Friday, August 9, 2013

Should I Cut My Cable TV?


Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 9th, 2013

There was a time when TV is a must-have in every household. For some, having two or more television sets at home is common. There will be one for the family room, another for the parents' room, and even in children's rooms. For those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen, sometimes, they will even have a small LCD monitor conveniently installed at the side wall so that they can cook and watch TV at the same time. Now, the ubiquitous television set is under threat. Thanks no less to the growing popularity of the Internet. According to news reports, 1 out of 6 Canadians have already cut the cable cord, preferring the web over the traditional TV. It is the younger and more web-savvy users who are refusing to pay for TV, opting for a fully wireless Internet option. After all, many have said that since they are not watching TV as much so why not simply do away with it? From a cost standpoint, I understand. From a convenience standpoint, I concur. Yet, I am reminded too that although cutting the cable may mean saving some money, there are other more subtle repercussions which we ought to take careful note of. I will mention just three of them for now.

1) Threat of the Internet Cannibalising the TV and Phone 

Like many families, my home has a phone line, a cabled television set, as well as Internet.  Of all the three facilities, the one that is used most is the Internet. Gone are the days where we need to dial up a phone number with a modem in order to connect to the Internet. Not only that, the connectivity is slow and buggy, with download speeds that crawl and make it a challenge to download big files. Waiting is something most people have gotten used to.

Not anymore.

With the rise of networking technology and faster wide area networks, service providers have pampered consumers with high speeds that are up to 250Mbps (Mega bits per second) or roughly speaking, about 31MB per second speed. In some places, you can get even higher. With such high speeds, it is possible to use VOIP features, a voice over IP telephony features using the Internet. They not only cost a fraction of the traditional phone prices, sometimes, if one uses Skype-to-Skype or FaceTime to Facetime, or other equivalent applications, the telephone call is free anywhere in the world, with an Internet connection. It is possible to remove your traditional telephone totally and to replace it completely with an Internet telephone. All it takes is some special equipment to be installed, usually at a small fee. The weak link is this. The moment the Internet connection is lost, so too the telephone connection. This problem can be circumvented with the use of mobile phones, which is the other threat to the conventional telephone. Friends of mine have increasingly migrated from a land-line phone to a mobile phone. They prefer a phone where they are easily reachable. At the same time, if the home phone is not used as much, why pay more?

Also gone are the days where we have to stay up for a particular time on a particular day to watch a specific TV program. With many popular TV episodes increasingly on the web, consumers can pick and choose a time and place at their own convenience to watch the episode. Just wait until the episode has been screened by the TV provider, and within a few days, the episode can be streamed to our Internet devices anytime. Just like if we miss a Sunday sermon, we can always go to the Church website and download or stream the sermon when we have the time. Of course, this assumes that your Church has a website and people who will faithfully upload sermon material on the web. Must one go to Church faithfully in order to listen to sermons only? Not anymore.

The Internet has not only cannibalized the conventional phone and the ubiquitous TV and cable, it has changed cultural norms and social behaviour. This is my greater concern, which incidentally, is the guiding thought to help answer the question: "Should I cut my TV Cord?"

2) Threat of Individualism

Years ago, I remember a new theological institution being built. Someone close to the developments complained to me saying that he disagreed with the idea of having a network connection in every room. He said with the ease of network connectivity and the convenience of not having to leave the hostel room altogether, will that not increase the level of individualistic behaviour? I understood precisely where he is coming from. During my early Gordon-Conwell days, the wireless Internet is only available at the main halls. Thus, students who want to do their emails or Internet surfing have to leave their comfortable rooms and to go to the lounge. There, I see familiar faces, and we often chatted before and after meals. After dinner, we hang out together, and for those who need to rush out a paper, we can see them quietly at the next table working away. We even play table tennis together after a hearty meal! The desire to use the Internet can bring people together. In my final year at Gordon-Conwell, the Internet connectivity has improved by leaps and bounds. Not only is the wireless signals stronger in the common lounge, it is also readily available in every room in my block! Thus, there is no more need to head for the lounge to read one's emails. There is no more need to look for a space in the lounge sofa to surf the net. There is no need to get out of our rooms. I notice the change in social behaviour.

People stay more in their rooms and less in the common areas. People huddle inside their own Internet world, oblivious to the outside world. Even theological students behave like that. Individualism has arrived in a new way, through the ubiquitous Internet connection. Individualism stands out as the key cultural phenomenon of our modern age. Drive on the roads, and you see how easily irritated other drivers are when you want to switch lanes, especially into their lanes. Societies with people caring only for themselves are not nice places to live in. For with individualism comes the acts of selfishness, pride, and self-centered deeds. That is one reason why it is increasingly difficult to get people to agree, and to work on common goals. Individualistic people tend to prefer their own ways over all other ways. So much so that the sociologist Wade Clark Roof has commented on the individual empowering oneself even above God!

"The real story of American religious life in this half-century is the rise of a new sovereign self that defines and sets limits on the very meaning of the divine." (Wade Clark Roof cited in Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2008, p293)

Back in the 60s, there was a popular song by Lobo called, "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," which talked about a carefree lifestyle and a culture of doing whatever one sees fit. Life revolved around the lover and the beloved, with a pet dog named Boo. In such a condition, nothing else really mattered. Likewise, fast forward to contemporary times, with everyone having their own laptops, their own cell-phones, their own iPods, and tablet devices, people are comfortable about living alone, with "I and Me with a technology named Internet."

3) Threat of Reduced Bonding Time

With the rise of individualism comes the fall of community concerns. People who are deep in their own problems will find it very difficult to put themselves in the shoes of another. They fear that if they venture out to help others, will there be anyone who will help them? Such a mood arises out of that state of individualistic concerns that will only give when one can get something back in return. That kind of giving is not true giving, for true giving is being able to give without expecting anything in return.

If there is one thing that is most Christian, it is the ability to give, and give, and give. I will also include "forgive" among the giving disposition. Giving up one's individual concerns in order to spend time on other people is a human being at his highest level of virtue. Sometimes I wonder. Why are we so used to accepting people's "I'm busy" comment as an excuse to decline invitation, miss schedules, or to simply stop hanging out altogether. Of course we have become too busy. We have become too busy because the 'me' has become bigger than the WE. The 'I' is more important than the group. For spending time with 'myself' has become so important that other people matters less.

In my household, I turn off the Internet about two hours each day. When that happens, I notice how my kids behave. They start coming out of their rooms. They stop staring at the computers. They begin to play musical instruments. They begin to do other things non-Internet related. They start to hang out together with the rest of the family in front of the TV. Once the Internet connectivity stops, human community begins.

4) Final Comments

Take time to smell the flowers.
When I think about the meaning of living together, individualism is a direct threat to community life. While there is Internet and social media that are fast becoming the common staple of daily living, we must beware of the underlying dangers of weakening social cohesion and community spirit. Whatever weakens community, whatever threatens the fabric of family life, whatever things that prevent us from becoming more neighbourly to one another, we must take action. The Internet may be here to stay, but we can surely take action to prevent it from unraveling our most important relationships.

This comes back to the point of learning to take a Sabbath. Try doing that for technology. Once a week, or for a few hours a day, take a break away from the computer, away from the Internet, away from constant checking of Facebook or emails. Walk to the garden. Smell the flowers. Say hi to your neighbours. Walk instead of drive. Observe the blooming life around us. Then, and gradually, we will realize that life is bigger than our Internet connection.

Seeing how my kids come together during non-Internet hours is reason enough for me to renew my TV/cable subscription.

THOUGHT: "A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week." (Henry Ward Beecher)


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