When I was younger, if I asked someone if they’d seen a particular show on television and they replied, “Oh, we don’t watch much television,” or worse, “We don’t own a television,” I felt the sting. When my daughter was born, my husband and I were determined to set a good example by keeping our television viewing to a minimum. I stopped watching the morning news shows and we didn’t turn on the television until after she had gone to bed. That worked for many years, before the world discovered DVRs and my daughter was old enough to stay up later than me.
These days, I’m not as apologetic about my viewing habits. I look forward to relaxing in front of the television with my tailored list of must see TV, made possible by the miracle of Tivo. My daughter encourages me to turn on the television, a shared experience implicit in her suggestion, but then she opens her laptop and abandons me, emotionally if not physically. If I say, “You’re not watching!” she admits that she doesn’t like the show I’m watching. It turns out that she doesn’t like most of the shows I watch, and while I would be happy enough to watch the ones she likes, I’m rarely invited. Besides, she usually watches them on her computer, on Hulu, while I’m watching programs on Tivo.
My husband used to watch TV with me. Now he may sit in the same room, but he is rarely watching the television. Instead he is glued to his iPhone. If I chafe at the lack of companionship and ask what he’s doing, he’s likely to tell me that he’s “Reading the Times.” He might as well say he doesn’t watch television. Reading The New York Times is what intellectuals do while the rest of us are watching Hell on Wheels, or The Walking Dead (both, I might add, on AMC, the network that brought us Mad Men and Breaking Bad, shows that are darlings of the critics).
Frankly, I don’t care if they watch with me or not. The problem is that if they’re not going to watch with me, then turning on the television becomes an overtly anti-social act. It signals that I don’t feel like having a conversation (hold on, my husband is staring at his iPhone; he doesn’t want to talk to me anyway) and my daughter will have to put in her earbuds (oh, who are we kidding, they were in anyway).
Maybe when I turn on the television I’m actually broadcasting my loneliness.
There are still occasions when we come together as a family in front of the TV. For instance, we all watch Downton Abbey. Sure there is a little texting on my daughter’s part, and my husband glances at his phone once in a while, but by and large we share the experience. And the best part is that it is on PBS, which is the station that people who don’t watch much television watch when they’re watching television.
Have you seen Downton Abbey?