BETWEEN THE LINES - Life beyond the TV set

Thursday, January 24, 2002

A new addition to my group of favorite people are the members of the PTA at the little elementary school in Morning Sun.

The parents and teachers there have done the unthinkable - they've turned off the town's television sets.

They proposed "A Week of Fun Without TV." Kids were encouraged to sign a contract not to turn on the tube, and instead took part in a series of entertainment, fitness and reading community activities.

The kids who can last the whole week without TV get an afternoon off school to bowl or go to the YMCA. And presumably, the rare experience of having a week's worth of thoughts that weren't programmed into their brainpans by a network executive.

A whole week! No MTV! No Sponge Bob Squarepants! No Best Damn Sports Show. No pro wrestling or slice-and-dice movies! Eep - no Baywatch reruns?!?

We had the same challenge at our house recently, courtesy of the cable TV company. Frankly, we came to appreciate the 72 channels of pure snow, and found we were in no rush for them to get it fixed.

For a couple of days, some old board games came off the closet shelf. We each spent some time with friends we don't get to see enough. Listened to music. We went running. Spent some time outdoors. Read books. Homework got done before the last minute. We ate at that kitchen table thing - always wondered what that was for. Went out to a BVU basketball game instead of watching a boring game broadcast from Iowa City. We actually talked. Imagine that. Who knew?

It isn't easy kicking TV. It's as addictive as any drug. For the first couple of days, I noticed an involuntary twitch in my channel-changer trigger finger. Had withdrawal symptoms whenever the guys at work mentioned ESPN.

Sure, we know TV is mostly inane and numbing mental babyfood, boiled down to the cerebral level of an orangutan, but it's noise when you're lonely, a babysitter when you're busy, an alternative to the effort it would take to think, have a actual conversation or get up off your butt and do something.

I'm thinking of paying the cable company extra to go on the fritz for a week or so every month. Okay, maybe not during the football playoff season, though.

When my kids grow up and have kids, I don't really want their memories of family to be huddling around a TV set.

I think the Morning Sun PTA is onto something. You might want to draw up a contract at your house, just to see if you can do it. Just write, "I will get a life," and sign.