Unplugging

I was reading the Hawaiian Libertarian archives, and came across this post on the media. It got me thinking about my own media consumption habits, which reminded me of this passage from CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape, a greater demon, advises a lesser demon on tempting a man:

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”.

The Screwtape Letters (which I’d heavily recommend reading) was written before TV became the dominant form of media consumption, but is an excellent description of what TV does.

I’ve was always more of a gamer, but years ago I would watch TV regularly. Often I found myself watching TV, but not enjoying it. I would watch shows that I didn’t find entertaining simply because I was too bored or lethargic to do anything better with my time.. I would stay up late watching crap or simply flipping through channels watching nothing in particular, neglecting my sleep, but not really having fun either.

Then, I moved into a friend’s house. He didn’t want to pay for cable and neither did I, so we went without. I found I didn’t miss TV at all. I would occasionally have a hankering to watch the Simpsons, but other than that I found there was no loss to my life or happiness, and I had more time for other things.

Now, I still watch some shows (such as Archer and Futurama), because sometimes I just need to lie down and relax for a few hours, without having to read or think too much.

But I only watch shows I have specifically downloaded or purchased on DVD. So, when I do watch TV, I only end up watching what I know I enjoy, so I never find myself wasting time on boring stuff.

I’ve been considering subscribing to Netflix as there’s a show or two on there I want to watch (Community and Arrested Development, specifically). My concern though, is with that much easy selection I might again be tempted to waste more time watching TV than I would like. So, I haven’t subscribed yet, but am considering it.

As for other media. I never listen to the radio anymore and haven’t since I got an MP3 player; I find the talk radio boring and music radio plays only crappy music (ie. non-metal).

I never really watched TV news; I found it was really hard to see through the bias to the deeper meanings at the speed of television and so many of the stories were complete wastes of time.

I did read newspapers regularly, but I’ve been trying to cut back. I still read newspapers as part of my job requires it, but I try to avoid it on my own time.

Keeping up with the news is mostly a waste of time and can actually be harmful. Nassim Taleb wrote about this in the Black Swan (another book I’d recommend); the best filter for news is what you hear from others and too much news can actually be harmful to your thinking as you become trapped in minutiae and narrative.

Besides, the news almost never changes, you can predict exactly what your average newspaper will have each day, all that changes is the details:

  • Local violent crime
  • Heartwarming human interest story
  • Political scandal
  • Political leaders debate bill to remove freedom
  • Middle East violence

If anything is novel enough to care about, you’ll learn about it from somewhere. If you really want to keep up, choose an aggregator, such as Instapundit, it will summarize the bigger stories without requiring much time.

The last form media is the internet; this is where most of my media attention goes. I try to read most of the sites on my blogroll fairly regularly, and I have no regrets about that.

What I do find is that it is very easy to waste time just clicking around doing nothing, rather than doing something more useful. Facebook, and political debates on there are especially bad for this. I find I can waste a lot of time debating useless politics with my friends. I enjoy it, usually, but it’s not really productive. I’ve been trying to post less in the last few weeks, and this blog is helping in that. When I can use the Lightning Round to make snide remarks and larger posts to talk about other interesting topics, I think I waste less time posting and debating things on FB, but it’s something I’m working on.

One other special difficulty is late night; it is very easy to continue to waste time, even when not really having fun or learning anything useful, rather than going to bed to get the sleep I need, but I’m trying to work on that. I did quite good in going to bed at a decent time for a few weeks when I first started trying primal living, but have started staying up late again in the last couple weeks. It’s something to work on.

In conclusion, some tips for readers: if you have cable, get rid of it; you probably won’t miss it. If you need to watch TV, use DVDs or downloads, possibly Netflix, so you can ensure you only watch TV you enjoy. Don’t read newspapers or try to keep up on the news, it’s an unproductive waste of time. Subscribe to an aggregator and/or follow a couple of blogs you like; you’ll get all the news that’s actually important. Try to go to bed on time; that important thing on the internet keeping you up, isn’t really that important.


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