Everyday Words

No Television

May 29, 2008

I didn’t grow up with a television and have never owned one as an adult. The reason for this is quite simple: I’m very guarded about what comes into my life because if I’m not, the wrong things can easily take over.

For example, a few years ago my friend, who also had always lacked a television, and I had a girly weekend at the Ritz in Los Angeles – Club Level. At our disposal was a spa, swimming pool, trails, bikes, and privy to Club Level, a lounge with several (free) food servings each day. We had a sprawling two-room suite with an amazing balcony that had an unbelievable view. And in our room were two of the largest Sony televisions we had ever seen.

Since we’d both gone without TV, we turned one on and showing was the story of a 500lb man on the Discovery Channel. We. Could. Not. Stop. Watching. We said during commercials we’d go out once the show was over but that didn’t happen. For the two tonne twins came up after that. And after that was some other show on obesity.

After three hours I turned off the tv as with both laid lifeless on the bed.

“Do you want to ride bikes now?” I asked.

“No, I don’t feel like it. What about swimming?”

“I can’t get into my bikini! I feel fat!”

We had become so absorbed by other peoples lives that we were unable to lead our own despite the fact we were in one of the most incredible settings for the sole purpose of having fun.

So that is why there is a lack of TV in my home and always has been. This has, at times in certain groups, made me somewhat of a social outcast in America since so many references and inside jokes seem to be TV lines (it was only a year ago thanks to YouTube I got the whole “No soup for you” thing). But I get away with not knowing a lot because I didn’t grow up in America and because I actually know more than I should by paying attention to all the conversations that people have about pop culture (I can tell you a surprising about of random TV facts).

The point is, I’ve managed really well without TV in a TV world. Then I realised that my TV was the Internet and that was bombarding me and my subconscious far too much without any useful benefit. It was, instead of me feeling inspired and creative, was making me feel like I was watching bad television and feeling unfit to do anything about it afterwards.

Since being online since 1995 I’ve seen all the trends of the web world and have been a part of a lot of them. I’ve been web famous several times (it comes and goes), created lots of communities, hung out with the geeks, the cool kids and followed all the web pages, news and dish that’s gone along with it.

It wasn’t until over a year ago that I began to really question the internet and how it affected me. The internet and I were in one of those tumultuous relationships where we’d break up then makeup with fervor. We were codependent yet I’d never thought to ask why since I figured it had to be in my life – since most of it seemed to have replaced my life.

But last year I was recruited by a company to build community for its sites by writing content and connect people I knew (writers, artists, leaders in their industries) to the sites. I was suspicious but not enough to say no; I loved a challenge, I loved the idea of doing what I did on a bigger scale and I loved the idea more of helping people I knew get more exposure.

However I quickly learned that the company was more about page count than useful content. They wanted to be the “biggest distributer of content” on the internet – even if it was (by their own admission) very bad content. They wanted page views and sign ups which in my opinion, is not community. It didn’t get people helping people and it didn’t get people living life. IAnd in my efforts I was being asked to abuse personal and professional relationships that took me years to develop for their sites and gain but not for that of the writers or the community. Instead of being a voice of service in verticals I was passionate about and helping people I knew gain exposure, I quickly became a high-paid talent manager for bad sites and disgruntled friends.

After a lot of internal discussion to get my job to be like the actual job description I wrote when I agreed to come on and the company doing everything they could to keep me from doing that description, I realised that the company didn’t work the way I did and I had to quit.

And that left me to wonder, where in the web world do I belong?

I had, at this time, also joined a few social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. It was easy to develop connections on these sites without publicly mentioning I was on any of them. I truly thought it’d be a great way to connect with friends, learn about people, and find another job.

What I quickly realised, however, was that these “social networking” tools are more for complaining or marketing. They don’t really connect people. They give people the false sense of connection, of community but I believe the human spirit can’t be transmitted via a few www characters and so something goes personally unfilled. But we don’t know what so we try doing more on the web because it’s like the new drug only you can’t escape it. Being on it isn’t really a choice nowadays, is it?

But I decided to test my networks. After all, I had put years of helping people on the web, connecting people to jobs, to friends, to this and that. But when I put out a call our for help, hardly anything came back. I tried to figure out why and saw that some friends had 1000 friends – of course my message was getting lost. And if it was getting lost then there wasn’t communicating going on – just direct marketing.

At this time, more and more friends started to use these tools and as a result, I began to like people less and less. All of a sudden I knew the exact moment they were happy! Sad! In a meeting! Out of a meeting! Depressed! Dumped! Eating cake! And on and on. I began knowing so many useless things about people that I felt I didn’t know how to talk to them (how do you call to ask, “How are you?” when Facebook just told you 5 minutes ago?).

Then, the marketing came. It was bad when it was strangers doing it but when friends started to tell me about every blog update, every site update, every sale, everything in their life I should go pay attention to right now – it was too much. And I had to decide how much did I want to know about my friends in order for me to want to remain their friend?

I realised that, like with the TV, my life had become too absorbed by useless things on the internet. That the reasons why I loved it (sharing information, getting people off their asses to do things, really connecting) were not the reasons why I was on it and the tools I was using was not supporting this either. I had to cut the fat which can be a rather tricky thing to do.

I can’t eat gluten – a protein found in almost all foods. It sucks because I adore food. I specifically adore baked goods and gluten is in flour. So when my bff at the time (over a year and a half ago) began to constantly Twitter about all the food she ate and had nothing but food on her Flickr, I had to remove her. I just couldn’t take reading and looking at food that I couldn’t have anything to do with. She took my virtual removal to mean real one and I haven’t heard from her since.

With this round of removals from social networking sites I wonder if people will be personally offended if I don’t know what they ate for lunch even though I send them a handwritten note often. I wonder if my BFF will think I’m not vested in her because I didn’t see her Facebook photos even though I’m at her house every week. I wonder if I’ll seem unhip to hire because even though I believe in the power of the internet and connecting people with information and experiences online, I want people to use all that to connect fully offline. And like TV, I still talk to people about it all and pay attention to what’s going on, even if I don’t tweet about it all.

I have done better, I believe, without having a TV. I’m hoping the same will be true with the reduction of “social networking” and keeping myself in check with how I use it. Because the internet, like TV, isn’t bad, evil or soul-destroying. It’s a tool that can be used either for building or destroying. It just depends on what you do with it.