(Translation by Joshua Cobin with John Cobin)
Life without TV
Santiago, Chile, El Mercurio, Front Page, Saturday, January 29, 2000
[Photo caption:] UnpluggedThose who today don't have TV at home, or don't watch it, are part of a small minority. Recent studies have shown that, at least in the Metropolitan Region, there are 2.3 TVs per household and that 87% of the people who live in Santiago use their free time watching TV, taking doses of three hours a day. But the "non-TVers" assure that they use their time better and that they have a good quality of life. In the picture, John and Joan Cobin are together with their six kids, who have lived for 16 years without watching TV.
Those who have chosen to do without a TV say they have more time for their families and do other activities.
In the mid 1980s, John and Joan Cobin decided to take TV out of their lives. Today, living in Chile for the past four years, the economist and American professor John Cobin and his wife have lived 16 years without TV.
Why? First, because they considered it to be a waste of time and it is better to read and get information out of the newspaper or from the internet. Second, for moral reasons, especially "because American television leaves a lot to be desired". And finally, on account of the appearance of their first son. The five that followed strengthened these fundamentals even more.
"We didn't want to let our kids grow up watching TV. We don't agree with having it as a babysitter and sitting them in front of the screen for 3 or 4 hours", says the public policy professor from the Unversidad Finis Terrae.
In this way their daily conversation does not take into account declarations made by the [Chilean] Minister of Defense in a round table discussion of a nightly news bulletin, nor the dresses of Cecilia Bolocco, nor the talk of new television series.
This family uses their free time, in addition to other things, to play sports, to make outings, to take trips, and even read together. They do not jettison movies though, since they have a VCR, which gives them freedom to sit in front of a TV screen when they choose to and then only to watch what they wish.
"I feel that our kids have obtained something that others don't have the opportunity to develop. We teach them a different culture?one of critical and intelligent thought. They understand better and their vocabulary is excellent", says John. Partly because they read close to three hours a day, both for fun and for assignments.
And it is the lack of TV is only part of their lifestyle. The Cobin kids study at home. The family has instituted what is known as homeschool or "schooling at home", for which Joan is in charge of 90% and John the remaining 10%. To provide for socialization needs that a common school gives, they participate in clubs and other activities with kids their age.
The result, in the eyes of the Professor, has been satisfactory. "We are a very close family and we spend a great amount of time together. "I do something every day with the kids". His final verdict was: "There isn't a day that we end up lacking for not having a TV; we don't miss it".
The people who don't watch TV
What might seem as the "hard line" of foreigners is not so. It is a lifestyle preference that is also found among Chileans, either definite and permanent or as a summer alternative. Reading, getting together to talk, cook, play sports, paint, surf on the internet, play with friends or family, play chess, or even do a puzzle. There are no recipes or fixed plans to spend their free time. One thing that everybody agrees on is that nobody will die without TV and one even lives better.
"It's good for nothing and it is not useful; it is a pure bombardment of sound and things you don't care about. It's not that it is bad or harmful, but rather it is not necessary", comments Marcelo S. (26), a lawyer and journalist who has lived for a year and a half without TV. "You waste too much time, when in the end you find out about everything by other means anyway. It's different having been born with TV in your house than to put one in, especially if it is a small house like mine. And if you add cable TV, you will have hundreds of more channels from all over the world; it's too much noise".
José Manuel Allard (26), a designer, doesn't have much free time and spends a large part of the day in front of a screen?a computer screen?mainly for work. "I use my time better without TV", he says, "I have a girlfriend and I do other things". He chose this, he explains "like a form of safeguarding our space, without TV capturing you and being part of your family".
From his judgment, this sort of problem of this kind requires a lot of will power to handle. "I listen to the radio all day and it keeps me informed, but it lets me do other things".
Translator María Eliana Tagle (53) doesn't watch TV at all on vacation, in order to rest and disconnect. "I take advantage of doing other things; reading, painting, taking a walk, talking, playing. Without it you have a real life; with it you live what it shows.
The Fantasy of Rest
But this is an minority alternative. A study completed by The National Council of Television between 1993 and 1999 confirmed that there are 2.3 televisions per home in the Metropolitan Region [of Santiago].
And another pioneer analysis about Chileans' free time that was completed last year by the department of Sociological Studies of Universidad Católica, showed that watching TV is the main "activity" done while not working. After compiling questionnaires, which were done every 15 minutes with over 2,200 people over the age of 15 in the Metropolitan Region, showed that 87% of people surveyed watched TV on weekdays and 82% on weekends, with an average of three hours per day.
The first explanation for this current rate is that there is little left of what one could call "free time", properly speaking, but it is not the only explanation.
"Today, life is stressful and the home has come to be the place of rest, not of activity", explains the psychologist Nadja Antonijevic.
"The Chilean society", adds the sociologist Carlos Catalán, "is working more and it feels that way". That adds up to the following: in large cities, much time is spent commuting, and a growing safety problem exists, both of which favor staying at home.
From that point of view, watching television can be the ideal scenario?because it is a passive and safe activity. "Actually relaxation and rest are associated with doing nothing", comments Nadja Antonijevic. "If one is stretching out and watching entertainment, there will be a natural tendency to continue doing so".
Of course, you don't need energy or creativity or effort of any kind. "It's the maximum expression of the fantasy of rest, they have the lives of others, the whole world, while laying down on a couch or a bed, she adds.
From her point of view, Chileans have changed into "vicarious people". As she explains, you live around other people's lives more than you build your own. "To sit down in front of the TV and watch a political forum or a lunch, is in essence the same as bringing friends to your house and talking live via TV".
What happens, according to the psychologist, is that those other themes generally end up being more open and interesting. When you don't have activities or your own creations, getting together to talk may be boring. "It is much more entertaining to sit down and watch a movie?the life of others".
Therefore, TV is usually the subject of conversation in social meetings.
To all of these things must be added the fact that we live in close quarters and we lack places to play and have fun.
The Issue of Habit
The Universidad Católica study also showed that the predominance of TV has not detracted from other actions of direct social relation, like talking and reading.
"It's not that the means of communication and information technology substitute for other activities but rather they coexist", comments Catalán. As he explains, the means support sociability. "After seeing a TV show, what it reproduces is a social conversation.
The study postulates that when work is reduced and there is more free time, people are very active in distributing free time and reduce the amount of time dedicated to TV. The second preference is talking, followed by listening to radio, making or receiving visitors, talking on the telephone and going out for a stroll.
Thus, family cultivation becomes central, because a vicious circle of role models exists. The parents are role models of TV spectators and hence non-participants in alternative activities.
Nadja Antonijevic adds that some parents choose TV because they see it as an activity in which the kids make less mess, are quieter, and do not participate in risky activities.
Part of the problem, in the eyes of the psychologist, is that the people have gotten used to being entertained by it and to buying products through it.
However, she proposes that because people are disposed to leisure and an eagerness to entertain themselves, interesting ideas will occur to them.
Santiago, Chile, El Mercurio, Friday, August 27, 1999, page B26
Santiago, Chile, El Mercurio, Sunday, November 8, 1998, page D30
Santiago, Chile, El Mercurio, Sunday, February 27, 2000, page 9 (section "Enfoques" on regulation)
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