Wednesday, 26 December 2007

TV (Ancient Roman-style)

Where is the TV in your house?

Following my latest post about technology and askesis, a comment from Anirudh got me thinking about this. When it comes to giving up particular technologies or habits, will-power isn't always very helpful. For instance, having decided to reduce your TV habit, you can rely on your strength of will - or you can unplug the TV set and move it to the spare room. In my experience, the second method is more effective.

Though I can't find the reference, I'm sure Christopher Hitchens advises aspiring contrarians to give a bookshelf that pride of place in their living quarters commonly afforded to the TV. Visiting Alastair McIntosh a few years ago, I remember him referring to the wood stove in his front room as "our television".

There is certainly something mesmeric about an open fire: the way it holds the eye, becomes the focal point of a room. The word focus itself originally refers to the hearth, which held a central position in the Roman household, both physically and spiritually. (The journey from this meaning to its modern, technical usage probably deserves more thought.) The hearth was associated with the lares, the household gods, who had their own shrine, the lararium, around which the household would gather daily.

Thinking about all this, I came across the picture (below) of the lararium in the House of the Vetti at Pompey. To my eye, it does look rather like a precedent for the magic box around which families gather in the modern household - and whose observances are stepped up on high days and holy days.

On which note, Happy Christmas!


Anirudh said...

You drew my attention to something I had noticed but that hadn't registered yet. Most Indian homes which have a television, also have it either in the centre of their living room or in the centre of their bedroom. (But are you suggesting that one unplug the TV and keep it in the spare room unused? Or keep it plugged in the spare room?)

Even assuming that one's house has a spare room - mine doesn't - this will not work for the internet. The time I waste there is because I don't want to get up once I sit down.

I'm wondering what tactical solutions (as opposed to the will-power solution) will work for the internet.

Dougald Hine said...

Thanks for reminding me not to assume people have spare rooms! I guess my point is that if your TV ceases to be the focus of your home, you'll probably spend less time watching it, without this even seeming much of an effort. That could mean keeping it plugged in elsewhere - or keeping it unplugged in a cupboard, so it's there to bring out if there's something particular you want to watch.

As for tactical solutions for wasting less time on the internet, I can't speak with any great authority, since I still spend more time online than I would like to. But here are a few ideas which could work, depending on your situation.

* Get rid of your home internet connection, so that you have to go somewhere else in order to get online.

* Keep your home internet connection, but get rid of the wireless router, so that you can only get online from one place in the house. Then try making this a space that you won't want to stay in for hours on end - e.g. choose the most uncomfortable chair you can find!

* Disable images on your browser. (This was an example given by one of the speakers at the Illich colloquium.)

* Choose to take time out from the internet. (If I've been spending too much time online, I'll decide not to touch my computer from Friday night till Monday morning. It helps that I often stay with my girlfriend at weekends, and she's decided not to have an internet connection at home.)

I'm not sure how satisfactory any of those suggestions are. There's always a danger of focusing too much attention on the thing you want to spend less time with, so that you end up giving it more importance in your life. But let me know how you get on!

Anirudh said...

That last bit - true! Haha.

But yes, I already use one of these solutions - when in college, I have no internet connection in my rooms. In fact, I often access the internet from my girlfriend's place since she does have a connection. (I too often go there over the weekend.)

Anirudh said...

Another solution is to get a connection which allows you only limited time every month - say 35 hours - instead of broadband.

Dougald Hine said...

Good point! Or how about switching back from broadband to a dial-up connection?

I wonder if any ISPs accept new dial-up customers? I suspect most of the UK ones regard them as "laggards and would be rather puzzled to find themselves acquiring new ones.

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