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okay, so it's not exactly walden
an inadvertent experiment in going without
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
7.14.08
tech

A few weeks ago, I lost my cable service.

It did not come as much of a surprise to me, as I had stopped paying for it a month earlier. (I was honestly surprised they hadn't turned it off sooner. For a week, I'd come home from work -- "Hey, cable's still on! Go figure.")

Now, before you all start panicking on my behalf, I'll have it back on this week. You can feel free, however, to start picnicking on my behalf. That's something I can get behind.

Those of you who know me personally and probably are wondering how I avoided entirely going through TV withdrawal, remember that I do get paid to watch things like NASCAR and "I Love Money" a few times a week.

Also, all of the shows I watch regularly are currently in reruns, so I'm not champing at the bit to find out what happened on last week's episode of "How I Met Your Mother." Thank God.

No, as I saw it, I was going to have to deal with two problems: 1) What to do during the hours I was home before I went to bed. These are usually either 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. or, on the nights I work, 2:30 a.m. to 2:41 a.m. The TV is useful both as a way to pass the time and, as I've mentioned in earlier columns, something to fall asleep during. Would I be able to sojourn into dreamland without the soothing tones of C-SPAN 3?

And 2) What to do about connecting to the Internet from home. I'm not online all that often, but I do check e-mail and download music and adult movies (see 2:30 to 2:41 above). The benefit of having my cable and cable modem service together is receiving a discounted price on both. The downside, I now know, is that not paying for cable TV also means not paying for Internet access. Time Warner is a harsh mistress.

I'll address problem 2 first -- turns out Sprint is a cool, cool cat. My cell phone doubles as a wireless high-speed modem. It's not as fast as cable, sure, but it's significantly faster than dial-up, especially since I don't have a land line in my apartment.

Also, I'm told by friends in IT circles that attempting to carry electronic packets of information back and forth by hand is really slow.

Anyway, that solved that problem, mostly, though it did mean that when I was online, I couldn't make or receive phone calls. However, I've avoided backlash from that by having already become almost a total hermit.

(By the way, the phone is the LG Fusic, in case you're interested. Other than the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, it's got everything. I highly recommend one, if they still sell them.)

Now for problem #1. What to do with my free time now that I didn't have 500 channels at my disposal.

First, I reacquainted myself with the knowledge that there's this free music and information that's constantly being pumped into the airwaves all the time. I remember listening to the radio as a kid when I wanted to hear singing, back before MP3 players meant I never had to hear someone else's favorite song in the middle of a 16-song rock block. ("That was the Rolling Stones, singing Honky Tonk Women! We're gonna be playing Billy Joel in a little while, but first, here's a deep cut from Ringo's solo album!")

Anyway, I had gotten into the habit of watching the news as I got ready for work in the morning. Turns out, the radio has news. I liked listening to music in the shower. Turns out the radio has music. I liked falling asleep to the sounds of CSPAN. Turns out the radio has the BBC. Imagine my shock and awe.

Speaking of falling asleep, I also reacquainted myself with another wonderful invention: DVD commentaries.

For my money, there are no two people in the world with more soothing voices than the graphic designers for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Alan Lee and John Howe should start taping conversations for insomniacs. I'm not at all saying they're boring, but just soothing. It's almost like being rocked to sleep, only aurally.

I would also add that most of the other members of the LOTR design team (who have their own commentary track on all three movies) have fairly mellow voices as well. Dan Hennah and Grant Major are very easy to listen to. The one exception is Richard Taylor, who was apparently told that his microphone was across the studio from where he was sitting. He's like New Zealand's answer to Robin Leach. "Hi! This is RICHARD TAYLOR! Welcome to me yelling everything I know about MAKING ARMOR!" Oy.

Which brings me to another way I've discovered to pass time without cable: watching every single one of the DVD extras for every film I own. I know so much more about these movies now than I ever imagined I would. I know that the director of 3:10 to Yuma had been lamenting that there weren't many real Westerns anymore. I know that Wynona Ryder's favorite movie is still Heathers. I know that they couldn't get Chevy Chase to appear in the "making of" featurette for Fletch. And I know that Alan Lee and John Howe can lull me to sleep immediately.

Finally, I rediscovered video games. A year ago, I was given two "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" interactive computer games. You solve crimes with the use of interviews and fingerprints. It's pretty cool. Turns out I'm a genius and have found my new calling. Or not, but it's still fun and challenging. In that way, it's definitely a good thing that I haven't had TV shows to watch. I went months without touching these games because I was too busy sitting on my ass watching "CSI" to sit on my ass playing it.

My best friend is irony.

So have I learned anything after two weeks of this semi-self-imposed cable fast? Other than the above, probably not. I mean, if you think about it (and you probably have), it's not as though I stopped watching TV in my free time; I just changed my focus.

Sure, I could have gotten to work on the great American novel. I could have spent the time exercising (well, not while eating dinner, I imagine). I could have sponsored a child for just pennies a day. But I didn't.

Truth is, I'd planned to do all of those things. I often thought about checking out the new workout DVD I'd stolen from work. I considered writing the second page of my book. I never actually planned on giving any money to starving children.

Which, means, I guess, that I've learned that I will watch anything put on a screen in front of me, to the distraction of everything else.

You know what, though? I enjoyed it. And maybe that's the lesson here. I was forced even a little bit out of my routine. I had to search for things to keep me occupied. My eyes and ears and brain yearned for some stimulus, and soaked it up.

So the next time you see me, don't think, "There's a guy who only knows about TV shows." Think, "There's a guy who knows how polyurethane casts of real tree bark were used to create the skin of the ents in Fangorn Forest." I'm multifaceted now.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll put off that call to Time Warner. I still need to re-interview the temperamental artist and figure out who killed the gallery patron. And it's only Monday.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
7.14.08 @ 7:28a

I do self-imposed "no technology" days for the sake of sanity. It's harder for me to go without Internet than cable.



[edited]

sandra thompson
7.14.08 @ 7:36a

Just as a southerner without salt pork is a pitiful sight, I think a 21st century American without cable is, too. I'm not even going to try to do without cable. I have a grudging adfmiration for those of you who do, but without cable internet, HBO, C-SPAN and MSNBC I would just wither away. And, no, I'm not gonna join a twelve step program for my addiction.

michelle von euw
7.14.08 @ 10:30a

Which, means, I guess, that I've learned that I will watch anything put on a screen in front of me, to the distraction of everything else.

This is like my mission statement.

Adam, if you do decide to upgrade to a Sprint phone with a Qwerty keyboard, I can highly recommend the LG Rumor.

trevor kleiner
7.15.08 @ 5:06p

You need to rediscover Mario Kart. That always kept us busy for very long periods of time. I'll get Greg on board, you see if Matt's up for it....

[edited]

adam kraemer
7.15.08 @ 5:08p

Actually, I do have Mario Kart II for my GameCube. It's twice as much fun!

paul hrynko
7.15.08 @ 9:17p

Adam,

We had a similar experience here when the power went out for 2 days....baby still went o bed at 8....we relaxed and watch the sun go down...then went to bed. It was the best night with no technology.

adam kraemer
7.15.08 @ 9:29p

I had a friend point out, btw, that I didn't mention reading as a way to pass the time. That's because I do read anyway, so that aspect of my lifestyle wasn't affected.

So there.

dr. jay gross
7.18.08 @ 8:20p

Grab a book....Yes, they were available before DVDs, cable TV, and a lot of other things.

Congrats on joining us who have given up our land-line phones!

Hey, just got back from the sand, surf and sun. The girl watching is great- so is the food.

If you like watching the news you must have a very strong attraction to violence, and politics. If you find a happy, up-beat, positive news cast, please let me know.




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