Whenever I end up playing the “tell a surprising fact about yourself” game, I have one up my sleeve that is guaranteed to shock those who don’t already know it.
I grew up without a television.
I don’t know quite why this is viewed as so unusual, but it always gets a reaction. I don’t think my parents realized when they made the decision to get rid of their TV that it would be viewed as the defining fact of my identity by my peers for the first ten-or-so years of my life.
For them, it was as simple as realizing that they were spending more time watching the thing than talking to each other, and that, with their first baby on the way, they wanted to be in a house where people spent time together. Some people might view getting rid of it entirely as something of a nuclear option, but my parents aren’t ones to do things by halves.
We were never short of entertainment
In fairly short order, my parents supplied me with three younger sisters (despite my insistence that what I really wanted was a rabbit or perhaps an older brother) so I was never short of playmates.
My parents built up an extraordinarily large collection of books at home, and Dad read stories to us almost every night. Dad, in a show of fatherly devotion that astounds me now, read every book we had or wanted to have before we did. This wasn’t in an attempt to censor our intake but instead grew from a desire to know what issues we were facing and what questions we should be asking. For example, if the book I was currently reading contained characters who died, it might be time to have some serious conversations. With a television, this level of awareness would have been far less viable. He did, however, give up that practice around the time that I started reading books based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.
Despite the wide array of alternate activities available to me, there were definite downsides to not having a television
I was often left out of conversations at school, as I never had any clue what was going on in EastEnders, etc. It was something which made me different, which meant that the kids in my class, being kids, picked up on it as something that I could be bullied for.
There are certain types of cultural references that I just don’t get. I haven’t seen all the Simpsons episodes, I’ve never seen an episode of Family Guy, and I probably don’t remember your favourite children’s television show.
More seriously, I have an embarrassingly poor knowledge of geography, and a very sketchy grasp of current affairs from when I was little. I’ve only recently put two and two together to realize that all those who grew up watching the news every day have a significant advantage over me on these points.
However, I don’t regret that we didn’t have a television
For one thing, I think not being exposed to constant advertising and in particular not being flooded with gender stereotypes had an impact on our education. The four girls who grew up in that household all studied maths or sciences at university (although there are obvious environmental and genetic factors here too — my mum and dad met whilst studying maths).
It also taught me to actively choose what I put into my brain. When I was a young teenager we did get a computer with a DVD player (what luxury!), but every time I watched a film or television episode it was because it was something I had selected from the cupboard that I wanted to watch. It was never just what happened to be floating on the airwaves at the moment we got in from school.
As an adult I have spent time with my husband’s family watching sport (Formula One, cricket, and tennis are all popular in his house), and I love the communal atmosphere of this. It can be a great way of spending time together.
My husband and I don’t have a television in our home, although that’s not from any particular militant position against the idea. A little while ago he did choose to pay the license fee because he wanted to stream the Tour de France live on his computer whilst he worked.
Perhaps one day we will acquire a television, but probably not today. I don’t really feel that we need one.