In today’s digital age, No Television isn’t much of a positive constraint for a lot of people. We can do all our couch potatoing in front of the computer instead: Netflix, YouTube, DVDs. Distracting diversions and an escape into ennui is right at our fingertips.
But, for me, No Television is kind of where it all started. When I was growing up, my family never had a television. The only time I saw a moving picture was when we went to my nan’s (always on a Sunday so that I could watch Football Italia), when I went round a friend’s or when we went on holiday.
The stated reason for this prohibition, for the 18 years between my birth and when my older sister went away to university and brought back a TV, was that television would rot our brains.
The consequences were, I think, far reaching. I’ll quickly cover three of them.
I spent more time reading books or entertaining myself by digging holes in the garden.
Without a television to distract me, I read a lot of books. Yep. I was one of those kids who’d already read The Lord of the Rings before anyone else in primary school had even heard of The Hobbit.
I also spent more time on computers. Television wasn’t allowed, but computers were, and we had a BBC Micro ever since I can remember. This computer ran games like Frogger from tapes you had to put into a tape player and rewind after playing. Sometimes the tapes would get chewed up and you could never play that game again. Medieval.
I had almost zero exposure to popular culture.
I missed every significant British cultural event, from Torvill and Dean’s ice dancing (23.95 million viewers in 1994) to the funeral of Princess Diana (19.29 million viewers in 1997), as well as everyone else’s must-watch TV, from SuperTed to Father Ted. I had no idea what any of the Hollywood women looked like and couldn’t sing the theme tune to Match of the Day.
I also missed out on all the great adverts of my generation: the milk tray man, the roller-skating pandas, funky chunky almonds , the red car versus blue car race – to name just the chocolate-based ones.
As a consequence, however, I never got caught up in any of these crazes. I couldn’t participate, so instead I held all popular culture in utter disdain.
It gave me a taste of the unconventional.
Having no television when I was a kid made me highly eccentric. In 2001, 97.5% of households in Britain had a television and watching TV was a full-time job for a lot of people, with average viewing time over 30 hours per week (still is, actually).
That gave me a choice: I could either live my life permanently embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t join in the conversations about Chris Evans on TFI Friday or Naked Germans of the Week on Eurotrash – or I could embrace being the unconventional eccentric weirdo.
That’s a pretty weighty life decision for a nine-year-old.
Where are we now?
Hmm. More time reading and on computers; zero knowledge of, and utter disdain for popular culture; an acquired taste for the unconventional. That pretty much describes the essentials of grown up Dave’s character.
I read 35 or more books a year and try to write a couple too, using my trusty computer (I’ve upgraded from tapes, though). Despite the valient efforts of my friends, I’m still miles behind on popular culture – I watched a film on Sunday night for the first time I can remember in years. And this whole blog is dedicated to the unconventional ideas and actions that can take our lives out of the ordinary and into the memorably extraordinary.
Indeed, positive constraints, the art of doing exactly the opposite of what everyone else is doing, could be seen as the brain-child and embodiment of that first enforced constraint, No Television.
We found out, years later, that the reason we didn’t have a TV was not because my parents were scared us kids would waste all our time rotting our brains out over Eurotrash. Oh no. It was because my dad would’ve done.