"I don't have a T.V." isn't such a signal anymore….

By Razib Khan | May 4, 2011 1:08 am

So I last had cable television in August of 2004. By the the summer of 2005 we’d phased out the television, period. I became the “well, I don’t have a television….” guy. This causes some issues. I am somewhat spotty in my pop culture awareness. And it’s getting worse and worse the further I am from my television days (though I think I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns in gains of pop culture ignorance over the past few years; there’s only so much crap you can forget!). When I was on vacation recently I naturally turned on the television to see what commercials I missed. There’s a lot of clever stuff out there! I was totally amazed by the Kia Soul Hamster commercial, and was thinking about blogging it, before being told that it was old news. I have a similar issue with video games, which I’ve avoided since adolescence because of the opportunity cost of playing. They’re starting to become so awesome that I have a hard time understanding what I’m seeing on the screen at the electronics store.

But things are changing. The rest of the world is slowly catching up, and I’m falling back toward them. Ownership of TV Sets Falls in U.S.:

The Nielsen Company, which takes TV set ownership into account when it produces ratings, will tell television networks and advertisers on Tuesday that 96.7 percent of American households now own sets, down from 98.9 percent previously.

There are two reasons for the decline, according to Nielsen. One is poverty: some low-income households no longer own TV sets, most likely because they cannot afford new digital sets and antennas.

The other is technological wizardry: young people who have grown up with laptops in their hands instead of remote controls are opting not to buy TV sets when they graduate from college or enter the work force, at least not at first. Instead, they are subsisting on a diet of television shows and movies from the Internet.

I can attest to the change over the past half a dozen years. Back in the mid-2000s not having a television could be a pretentious signal. Either that you were a proto-hipster, or made rational calculations about time utilization to maintain and build human capital over the long term (in short, I get to read a lot more if I don’t have a television or gaming system in the house). Today most people assume that you watch television on the computer. I’ll cop to doing so. I do think that there is a difference insofar as I haven’t gotten back into the “appointment television” habit. There are a few shows which I’ll watch regularly, which basically means South Park and Jersey Shore, but even then I will delay viewing in line with my schedule and just watch a bunch of episodes in “batches.” And of course I have a Netflix account which I use purely to view stuff online..

I suspect pretty soon “I don’t have a T.V.” will be not even relevant. As in less than 5 years. Since there’s no way I’m getting rid of the computer, I guess that’s that.

MORE ABOUT: Television
  • Charles Nydorf

    My first TV was a hand-me-down black and white Zenith. I never got cable but I did keep the set until the early ’90’s. By then picture quality was so degraded that it had to be thrown out. The empty space it left proved useful for storing books so I never replaced it. I wonder how people find the time to watch.

  • Scott

    “I suspect pretty soon “I don’t have a T.V.” will be not even relevant. As in less than 5 years. Since there’s no way I’m getting rid of the computer, I guess that’s that.”

    Also, the line between “TV” and “computer” will be blurred. Already, people are using their flat screen TVs as computer monitors. And I’m pretty sure you can already buy TVs that access the internet (I’m not tech-savy enough to know much about these).

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    The first time I saw that Kia Soul commercial I totally flipped my shit.

  • AG

    I hardly watch TV any more. So I called cable co to have internet only. They decided to cut my cable cost in half and keep every thing same. Well, I still do not watch much. I guess I got bargain for nothing.

  • Scott

    Yeah, I don’t have a TV and don’t plan on getting one. I just download the few shows that I watch regularly.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    Yeah, I don’t own one either. Too expensive.

    I suspect Internet access is the new television.

  • http://lovelettersinhell.blogspot.com Amanda

    We have a giant, crisp tv, primarily for Duke basketball season. Most of the rest of the time, it just… sits there, unless we feel like watching jeopardy or catching up on how i met your mother (and now, game of thrones!).

  • Emma B. ,Chicago, IL.

    The cord cutting movement is alive and well. Only a few shorts years ago, I remember looking forward to going to Blockbuster to get a new release movie and just browse. Not anymore. I have recently begun getting almost all my TV online through a service at the TVDevo website. It’s so much easier and there is tons more available to watch than on cable tv.

  • pconroy

    I mostly have a TV to watch just one thing, the BBC News – as all US News is US-centric and censored!

    A few times a week I’ll watch Comedy Central – Daily Show, Colbert Report, Tosh.o – and that’s about it.

    I’ve never watched a single minute of any soap operas – Sopranos, Scrubs – or any Reality stuff – Jersey Shore, Lost,…

    The only other thing I watch is World Cup Soccer and the occasional English, Italian or Spanish league game.

    I’ve seen one movie in the cinema in the last 7 years – the Social Network. I never watch movies on TV.

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    I’m going to be the lone dissenter here and say I have a huge TV and I watch it every day. AND WHAT?!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I’m going to be the lone dissenter here and say I have a huge TV and I watch it every day

    yeah, anyone reading your twitter would know that :-)

  • Robert

    “One is poverty: some low-income households no longer own TV sets, most likely because they cannot afford new digital sets and antennas.”

    I dunno about that. I use a $25 Ratshack antenna (although I should have gone for a $19.95 model) and paid like $35 for a used Channel Master converter box. There are plenty of “free for pickup” ads for old CRT based TV’s on Craigslist too nowadays, and a new Roku box is only $60.

  • Chris

    I absolutely hate that Kia commercial. I thought they were rapping rats, not soul hamsters. I want to throw my TV out the window every time that is on.

    Although could #3 EcoPhysioMichelle clarify if she likes it or not. I’m not sure if flipping one’s own shit is a good or a bad thing.

  • Matt B.

    NBC seemed to be setting themselves up for a transition from broadcast to internet way back in the mid 90s when they started iNBC.com. They got a little sidetracked, but I think Hulu was the fulfillment. I have a friend who works for Comcast and says if he didn’t get cable for free he’d get rid of it and watch all TV on Hulu.

    Maybe TV will go away so soon that I won’t have to replace my (gasp!) non-HD, non-3D TV. (I also still have and use an 8-bit Nintendo from 1986.)

  • dave chamberlin

    John Hawks made a point a while back that you can read nine times faster than listen to the same message. It was a bit of a epiphany for me, for years I’ve hated speeches, lectures and TV talking heads and I didn’t know why, turns out they are just too slow. Reading is fast forwarding conversation without missing anything.

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    It is an intentionally ambiguous phrase. I like the commercial. But then, I’m pretty easy when it comes to anthropomorphized rodents.

  • pconroy


    I’m the same, most TV and movies are just painstakingly slow for my liking. When I watch a suspense movie or thriller, I’ve the plot figured out in the first 15 minutes, then must wait for another hour to find out that I was right?! While people around me are oohing and aahing. I’m known for falling asleep in movies.

    Oh, and for the record, I hate that “rat” commercial on so many levels, not least that it’s for a car company since “I don’t drive”…

    The “I don’t drive” meme has not caught on yet so much, but I’ve been promoting it for a while now… something other culture innovators might want to take up! It get more mileage than the “I don’t have a TV” signalling – no pun intended 😉

  • Robert

    Well the “I don’t drive” meme has certainly been widespread in Manhattan for quite some time. I’ve been exploring it myself recently, ever since I gave my daughter my car some months back. I’ve already taken one Amtrak trip as a result and it was pretty cool. High speed interurban light rail has always been fun too.

  • Zora

    I haven’t had cable for years. Recently signed up for Netflix again, discovered their streaming service, and watched all the available Dr Who (reboot) and Torchwood episodes, much to the detriment of all the other things I was supposed to be doing. I have mixed feelings about this.

  • Pingback: TV ownership down; Is the TV dead? – 10 Connects | Unlimited-Internet-TV()

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    #15: I like TV shows on Netflix DVD because I can watch at 1.4x or 2x speed. I turn on subtitles in case I miss anything, and drop down to normal speed for the action sequences.

    They really need to enable that function for online streaming.

  • Chris

    @pconroy – I also adopted a policy of only watching movies in the theater a while back. However, there were so few new movies to watch and so many more oldies I hadn’t seen that I have Netflix now. My media consumption is now regularly outdated by 40-50 years.

  • Jim

    Yeah, I’ve been totally fine with hulu and netflix for a while now. I recently visited family and was re-acquainted with giant screens and a massive amount of channels (but surprisingly little variety). I have to say that I was kind of floored by:
    1. The number/length of commercials. Wow.
    2. How truly awful local broadcast news is.

    What dreck. I like the freedom of the online entertainment options, though I wonder how long Hulu will be able to maintain its offering.

  • Sandgroper

    #10 – Nope, I also have a big TV that I use to watch tennis and movies.

    I live in hope that one day they’ll fire all the moronic irritating-as-shit non-value-adding tennis commentators, or design a system that lets you turn them off. Fat chance.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    I dropped cable for netflix and free podcasts this year, and have a broadcast TV antenna that I may some day get to actually work. We use a flat screen TV as a TV monitor for a computer that we access netflix from and also connect to a DVD player.

    Cable was $17 a month for only the very most basic channels, and I’d spend another $5-$15 a month renting videos or watching movies at the second run theater. Netflix with streaming and a DVD is $10 a month. Most local TV news stations and national TV news outlets podcast most of what I want to see. We were worried at the time about not being able to get timely TV news for big events but have managed to watch as much of things like the Kate and William wedding via podcast.

    There are a few cable channels it would be nice to have available (e.g. Food Channel, Discovery), but it is hardly a great sacrifice. Of course, we still have to pay for broadband service, but we’d need that for work and school purposes even if we didn’t have netflix. At some point we will probably miss not seeing TV when it comes out, but after probably a decade or so of watching 2-4 hours a week of TV (we’d only had cable a year or two before cutting it off again), we have lots of catching up to do (going way back, as we are re-educating the kids in the old TV classics like the Jetsons and Betwitched).

    Not watching commercials, watching in batches, stopping play when desired, and watching when you want to watch have all become things that we value. There is an ongoing family battle over how to balance how much we watch (netflix has definitely increased our screen time) but for now we have a “media day” for the kids once a week sometime when there isn’t school the next morning for TV and videogames, and the rest of the week they must subsist on books, e-books, and Internet access for school and practical purposes only.

    If we were starting fresh, I’d have refrained from getting a landline telephone, but we have more than a decade invested in people who have our land line phone number that would have to be re-educated, and have many years invested in our cell numbers that we also don’t want to give up.

    @15 I stopped watching the State of the Union address live a year or two after I was an intern in Congress, because that is the slowest of slow speeches, since it is interrupted for applause so often and always available in a full text version in the newspaper. Local TV news is almost as bad, because they tease you for hours for news stories that end up being only a few sentences longer than their endless blurbs, and are stuffed with mindless chatter and irrelevant fluff in between. Other types of spoken communication followed.

  • khan

    I dropped cable last November when I realized I was only watching local news/weather and they are easily available over the internet.

    My pop culture awareness is almost nonexistent.

  • http://bluetenlese.wordpress.com M. Möhling

    My tv set broke down some 15 years ago, smoldering–I just didn’t have it repaired, never looked back. Remote control made a bad habit become nasty, good riddance. I even get some mild nausea when watching tv elsewhere, now, as if having suffered some sort of Ludovico’s treatment, except for the occasional soccer championship with friends and beer.

  • ackbark

    I sometimes come down with the horrible feeling that I’m missing something and look at the tv to see whatever it is I think I might be missing, and, dear god, it is always dreck.

    And worse than dreck, it sometimes feels like active brain damage. Primarily network tv shows which seem carefully made to captivate the attention of the nearly subhuman.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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