No, my cable didn't go out, my cat didn't die and I didn't suffer from hysterical blindness. The pain is entirely voluntarily. I've sworn off TV for a week. Don't worry, this won't be part of some lecture on how the TV set is ruining you and your kids. And it's not an effort to see how informed I'll be at the end, despite some time away from Anderson Cooper. This isn't a vacation from all media.
Actually, the experiment is to see if I can replace all that TV gives me with internet video.
Everyone knows internet video is hot. The TV networks are trying to bulk up their offerings even as they try to control how others are distributing their content. Any number of sites have sprung up to facilitate the sharing of both professional and amateur video. The growth of YouTube has had a profound effect on culture, already shaking up big-media companies used to controlling distribution of their product, and it's sure to have a similar disruptive impact on the political process.
What I'm basically asking is whether, like in the last scene of "Poltergeist," I can wheel my TV outside my apartment and slam the door shut on it -- if only for a week.
The ground rules
The ground rules are simple: no TV. All video content must be consumed through some kind of alternative screen. My desktop at work and my laptop, my cellphone, my iPod and a nifty little internet device Nokia is lending me will do the heavy lifting. The goal is to better understand just how far we've come in migrating content away from the box.
Of course, any stunt journalism is artificial, and this is no exception. In the lion's share of households, when these technologies are used, they're used as just satellites, not replacements, to the TV set, which as Nielsen has found is only the subject of more fixation. During the 2005-06 viewing season, the average person tuned in for four hours and 35 minutes per day, a number that's been going up steadily over the past decades despite all of the digital alternatives available. Prime-time viewing, however, has been close to flat, and accounted for one hour and 11 minutes of viewing per day last season.
Sounds about right for me, except I put in more around prime time. As I said, this ain't about boning up on Proust, so I'll try to spend at least four and a half hours -- if not a lot more -- slackjawed in front of a screen of some sort. I figure that catching most of my favorite prime-time fare -- such as "The Office," "Lost" and baseball games -- won't be too tough given the assortment of broadband-video options created by our friends at the TV networks and other folks, such as MLB.
Despite the "Sopranos" nightmare, I'm not worried about getting my dosage of appointment TV, given how aggressive the networks have been of late in finding alternative distribution for their programs.
Filling in the gaps
Less clear is how I'll deal with what I like to call the videodrone portion of my TV consumption, the several hours a week devoted to programming that decidedly doesn't require an appointment. This would include but not be limited to my 25th viewing of "Ghostbusters," the 18th go-around for "Lost Boys," "Miami Vice" repeats, broadcasts of old Yankees playoff games, cooking shows, VH1 and SportsCenter. I'm assuming YouTube will play a big role here, as it did this weekend by supplying me with an endless stream of user-uploaded clips from the Coachella music festival. The main problem there is the vertiginous feeling from all the drunken bobbing -- of the attendees, not me.
YouTube, however -- and it pains me to say this -- has already been something of a disappointment in my trolling for "Sopranos" clips. So far, I've found only one -- a 1:07 clip of a beating that culminated in Tony giving a lesson on DIY jaw surgery. It also featured a great line: "Want a Sambuca with this?" I did, however, find the trailer for the fourth installment of the Rambo series, which is, an officemate agreed, the goriest trailer around. It features both a beheading and a gutting, and the eponymous hero even uses a machine gun mounted in the back of a jeep -- to shred some folks sitting in the front seats, not three feet away.
Initial realization: At this point, the HBO subscription is still well worth the price.