Did you know that the average American spends over 4 hours per day watching television?! That sounds crazy, but it's true - and what's more disturbing is that in a 65-year life (probably won't live much longer than that if you're sitting on your ass this much) that average person will have spent 9 solid years in front of their idiot box! To someone who spends an average of 4 hours per month watching TV (me), it's insanity...but there is some hope (kind of). Trends are showing that people are shifting their TV time to other forms of electronic devices and media (Facebook, YouTube, etc. on iPhones, tablets, etc.), and this is especially true with younger audiences, according to Nielsen studies. There is more good news - we have more options than ever before with the rise of on-demand services such as Netflix, HBO Go, and more. Are you ready (and able) to pull the plug on cable?
Let's address the biggest problem first: the sheer amount of time wasted staring into a LED screen like a zombie. Time is a resource that you cannot get back, and there are so many other worthwhile things to spend it on rather than countless hours clicking through channels. I must admit, I have a few of my own favorite shows on TV. With Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul , and (my not-so-guilty pleasure) South Park out of season, the only one I am currently tuning in to regularly is the new Fear the Walking Dead spin-off on AMC (so far so good by the way). I think it's important to guard one's time very carefully, and I do that by recording the series, scheduling a time once per week that's convenient for me to watch it (usually Sunday evening), and then sit down for that 30-60 minutes to enjoy it with the remote in hand to fast forward through commercials.
If you channel surf, sit through commercials, or just turn on the TV without any specific intention, then you are doing it wrong. Figure out which one or two shows are truly bringing value into your life (via entertainment, education, or even social reasons...and no, the "news" does not qualify) and cut everything else out. Schedule those shows to record (assuming you have a DVR - if not, read on, I will address that), and watch them after you've accomplished all you need to during the day to bring yourself closer to reaching your goals. I would advise not watching the TV right before going to bed if possible. Like I discussed in the article on improving sleep with a bedtime ritual, the blue light emitted from your TV can disrupt your melatonin production and interfere with getting quality sleep. On that note, I also suggested keeping the TV out of your bedroom for optimal sleep (read more here).
Now, you may be thinking, "I spend a small fortune every month on cable. Why would I pay so much for something I'm barely using?" BINGO. Let's face it, cable companies charge entirely too much and they try to make you feel like you're getting your money's worth by giving you a "bundle" with a thousand channels that you will most likely never watch. And is it just me, or does the bill seem to inch higher every few months? Furthermore, cable companies are the biggest pain in the ass ever. Have you once had a good experience trying to speak with one of their customer support reps? Exactly. As a red-blooded, free-market loving American, I like having options, and the monopoly-esque nature of cable companies grinds my gears (as if you couldn't already tell).
So we know that TV is a huge waste of time for the majority of people, which is why you have to choose your favorite programs and schedule them to fit your life (not the other way around). We know that cable is vastly overpriced, has an abyss of channels we'll never use, and customer "service" that leaves much to be desired. We also know that we have some great cable alternatives thanks to the internet and the wave of new services (yay competition). Let's start with one of the newer services that every Jon Snow fan will need - HBO Now. For $15 per month, you can access all of the great movies, series, and documentaries - new and old - that are available on HBO as they become available to cable subscribers. Showtime also now offers a service like this where a cable subscription is not needed. There are also services, such as Sling TV ($20 per month) or Amazon Prime ($99 per year), that offer much more than just one premium channel. Of course, there's Netflix (which you're probably already using anyways) which has hundreds of great shows, movies, and even original content that you can't get on cable (Daredevil anyone?).
One of my favorite cable alternatives that seems to be showing more promise every year is the Apple TV. You have access to any content you already own or have purchased a la carte through the Apple Store (TV shows, movies, music) plus tons of free content via video and audio podcasts and Apple radio. This nifty device can mirror what's on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac display using AirPlay and also acts as a hub providing access to Netflix, HBO, Hulu, ABC, FOX, CBS, ESPN, and many others. Also, the rumor mill has been churning lately with the new Apple TV that is supposed to be coming this October. Allegedly it will have Siri integration, a faster processor, more focus on Apps/games, and (most importantly) many more options for streaming live content.
There are other devices that give you similar access to some of the programs listed above, including the Google Chromecast, Playstation 4, many Blu-ray players, and even most Smart TVs. The point is, cable is far from being your only option for accessing quality TV shows and movies, and a DVR is not necessary to watch your favorite shows at your convenience when you have any of these other devices. These are like full entertainment centers that can generally fit in the palm of your hand. In my opinion, most cable companies are actually far behind the technology curve and have a lot of catching up to do to stay competitive in this shifting landscape. It's a beautiful time we live in where you can choose exactly what you want to watch when you want to watch it, skip what doesn't interest you, enjoy content from thousands of independent creators, and not be force-fed mindless garbage by the major networks.
In the very rare case that there is some sporting event or show that isn't available on one of the platforms named above, then use it as an excuse to spend quality time with some real humans. Plan an evening around a favorite show with some friends and make it a social gathering. Grab some buds and head to a local sports bar for the big game. Just get off the couch and stop wasting your time and money. Granted, you may be the type of person who actually does take advantage of the plethora of channels (read: junk) on cable. Perhaps you are techno-phobic and stuck in your old-school cable ways. Maybe calling the cable company to cancel your service gives you crippling anxiety (at least try it, they may offer you a discount to stay). But if you care about your time, money, brain (the AlphaNerd "Ultimate Bundle"), and want options, I insist that you consider cutting the cord on cable.