I remember when everyone first started getting cable in the 80s. It was magical. Instead of 4 channels we now had like 30. And some of those channels played 24 hours a day, instead of ending with the National Anthem and static some time after midnight. There were a lot more new shows. And I could watch re-runs of favorite sitcoms day and night.
Over the years, cable changed a lot and suddenly there were so many options: DVR, Netflix, Hulu…..the alternatives to cable kept multiplying.
One night I was slumped on the couch next to my sister engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: channel surfing. I went through the channels a few times, finding nothing of interest. “There’s never anything on,” my sister complained. “Let’s watch something on Netflix.”
That’s when it hit me: we were paying a small fortune for cable, yet we rarely actually watched cable. We did however spend an inordinate amount of time looking for something to watch on cable. And as we categized what we did watch on cable, we realized it was mostly re-runs of programs we could stream, like Buffy and Golden Girls. And we were using streaming services and the DVR way more than live cable anyway.
So, we made the decision to cut the cord, like many of you have likely done, and get rid of cable.
A few days ago, I was on a business trip and as I often do when I’m in a hotel now, I thought, “Cool, I get to watch cable!” I settled on the bed, picked up the remote, scanned and scanned, and… there was nothing on. Finally I watched a couple of episodes of Big Bang Theory and a couple of episodes of Golden Girls, both of which are streamable.
That’s when I realized I don’t miss cable at all, but I kind of miss channel surfing.
Channel surfing is how I used to stumble on new shows. Once I got completely addicted to a new show because my sister was in the bathroom too long, and that particular show came on after something we’d been watching. By the time she came back to the living room I was completely hooked.
When I had cable whenever I had a few minutes between things, I’d channel surf. If I was sick, I’d lie on the couch and channel surf for hours. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d flip back and forth between infomercials. I do really miss infomercials. I learned so much about cleaning floors and fast cooking foods and juicing at 2:00 in the morning.
And I miss seeing all the commercials for romance movies on the Hallmark channel. I love to watch the previews for those terrible movies — not the movies themselves, just the commercials. You don’t really have to watch the movies because the commercials tell you everything you need to know about the story. Usually it’s a Christmas movie, and the female lead will be named something like Holly or Merry. Holly/Merry will either be a small town girl who runs a bakery or a bed and breakfast, and falls in love with some jerk who comes to town to develop a resort or a mall, or alternately she’ll be a hardened career women who grew up in the town and comes back to help a sick relative, only to find the true meaning of Christmas while falling in love with her high school sweetheart. Either way, the entire town will be so into Christmas it’s frightening. Oh, and Holly/Merry will have a sassy best friend who is either plus size or a person of color, and a wise but inappropriate grandma/aunt/mother.
Of course, channel surfing is also a complete time suck. Since we cut the cord, we go days, sometimes weeks, without turning on the TV. Before we made the leap, it was generally on for at least a while every night. It was background noise. Eliminating cable has made a lot more time for things like talking to each other, reading, yoga, hobbies….things that don’t rot your brain.
But once or twice a year when I travel somewhere, I confess I still enjoy a little mindless channel surfing, just for old time’s sake.
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