next part of my day; I remember that’s not an option; I do something else, which often ends up being something fairly engaging and productive, like tidying something, doing some light work, going for a walk, reading a book.
I have watched a bit of “planned” TV though, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I decided to watch an episode of a show after I’d done all my work for the day, and it was lovely. I didn’t carry on with it after, just stopped, turned it all off and did something else. However, this is creating a bit of a gray area — what kinds of shows am I allowed to watch in this premeditated way, and how far ahead of time can I concoct a “plan” to watch something? I don’t know exactly, so I’m going to err on the side of not watching.
Life really feels quite different. Activities don’t bleed together anymore. I do one thing, then I stop doing it to do something else. Life feels cleaner somehow.
10/27/2016 – Day Ten
Well it’s certainly a lot easier now. There isn’t much temptation to watch anything, at least until I’m completely done all my work and responsibilities. The biggest benefit so far, I think, has been that I don’t stick little “YouTube breaks” in my workday. If lunch was at noon, and it was 11:52, I’d throw on a video, and that always leads to more. Often I would put on one before even beginning work, which is clearly a terrible idea.
Things have gotten a little fuzzy though with the gray area I mentioned last update — I really need to decide what counts as “planned” watching.
I have also noticed a bit of a “transfer addiction” to surfing Reddit. But I don’t easily pass hours this way, and it’s not something you can do in the background, I quite quickly feel annoyed with myself enough to stop before it’s a problem. But it does achieve the same effect as aimless TV — I find it relieves me from having to decide how to spend this next bit of time. So I will monitor it for that.
11/2/16 – Day Sixteen
Just a quick update — I’m in Ecuador right now, and so the normal temptation to put on a show isn’t there. So I don’t have much to report. When I conceived this experiment I thought it would be a good time to do it, because it would be easy to stay away from the screen while I’m traveling.
In hindsight this was kind of dumb, because the point isn’t just to watch TV but to recondition the home-based behavior of how I watch TV. So I’m not really learning anything. Oh well. I do have a TV in my room here but I have had no desire to turn it on. The remote is still in its plastic packaging.
11/21/16 – Day Thirty-five (The end)
Well the experiment flew by, definitely in part because I was away most of the time. This was a mistake in hindsight. But the changes I wanted to make did happen pretty quickly and effortlessly. It turns out TV wasn’t such a compelling addictive force for me as much as a bad habit.
So now that it’s over, do I plan to keep doing it?
Sort of. I do sometimes put something on in the background while I make dinner, but I realize I am actually quite engaged with it, and this isn’t the problem behavior I was trying to change. What I don’t do anymore is watch YouTube videos at any time before I’m done work for the day. I used to start with a kind of “morning show”, which was only 15 minutes long but then I’d start clicking around in the “Recommended” section and delay the start of my workday. This seems absurd now, and it was probably the worst of my screen-watching behavior.
I watch much less YouTube. I look at my subscription feed now and then and scroll past almost all of it. It has very little appeal now and I realize I was only watching it to delay the rest of my day.
I have been watching a few shows in the mean time (The Crown and Black Mirror) and really enjoying them. I seldom want to watch more than one episode at a time.
So much has changed in the past four weeks in terms of my attitude towards my time and my work (see my latest post for details) that it seems like a completely different person who spent so much time watching X-Files reruns and scrounging for another watchable YouTube video. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to that kind of behavior.
The experiment seems like a minor one, but something important has shifted. As I alluded to in the original post, latching on to aimless TV is a kind of existential escape hatch — it signals a need to delay or avoid the future. Certainly you can’t sink hours into lame TV while you’re simultaneously excited about your work or creative possibilities, because when you are there’s never enough time for it. And that’s how I feel now. I want to use my hours creating stuff, getting better at things, not just passing the time.