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The White Dot

What happens when you turn off the TV—and tune into life?

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Ah, fond memories. I have a clear one of young curly-headed me standing in front of the old family TV, turning it on and off just so I could see how the picture got reduced to a tiny white dot that buzzed with fury before surrendering to the dark, blank screen. On-off. On-off. Hello Gilligan’s Island, good-bye Gilligan’s Island. Hello Star Trek, good-bye Star Trek.

Maybe that experience—my fondness for seeing the screen go blank—is what started all of this. One day, a decade ago, the TV went off, and for all intents and purposes, I haven’t turned it on since. I didn’t decide to go without TV for some high purpose; no, it was just serendipity. I’d moved to a new house in northern Colorado that didn’t get TV reception, and I didn’t bother to remedy it because I had an infant, and I was harried and tired and broke, and I didn’t want to climb up on the roof and put up an antenna, and I didn’t want to pay for cable. After about a month, I realized—and I’m sorry to sound so puritanically sweet about this, but it’s true—that my life was functioning better. I was happier, healthier. I had more time, got more sleep.

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To my mind, this past decade has been sweet, quiet, and full. Plus I’ve gained a whole year of my (yes, precious and singular) short life. According to recent research, unlike the average women in my age group, I’ve saved myself about two hours and 30 minutes a day, or a total of 38 days per year. That means that in the past 10 years I haven’t spent close to 400 days in front of a box. And I don’t regret a minute of it.

But that is not the whole truth. To be honest, I must admit to a few things. One is that my gym has a TV, which is always on, and it’s hard to look away from it without getting a neck cramp, so I am aware that Katie Couric looks like she did 10 years ago. On top of that, I do own a TV; it was given to me by my brother, who feels sorry for me and my “back-asswards life,” and feels sorry for my kids, who are being raised in such a way that “goes back in time, not forward, you idiot.” On this TV, my kids watch movies. And a couple of times a year, I curl up on the uncomfortable kids’ couch, littered with their popcorn and pointy toys, and I watch a movie with my husband.

But despite these transgressions, somewhere in the past decade—I don’t remember when exactly—I became what I call a White Dotter. Which means somehow ethics and ideals got involved, and I became philosophically opposed to TV, for the same reason I’m opposed to ironing: It’s a waste of precious time.

Simply, I came to this snarky conclusion: Life is short, and I didn’t want to waste any of it, and I’ve never heard of anyone living fully and with awareness while being transfixed in front of a box. I also had children, and I didn’t want them wasting their lives either, or viewing commercials for crap they didn’t need, such as irons.

But lately I’m starting to wonder. For one thing, I’m getting older, and my brain is tired at night. I don’t want to read; my brain is too exhausted to work; and Scrabble is losing its appeal. Also, what about The Colbert Report? I hear it’s very funny. The Olympics? I heard the opening ceremony was fabulous. The State of the Union Address? The last one was historic; this next one might be pretty interesting, too.

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So the other evening, after the kids were tucked in, I asked my husband, “Hey, husband? How does one go about getting TV reception these days? I mean, do I need one of those boxes, or do we need a new TV, or what?”

He eyed me with suspicion. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“Well, have you ever wanted TV reception?”

“No.” He chewed on his sandwich and went back to reading the newspaper.

“You know,” I said, waiting for him to glance back up at me. “It might be nice. For example, tonight. It’s 8:30 and I have a few hours.” I shrugged, indicating the open time in front of me with a gesture of my hands.

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“Well, Laura, go for it.” He sounded sweet and sincere, but clearly was going to remain uninvolved.

“Maybe I’ll go lie down in bed and think about it.”

“OK,” he said, swallowing. “I’m going to go read the paper.”

I wandered into my bedroom and flopped onto my bed. To get TV or not to get TV, that was the question. Instead, I found myself daydreaming. Then I watched the sky darken and the stars come out. Then I thought about my day, and the kids, and how my daughter has a few more freckles on her nose, and my son has, for the first time, “fallen in love, and it’s terrible, Mom, like a disease.” Then I thought about the things that had made me laugh that day. Then I daydreamed some more. I watched the stars brighten and become sharp against the sky. I was happy. My husband came to bed, and, well, I’ll leave it at that. Then I got up, brushed my teeth, and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning with a very clear thought: I don’t want a TV after all. I don’t think I’ve missed many memorable, life-sustaining moments of programming in the past 10 years. On the other hand, I’ve gained quite a lot, even if it’s as simple as watching stars, those bright white dots in the sky.

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Laura Pritchett is a contributing editor to 5280 and writes the “Notes from the Front Range” column for the magazine. E-mail her at [email protected]. For more information on turning off your TV, visit www.whitedot.org.

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