Re-Cutting the Cord

There is a growing trend: cord-cutting. Not the literal act of slicing through cables, mind you, but the figurative act of cutting one’s cable service and finding entertainment solely via broadcast television and internet services. I am one of the rare people who actually went from being a cord-cutter to a cable subscriber. I maintained for years that if I could get decent internet and cable TV (HD, with a DVR) for $100, I’d pay for it gladly. When the opportunity presented itself, I made good on my word and ordered the service. I was happy to so, forsaking Hulu and Netflix for a TiVO Premiere. Last month, in the face of rising cable costs(to $115 a month) and the realization that I spent way too much time watching TV, I scaled back my service with RCN to Internet only.

MONEY MATTERS

This site is called Impoverished Geek for a reason. I don’t make a ton of money. Granted, “impoverished” is a bit of a stretch these days. I’m no longer living on the scant $24,000 per year I did during its inception. Still, I am not rolling in dough. I keep myself to a budget, because if I didn’t I could easily see my finances spinning out of control. I make an okay living, but it does not allow for much in the way of extravagance.

The difference between $100 and $115 may not seem like much, but it’s $180 over the course of a year. That’s three video games, a month’s worth of groceries(give or take, depending on sales), or a little over half a payment on my car loan. It’s nearly two months of the full insurance coverage my car loan requires, and it’s also just $180 I could be setting aside for a rainy day.

Let’s say the price didn’t go up. Would I still have kept the service? It’s hard to say. Before cable, I didn’t watch a ton of TV. I have never been a channel surfer, and I don’t watch sports. After getting the TiVO, I found myself adding more and more shows to my subscription list, but most of them were throw-aways that I didn’t mind missing and often deleted in order to make room for something else.

I picked up cable for a small number of channels, with three or less shows on each: AMC(Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead), Cartoon Network(The Venture Bros, Space Dandy), Comedy Central(The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, @Midnight), and Discovery(Mythbusters). SyFy could be on that list, too, though nothing in their current lineup really feels “must-watch” to me. I would have liked to add BCC America(Doctor Who), HBO(Game of Thrones, True Detective), and Showtime(Dexter, Episodes) to the mix, but any one would have taken me past the $100 I was willing to spend each month.

Let’s look over that list. At most, eight channels. Fourteen shows, all told, many of them available through Amazon, Hulu, or iTunes. If one were to buy the shows I did get with my cable subscription via iTunes season passes, it would cost approximately $577.58 over the course of a year. If one were to assume that half my monthly $100 cable bill was going to the television portion, that would mean a small savings of $25 over the course of the year. If one was solely getting cable TV for RCN’s promotion price of $65 per month for 12 months, you’re looking at even more savings. Since I already own a computer, the value simply isn’t there for someone like me. The only thing cable has going for it is immediacy; online services typically lag behind broadcasts by a day. The exclusivity of channels like HBO and Showtime could be the tipping point if I was willing to spend more money, but I’m not.

MY TIME IS BETTER SPENT ELSEWHERE

Okay, I hate to be that person: the one who brags about how little television they watch. Second only to people who regularly point out that they don’t own a TV in being utterly obnoxious, the statement “I have better things to do” is almost always insulting, even if it isn’t meant to be. It’s a snide personal attack hidden inside a self-aggrandizing statement.

The truth is, though, that there are things I’d rather be doing that watching TV. Or, perhaps, there are things I aspire to do that mean I don’t have time to watch TV. And if I’m being honest, most of what is on TV is a distraction. I spent a great deal of my TV-watching time with my eyes on my tablet, reading through RSS feeds. I could call that creative multi-tasking, but the truth of the matter is that whatever is on TV during these news sessions obviously isn’t enough to hold my interest for long.

This isn’t some lament on the decline of quality television, either. I’d venture to guess things have always been this way. It’s easy to fall into the habit of letting yourself get distracted. Sometimes, that’s even the right thing to do. Entertainment serves a purpose, but if, like me, you aren’t happy with your life, entertainment can become a pacifier when at best it should be a respite. Escapism is easy, but it isn’t fulfilling in the long run. At least, not for me. I love a good story, but what I want to do even more than watch them is tell some of my own.

You can’t watch TV while writing. Well, maybe you can. I can’t. Whatever is on-screen drowns out whatever is going on in my head. It’s much easier to write without distraction. When I am at my best, the world around me ceases to exist and words flow from my fingertips freely. This doesn’t happen when someone or something else is demanding my attention. Anything more than background music is a detractor.

MODERATION

Just like anything else, TV must be enjoyed in moderation. Cable and satellite providers proudly declare huge channel lineups that run 24/7, always ready to pull you away from the world. And sometimes, that’s a great thing. After a long day of work, it’s nice to shut my brain down for a bit. It just shouldn’t be all night, every night, and through the weekend. The occasional binge isn’t that bad, but when I was unemployed several years ago I once watched three series straight through — the entirety of Six Feet Under alone ate up several days. I spent days accomplishing nothing.

I’ve pared down the shows I’m watching to the point that I don’t have a show a night anymore. What’s more, I’m not going to look for new ones. I might add one here and there, but chances are some of what I watch now will be cancelled, too. Mad Men is on its final season, for example. I’ve cut Comedy Central’s shows entirely, though I will probably purchase some of their downloadable standup specials.

There are only so many hours in a day, and work already takes up far more than it should. It’s time I started making the most of the rest of them.

Posted on March 11, 2014 .