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Published December 01 2011

Morast: Cutting cable frees columnist’s mind

The first thing you notice about living in a home that just canceled its cable TV feed is how alone you feel during the mild moments.

The constant babbling of background chatter has gone mute.

That soothing electric hum has been replaced by unnerving silence.

And while you’re sitting there, wondering what the hell to do without that distracting cable stream, you start focusing on strange things – like realizing how ominous sounding your heater is when it exhales hot air into the home.

Soon, your mind is focused on two ideas: “I wonder if DirecTV does midnight house calls,” and “If I don’t do something soon I’ll go crazy.”

It’s the compulsion to stay sane that saves the day.

Because when you’re not dulled into spending hours on the couch watching a marathon of the “Real Housewives” of anywhere, you find out how much you can actually do with your time.

Vacuum the house? Sure.

Organize your iTunes playlists? Of course.

Write a three-act play about the U.S. government’s conspiracy against Nikola Tesla? You know it.

It’s hard for most people to admit that watching TV turns us into zombies; mostly because most of us watch TV all the time – sometimes about zombies.

But once the cable has been cut – literally and figuratively – the world opens up and you see things a little more clearly than before.

I know, because after decades of my nights being dominated by TV’s playlists, my wife and I decided to cancel our cable three months ago.

This was mostly because we were sick of it being there all the time – tired of listening to Robin Meade from Headline News explain the day’s news while we ate breakfast; bored of hearing Andy Cohen dissect reality shows as we prepared for sleep; and kind of embarrassed that part of our Friday night routine was hanging out with Joan Rivers and Kelly Osborne as they discussed fashion.

In short, it was always there, telling us what to do and how to do it.

I know what you’re thinking, just turn it off.

We did. And it can’t be turned back on.

An awakening

After 12 weeks without 200-plus stations at the fingertips, it’s not hyperbole to say that I feel different than I did before.

And before you read how, I have to clarify something: I love TV and have defended it through the years as a great node of education – if used properly.

But after killing our signal I started to understand why all those crunchy, alt-minded people rail against the boob tube like it’s digital heroin.

Without exaggeration, my brain is less sedated than it was with cable TV, perhaps because there’s less time on a couch zoning out during shows I didn’t really care about.

More profound is that I feel less brainwashed than before. Truly. Say what you will about TV ads and consumerism, but shortly after cutting the cable I didn’t “want” things anymore. It was easier to feel contentment with the world around me and less worried about what I don’t have.

Other effects were less startling.

I’m listening to more music.

Simple things like eating evening suppers at the dining room table, instead of spread over a living room’s coffee table became the new norm. And, get this, after the meal my wife and I would actually discuss things – rather than listening to some former comedian’s tired rant on a sitcom.

We also felt free from a schedule we didn’t create. Nine o’clock didn’t mean prepare for an episode of Bravo’s latest reality show. Nine o’clock was just 9 o’clock.

It’s bizarre how odd “normal” is.

Still watching TV

Here’s what happens when you tell people you canceled your cable:

One type of person looks at you with pride, as if you just donated your entire savings account to a charity that helps people buy hybrid vehicles. These are the folks who hate TV and see you as someone who can join their fight against the supposed dumbing-down of our society.

The other type of person looks at you like you’re slightly crazy; not the kind of crazy that compels you to you cut people up and store them in your freezer, but crazy enough to believe extraterrestrials might be stealing your lawn ornaments.

They temper the queries of insanity by saying something like, “Well, you must really miss watching your favorite shows.”

My response is a sly smile.

Because the truth of this situation is that I’m still watching all the shows I did before we cut cable.

Thanks to streaming services like Hulu, Crackle and Netflix I still catch the new episodes of “House” and “Parks and Recreation.” I ran through an entire season of the underrated sitcom “Grounded for Life.” And I still watch live sports through some, uh, “select” websites.

I’m not opposed to TV. I love a lot of what’s on it. But since cutting the cable, my TV viewing habits are more active. They’re dedicated decisions to sit down and watch a show or movie that I actually want to see rather than mindlessly flipping through cable stations searching for a stray “Seinfeld” repeat or a movie that hasn’t been shown 14 times in the past 10 days.

And if there’s any big takeaway from our no-cable experiment, it’s that. Cutting the cord is emancipation from submission. It’s an awakening from a never-ending stream of messages we don’t really want, or need, to hear.

And it’s kind of a return to relaxing in the moment.

Sometimes when my wife and I walk around our neighborhood at night I can see people through their home’s windows as they watch TV.

They’ll have on the night’s big game or an episode of “Two and a Half Men.” And for a second, I get that longing for the melancholic comfort of cable’s bounty.

But it only lasts a moment.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518

or rmorast@forumcomm.com