Cutting the Cord

One of the longest-running relationships in my life has been with my TV. Some of my first memories are of watching Saturday morning cartoons. Sitting in my beanbag chair, eating sugar-encrusted cereal, a BPA-plastic infused cup lodged precariously between my knees, I eagerly waited as the TV sputtered to life, its internal tubes warming slowly as the picture faded into ultra-low resolution.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, there were only a few channels from which to choose. “Children’s programming” was only just becoming a concept, with “Sesame Street” premiering on public television stations in 1969. There were no 24-hour channels, VCRs, DVDs or other recording devices that allowed us to watch what we wanted whenever we wanted. We just had to wait.

Our first set had been a small, boxy contraption about the size of a modern-day microwave. There were dials on the front that needed to be twisted to change the channels. But like us, the TVs changed over time. First came larger sets that looked more like pieces of furniture than actual appliances. I remember one encased in a wooden console that looked more like some sort of mutant armoire.

As the technology evolved, so did my feeling for TV, and by the time I was 8 or 9 I felt a deepening connection to this inanimate object. I wasn’t in love exactly, but I certainly had a crush, and I used to sit close enough to the set that I could feel its warmth and its static charge, fascinated by its shape, its colors, even its smell of ozone after being on for hours.

By the late ‘70s the TV had become the central focus of our living room. There were more channel options to watch and sleeker TV models, and cable was becoming available.

When my family finally upgraded our old set I remember feeling sad. It had watched me grow up. I had learned a lot from her — my ABCs from watching countless hours of “Sesame Street,” how to be decent from watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and how to behave: Heroes with horses or clowns with slapstick, most of the stories had happy endings.

TV continued to evolve and so did media, eventually becoming what it is today -- an on-demand integrated system that incorporates many forms of communication. From the days of antennas and enormous satellite dishes we have reached high-speed cable and TVs that have the capability of functioning as glorified computers.

Our children are in their early to mid 20s. When they come back to visit us they rarely turn on the TV. Instead, they are never far from their smartphones or laptop computers. When we do watch TV together, it is normally a movie on Netflix or Apple TV, or we play a video game, each family member taking turns bowling a strike using an imaginary ball on the screen.

And they aren’t the only ones forsaking the TV. My wife and I have been watching less and less, to the point that recently my wife, Lynn, asked, “Why are we spending $178 per month for our cable?”

I immediately became defensive. “Well,” I said and cleared my throat. “We get cable together with Internet through our service provider.”

“But why cable?” she repeated.

“Local programming,” I said.

She grinned. “You mean football?” she asked.

“No, well yes,” I stammered. “Football is only one of the many benefits, we also get … ” I wracked my brain. “We get local news, too.”

“When was the last time you watched the local news?” she asked.

She was right. I rarely watch TV news anymore, preferring to watch news clips online or listen to apps like Otto Radio that have customized news feeds, or my favorite, to read the actual physical paper.

But I still felt defensive. She was attacking the very core of one of my longest-standing relationships.

“But football,” I said, trying to keep the whine out of my voice.

“I bet you can watch games online,” she said.

So a few weeks ago, right after college football season, we cut our cable service. The cost savings was $130 per month.

On the evening prior to turning off the cable I sat up late and flipped through the channels for the last time. I had a glass of wine and thought back to those times as a child when I stayed up late to watch “Saturday Night Live” or horror films on “Creature Features.”

I get it, things change -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It’s often hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it, but what I do know is that we’ve cut the cord in 2016. What happens next will be another story.


Originally published in the St. Helena Star, Feb. 2016