The entertainment factor

“Take your tattoo budget, buy a plane ticket, get off your ass and go somewhere. Get rid of your video games and stop entertaining yourself so much. Be self-reliant, bold, risky, conniving, ambitious, and most of all, curious. If you are too cool to be interested in things, then you have become boring. What is happening in your life right now is what matters. Don’t borrow money, just work more: Remember, everyone who wants you to be in debt is making money off you.”

— Katie Pell. 

In July, I read this quote in a San Antonio Current article about artist Katie Pell. The story originally caught my eye because of an image where she was posed on a surfboard and wave statue in front of Splashtown, a water park where I spent many of my childhood summers. The quote stuck out boldly from the rest of the article. Then it wouldn’t leave my mind. Her words hit hard, as if they were spoken directly to me, pointing out my flaws.

I have been known to spend too much time entertaining myself. I know it is a bad habit, but I love stories. I love spending my free time reading, or watching a TV series. There are many times I have thought, “I should go for a walk to see that sunset,” or  “I should go out tonight to practice my night photography,” but didn’t move because my couch potato inertia has already taken hold.

Then, to add insult to injury, I would reflect on my week and wonder why I felt as if I had no time to do anything. I would get frustrated at everything, except for my glaring bad habits. 

Not only do those bad habits cost in time wasted, but many of those habits cost money, too. I know people who can buy a $60 video game, spend 20-40 hours playing it, and have it completed in a week or two, never to pick it up again. Also, the resale value is extremely low — and don’t forget to factor in the initial cost of the gaming console. Cable television — a big time eater — can be $50, $100, or more per month, depending on the provider and number of channels selected.

Why are we pouring our time and money into these things? Sure, they are fun, but couldn’t we still get our entertainment craving met if we dramatically reduced how often we used them?

In addition, as far as forms of entertainment go, passive entertainment is the worst for the body. Actively entertaining oneself, such as dancing, or jogging, or playing sports, is much better for our health, provided we keep within our physical limits.  Those activities are doing something good for us, while also meeting our desire to have some fun.

Of course, well written stories can expand our intellect and knowledge of the world, but too often that is not the case. Many things available to watch these days are equivalent to the empty calorie, high fat foods placed in handy packaging for our convenience.

The experiment 

For the past few weeks, I have been turning off my TV for 2 to 3 day spans once a week. I have my entire entertainment console plugged into one power strip. After the devices shut down, I turn off the power strip, which saves a little more on electricity (the extra bonus is it turns off all those glowing lights that devices have nowadays).

Results

With the exception of laundry days, which use a lot of electricity, turning off the TV has cut my Per Diem energy consumption in half.

In our small, one bedroom apartment,  when the TV is on we will use about 10 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day. When the TV is off, it hovers around 5 kWh. If I continue to turn off the TV just two nights a week, I will have reduced energy consumption by 520 kWh in a year.

The current rate for electricity in my area is $.14 per kWh, which would amount to saving $73 in a year. Depending on the fuel used to create the electricity, (I cannot find the source on my bill) in twelve months, I would save about 520 pounds of coal, or 520,000 cubic feet of gas, or 41.5 gallons of oil (amounts calculated from the U.S. Energy Information Administration website).

However, the most remarkable saving is time.  According to Nielson Ratings, in 2011 the average amount Americans spend watching broadcast TV per day is just over 5 hours. Watching recordings on DVR, DVDs, playing video games, or using the computer wasn’t included.

Sadly, I can believe it. I have easily spent hours in front of the TV at one sitting, many times. Plus, with the advent of things such as DVR, where we can record broadcast TV, and online streaming, such as Hulu and Netflix, we now are not tied to a fixed broadcast schedule. We can watch as much TV as we want, when we want.

I can get addicted to a TV show and will stream one episode after another, caught up in the story — I once disappeared for a month watching 7 seasons of Doctor Who.  But, shouldn’t I get a reprieve for a show that awesome? No. Instead, if I had paced my viewing, only watching a couple episodes per day and turned off the TV two times a week, I would still have new episodes to watch and not have to wait four months for the next season. The responsibility lies upon us.

Five hours a day is 30 percent of a person’s waking hours, if they sleep 8 hours a night. By turning off the tube two nights a week, I am freeing up 520 hours of my life, every year. That amounts to about 21.5 days.  The amount of time is staggering.

Perspective

Television, the internet, smart phones — all of those tantalizing devices are great. But we need to remember that they are just tools, tools we can use to navigate our world.  Limiting the use of the glowing rectangles is important for our sanity, health and stress levels. Exercise is needed everyday, it aids digestion, circulation, weight management, and more. The best course is to shift the use of devices to be a productive, healthy part of our lives.  All things in moderation.

What do you do? 

What are some things you do to limit the amount of TV you watch? Or the amount of potentially unhealthy entertainment in your life? Please tell me in the comments.

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