Posted by PintofStout on March 15, 2006
Lately, I’ve been facing up to some of my addictions. Some of this is a result of trying to free myself more in my everyday life from the traps Harry Browne referred to in How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World and some has come from reading the psychology of Erich Fromm as mentioned earlier in a semi-coherent post (I keep meaning to rewrite that). Well, one addiction I’m fessing up to is to the boob tube. It was a difficult vice to pinpoint. The mainstream culture is a terrible enabler of boob, eh, tube addiction. Nothing is really done to limit television consumption in our culture because television is our culture. We are just empty vessels waiting to be filled up by advertising, talking heads, and buncombe galore. In such an atmosphere, it is quite difficult to realize a problem with television.
I first started to wonder about the problem when I saw a show about it on 20/20. (Just kidding). I’ve always known I was lazy – really, really lazy. When I kept a to-do list, I saw the amount of time I spent watching TV by what I didn’t accomplish on my list. I didn’t give up watching TV, but I considered getting a digital video recorder in order to consolidate the scattered TV-watching time into a nice efficient time slot whenever I had more time or less to do. This was likely a plan doomed to failure if it ever did come to fruition. I would probably have ended up increasing my viewing time significantly, instead of making it more efficient. But, alas, by the time Comcast made a DVR available in my area, I had convinced myself another solution was needed. This time it was driven by economics.
Every few months, I take a very close look at my finances. Some people would call that budgeting, but I think you actually have to follow the budget to consider it budgeting. (As a weird aside, whenever I feel stressed about the cash flow I usually follow up with spending more on less needed things. It must be something psychological. I act the opposite of what logic would dictate; spend more when I have less (or perceive to have less) and become more frugal when I feel pretty comfortable.) One of these times I was examining the finances, I was trying to find some extra cash for savings and paying off the debts. What I found under discretionary expenses, so to speak, (besides not actually going to work, which costs more than you think) were the cell phones (my wife and my only phone) and Cable television and internet. The cell phones would be missed and/or would have to be replaced with a land line. The land line would work much better at home than the cell phones, but a land line requires that I also have long distance. Living so close to the state line, distance has nothing to do the cost of such calls as to a neighbor down the street but across some imaginary line. When I consider the cost and utility of a cell compared to the cost and utility of a land line, the cell wins hands-down. Which brings me to cable.
The above explanation is, in my non-professional opinion, a rationalization; not for keeping cell phones, but for keeping cable. The economic explanation for keeping the same cable package (or keeping cable at all) has many similarities and overlaps with the land line/cell phone debate, telecommunications being what it is today. My options for reducing the cable bill include: ditching digital cable for basic and keeping broadband, ditching cable altogether and keeping broadband, and ditching cable and broadband altogether and using a land line for DSL. As I examine these options in concert with phone service, including VOIP, I always seem to talk myself into not changing anything. Basic cable is still rather expensive for substantially less channels. A phone line always seems to cost about the same – more than I’d expect for all the use it gets, and DSL is nearly as expensive as the cable internet. So I haven’t saved any money because I can’t let anything go. Isn’t that addiction?
The rationalization is sort of elaborate, but the bottom line is that I am convincing myself that I don’t need these things, but there is no economic benefit to dropping them. I continue to feel like I need to have something, and if I were to drop one service or level of service, like a junkie I’m immediately looking for the next pusher. If I drop digital cable I look to basic. If I drop cable altogether I look to Netflix. If I drop the cable internet, I look to DSL. I’ve even looked briefly into getting TV shows off the internet. Realistically, I could live without all this stuff, but the withdrawal would be brutal and temptation is everywhere. It is like the episode of Family Guy where Peter wrecks the satellite dishes for the town’s cable and starts to make his own entertainment. I have been completely boobified by the tube.
I hear the first step is realizing you have a problem. Now I just have to cope with getting rid of the problem. Maybe I should watch Oprah or Dr. Phil to see what I should next – right after Family Guy is over.