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Thinking outside the box - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Thinking outside the box
We don't have a TV.

If you think this is quite a boring thing to talk about, then you're right. I think about not-having-a-TV about as much as I think about not-playing-golf, with about as much interest. Recently, however, I was forced to think about it a lot more because I had a spate of people getting at me for not owning a TV and not having a TV licence. I hate wasting time justifying myself to idiots, but I thought I'd share my thoughts about the issues anyway.

Part of the problem is that there are three linked but not entirely identical issues here:
  1. owning a TV set
  2. having a TV licence
  3. watching TV programmes
At the moment you need a TV licence if you own equipment capable of receiving a TV signal. The definition of this equipment is somewhat confused and no two people from TV Licensing seem to agree on it, but it does not currently include computers capable of using iPlayer[*]. You do, however, require a licence if you want to use that computer to watch live TV through iPlayer or the web. (It's not clear how — or whether — this is policed, but I'm not looking for ways to evade the law here!)

[*] I notice they say "the number of homes that currently have no television licence, but that do have broadband subscription is currently estimated to be infinitesimally small. The chances are if you want to watch BBC TV programmes via catch-up over the web, you are also watching some BBC programmes at other times, live or time-shifted, via a TV set, and will already have a TV licence." For what it's worth, we use broadband for lots of things that don't involve watching TV; we don't watch TV programmes via a TV set, because we don't have one (we just watch on the laptop); and we don't watch them very often if at all anyway.

So, I don't watch live TV, because I don't have a TV licence. I watch very little TV at all, live or otherwise; last year I watched Glee (via 4oD), but I really can't think of a single other thing I watched at home. (addedentry reminds me that while we were staying at my parents' house over Christmas I also watched the new dramatisation of "Murder on the Orient Express". My parents have a TV and pay a TV licence, their situation is uncomplicated, so let's leave them out of the equation.) It's just not something I'm in the habit of doing. I love Glee, but I often forget about watching even that until someone reminds me.

I don't regard this as a moral stance, any more than any of the other things I don't do: I don't play golf, as mentioned; I rarely go to live comedy shows or dance shows; I don't read the Financial Times; I don't go horse-riding; I've never been to a football match; I don't tend to listen to opera (though I've heard the odd bit here and there since switching to R3 for our morning radio alarm). There are lots of things out there which lots of people find interesting, inspiring, fun, relaxing, or otherwise a good way to spend their time. I don't have a problem with how people spend their time so long as they're not messing things up for other people in the process. It's just a matter of personal taste. I used to have a TV (and a TV licence, of course) but even then I very rarely watched it, to the extent that it was starting to seem a bit silly paying £150 a year for something I didn't use. If you were paying for a magazine subscription and you realised you never actually read the magazine, you'd probably cancel it, right?

I don't think the TV licence is a waste of money per se: I just think it's a waste of money for me. There's no legal obligation for me to have one because I don't have a TV set and don't watch live TV; I don't feel any moral obligation to pay it when I so very rarely watch catch-up TV (I'd almost certainly just give up watching catch-up TV if that also required the licence). I suppose it's possible that I might feel differently about the moral obligation if I watched things on iPlayer all the time; but I don't. Other people can do their own cost/benefit analysis for their own situation. (For what it's worth, I pay a comparable amount for Spotify premium service, so I can get streaming music without adverts; I use that all the time, it feels like good value, as for the cost of a CD a month I get to listen to a gazillion CDs without any of them taking up space in our house.)

The flak I've been getting for not having a TV has focused on a) calling me a licence-evading freeloader, and b) quibbling about what "counts" as watching TV. Of course, the question about what "counts" is irrelevant to the legal question of the licence (though not the hypothetical moral obligation mentioned above). I am only "evading" a licence in the sense that I've decided not to do either of the things that requires the licence (that is, own a TV set or watch live TV). That's like saying I'm evading the duty on alcohol by not drinking. The "freeloading" question is slightly more contentful, slightly more worthy of consideration; I am using some of the BBC's services (I listen to BBC radio, and use the BBC website). Does that make me a freeloader? Possibly; but in that case, what should I be doing: getting a licence for a thing I don't have? Making regular donations to the BBC? If there was a BBC Licence, I might pay it... or I might decide that since this was equivalent to putting the whole of the BBC behind a paywall, the BBC was no longer something I wanted to support. I don't honestly know.

The fact that people are concentrating on what "counts" as TV suggests that for them it is a moral issue rather than a legal one, but I can't tell whether it's a genuine feeling on their part that I'm doing something immoral by making occasional use of the BBC's services without paying a TV licence, or a way of trying to justify the moral defensiveness that people seem to feel about their own TV-watching. If it's the former, then that's interesting, but I don't think I'm doing anything that is immoral in my book (I'm prepared to believe I could be convinced otherwise), and I'd rather stick to my own morals than try to second-guess other people. One colleague claimed that TV was a universal social good and therefore everybody ought to have a TV Licence; I can understand the viewpoint that TV is a Good Thing (I'm not convinced, but it's not a ridiculous opinion), but if that's generally agreed to be the case then I'd prefer to see it provided for out of general taxation rather than relying on the current system of licenses for bits of hardware. As for paying the licence fee voluntarily, even if TV is a universal social good there are lots of other social goods that would be much higher up my list of things to support if I found myself with spare cash.

If the reason behind the hassle is the more vague sense of moral defensiveness, though, there's even less I can do about it except keep reiterating that it's not a moral stance and I'm not judging them (which certainly isn't going to help if that's not their motivation, or if they don't realise that that's their subconscious motivation).

There are probably lots of things on TV that I would enjoy. Similarly, there's probably lots of opera that I'd enjoy, and horse-riding might be fun, and so on. But there are also lots of other things that I'd choose first. Nobody can do everything, everybody will miss something. I'm not (at least, I don't intend to be, and don't think I am) a snob about it: I will freely admit that there are individual TV programmes that I am snobbish about, but dismissing TV as a whole just because of Big Brother would be like dismissing novels because of Dan Brown. I'm not dismissing the validity or appeal of TV as a cultural medium: it just doesn't seem to do it for me, or at least it doesn't currently attract or appeal to me enough to change my cultural-consumption habits. (I do watch bits and pieces of things-that-are-like-TV-but-much-shorter on YouTube, but a) they're much shorter, which is part of the appeal, and b) they're usually more directly linked to something else I'm doing: they're linked from the blogs I enjoy, or they're linked to by people I like or respect or tend to agree with.)

I think part of the reason I don't tend to watch TV is that I do tend to have music on a lot of the time whatever else I'm doing. I know some people treat the TV in the same way, but if there's a TV on in the background I find it distracts me too much (and stops people talking), whereas music entertains me without interfering. I can listen to music while reading, or writing; I wouldn't want to have the TV on while doing either. (It seems slightly ironic that people claim TV reduces children's ability to concentrate, whereas part of the reason I don't have a TV is that I don't want to have to concentrate on just one thing at once.) I don't really watch films either, for some of the same reasons (much to addedentry's dismay — I think he'd happily go to the cinema at least once a day, whereas I'd average more like once a year). I've tried in the past to turn this into some kind of tossy media-literacy thing about not really having the right cultural reference points or not understanding the medium, but to be honest, it's just that — for whatever reason — I don't get enough fun out of it to make it feel like a worthwhile investment of time for me. (I think there are things I miss in films because I'm not that knowledgeable about films — deliberate references to other films, cinematic shorthand that probably doesn't 'work' for me in quite the same way — but I'm sure I miss references in books as well, and that doesn't bother me.) With the cinema, of course, there are other issues too: not wanting to pay £10 for a film I could get for £3 on DVD, not wanting to sit in a dark smelly room on an uncomfortable seat with a tall man's head blocking my view and people kicking me in the back... that sort of thing. But I put up with the uncomfortable seats and the antisocial people to go to the theatre (I probably spent more than the cost of a TV licence on theatre tickets last year) or to go to concerts, so clearly that isn't the whole story.

I don't think there's a moral or even a conclusion to draw from this, except that I'm quite happy with my situation, and I'm happy for other people to be happy with theirs.


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vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: March 25th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)
As you guessed, I am aiming for Monday now...

I have no idea what sorts of Silly People suggest that you're evading your moral obligations by not paying a TV LF, but I suppose it's fair to suggest back to them that your taxes indreictly also assist the Beeb, and that watching old TV on your computer without having paid an LF is like saying you ought to track down RKO's inheritors in law and pay them the ticket fee for watching a film they made in 1938.

If it's out there, it's out there.

I don't have anything other than R4 on as background: I stop and listen to music and I stop to watch something that's visual if I find it appealing, as most of what's on TV requires the visual component to communicate at all.

I don't go to the cinema much either, and i watch very little TV: BBC2-type stuff or a couple of US-based crime dramas, very lightweight, cleverly done. LOVED the series on Kibworth and the historical High Street series based in Shepton Mallett.

But we pay a TVLF and don't mind "carrying" FREE LOADERS LIKE YOU. THGB, I believe we used to say, when we were all marginally younger ...
j4 From: j4 Date: March 25th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC) (Link)
As you guessed, I am aiming for Monday now...

Ah -- I still thought you were aiming for today because that was the last I'd heard... :-} But never mind, Monday is fine!
pjc50 From: pjc50 Date: March 25th, 2011 11:21 am (UTC) (Link)
a) calling me a licence-evading freeloader

The TVLA have a nasty habit of doing this, but if anyone else does it it's extremely rude of them.

The general habit of trying to match up services and payments exactly in politics seems to be increasing, and I don't like it. There's another group of people who claim to watch TV but never the BBC and object to paying for their TV license on that basis, although that's mostly because they're extremely right wing.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: March 25th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Even the TVLA don't try that hard. I used to get the occasional plaintive letter from them, but I can't remember it ever going beyond that. Since I wasn't a freeloader, I didn't identify myself with the people they were being rude about, and didn't feel insulted.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: March 25th, 2011 11:25 am (UTC) (Link)
As someone who at one point reckoned I was paying £5 an hour for the TV I was watching at the time (a handful of hours per year), and who therefore got rid of TV and licence, I quite understand. Just ignore the poor hard-of-thought little people.

Actually, more seriously, I suspect that they're trying to justify to themselves why they pay the licence fee. The chances of being caught are close to nil, and some part of their brain is probably going "tell me again, why do we pay this money?". Another part ends up replying "because it's right" without examining it too closely.

Unlike my decision of above, we do now have a great big LCD V and cable box and Virgin deal and so on. And we do have a licence. We watch a few hours a week, usually during dinner (last night being Brian Cox, and comparing him to Jim Al-Khalili).
j4 From: j4 Date: March 25th, 2011 11:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I suspect that they're trying to justify to themselves why _they_ pay the licence fee.

Good point, I hadn't thought of that one. Though are the chances of being caught really that small?
khalinche From: khalinche Date: March 25th, 2011 11:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I find it extraordinary that people should be so vocally critical enough of your choice not to have a TV. I can think of some people who think it bizarre that we don't have one, but no-one who has the nerve to actually tell me/us that it's WRONG. Too bad the critics seem to have all found you instead :(
khalinche From: khalinche Date: March 25th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry, please mentally edit that first sentence for me. The absence of TV has clearly done nothing for my ability to write coherent phrases.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: March 25th, 2011 11:41 am (UTC) (Link)
"I think about not-having-a-TV about as much as I think about not-playing-golf"

It impresses me how comprehensively I fail to think about sport, religion, or the Royal Family, and (with the exception of that bloody wedding) other people don't force me to think about them. How ridiculous that not-watching-TV should provoke more of a response!
geekette8 From: geekette8 Date: March 25th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm even more of a freeloader than you - we do have a TV set (and an aerial, as it happens, left over from the previous occupants, but the two are not connected together) and we watch quite a few things on iPlayer. No licence because our situation does not legally require one; if that changes then I'll get one, because I'm law-abiding.

I think of my situation now as analagous to someone who likes to walk on public footpaths that cross a golf course; I'm not required to pay for golf club membership to do that, and the golf club might be great at what they do but they're still way down the list of organisations that I will voluntarily give money to.
hoshuteki From: hoshuteki Date: March 25th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have managed to largely avoid this response, which is fortunate. Someone mentioned it once when we watched some live football streamed from the Web and I've felt sufficiently ashamed since then that I don't watch anything live on iPlayer (not that I ever really consider doing so). Not having a TV just doesn't seem to come up very often in conversation possibly because, as you correctly say, it's not interesting.
julietk From: julietk Date: March 25th, 2011 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I watch TV rarely enough that I'd quite like to get rid of it and not pay the license, but P doesn't like watching DVDs on the laptop, and is unconvinced that big non-TV displays are good enough for his film-viewing preferences. (P cares about things like colour balance and the slightly odd things that LCD displays do. I do not and will happily watch things on the laptop.)

Not having *some* kind of a screen for DVDs would, I agree with P, be a nuisance if watching with >2 people at once. The old TV is slowly expiring, so we may investigate the alternatives sometime soon.

But then, I do listen to a lot of BBC radio, so don't mind too much paying anyway... Maybe the BBC should have a tip jar for radio listeners :)

ION: Glee! Yay! I too am bad at remembering to watch,, though, and tend to catch up in batches. I find the framerate & resolution on 4OD to e absolutely dreadful, though, especially for the singing/dancing bits. Is it OK for you?
j4 From: j4 Date: March 25th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not having *some* kind of a screen for DVDs would, I agree with P, be a nuisance if watching with >2 people at once.

What I'd like to do for this is get a projector to hook up to the laptop -- that way the huge screen doesn't have to sit there taking up all the space in the living room for the 99% of the time that we're not using it (my other objection to TVs!). I suspect this wouldn't satisfy someone who cares about display quality though...

And yes, 4OD is pretty crappy, but, eh, I dunno, I am not that fussy, I am used to watching stuff on YouTube. :-}
arnhem From: arnhem Date: March 25th, 2011 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
We don't have a TV, and don't watch live TV over broadband. We don't have a license. We do watch a moderate amount of things on iplayer.

My belief is that I don't currently have any legal or moral need to buy a license.

What I'd _like_ is if they stopped doing the very stupid thing of licensing TV use (for much the same reason that they gave up on licensing radios), and raised the same money for the same purpose by imposing a "broadband license".

The advantage of this would be that the license could be extracted directly from the ISPs, who could then pass it on trivially and at essentially no additional overhead cost (ie entirely without wastes of money like the TVLA) through their normal billing process.

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1ngi From: 1ngi Date: March 25th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seconding the expressions of 'how rude'.

I grew up without a telly. I think my sister and I were the only kids at school who didn't have one. It was considered weird and possibly even deprivation by everyone we knew. Mum used to borrow a telly at Christmas for a couple of weeks and then it would be returned.

I wouldn't miss it if it sat in the corner and spontaneously-but-safely-combusted. But I would miss films and possibly the Big Bang Theory so needing something to watch those on is a good idea.

"if there's a TV on in the background I find it distracts me too much (and stops people talking)"

This is my absolute pet hate and drives me bonkers. If guests arrive the telly goes off in my book. And I'm certain there would be more music in our lives if there were no telly.
lnr From: lnr Date: March 28th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Distraction: I find them horribly distracting even in pubs when you can't hear them. Although I do think watching TV together can be a social occasion too, in a similar way to watching a film.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: March 25th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Re: people who leave the telly on all the time, I read an interesting interpretation of that (which I can't now find by Googling, of course).

Basically, s/he said that it's a question of metaphors: while some people see the telly as an intrusive guest in the room, other people see it as a flickering fire.

My best friend at school's family ALWAYS had the telly on and I couldn't understand it. I remember once trying to get them to turn it off because they were about to sing Happy Birthday to her brother, but they didn't understand why and I felt stupid for asking. When I think "ah, it was like a roaring fire to them", it seems much easier to understand.
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: March 25th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
From personal experience, I rather tend to the theory that for some people it's just necessary background noise, because otherwise they'd feel lonely.
Anecdotes for that: my previous partners can be safely divided into "had siblings" and "had not", with the former group also completely in the "telly in the background" camp and the other not.
ewx From: ewx Date: March 25th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Complaining that you don't pay the licence when you don't have a TV is Just Plain Bizarre.

When I didn't have a TV the TVLA did eventually send someone around to check. He was perfectly polite (and so was I); he asked if he could look inside the house and when I said yes, this turned out to mean putting his head past the doorframe for under a second; I guess he might have been able to see that there was no TV on the stairs. Evidently he was already convinced and perhaps was just ticking a "looked inside" box.

livredor From: livredor Date: March 25th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
My situation is almost exactly the same. I don't have a TV, I don't consider it worth paying the licence fee for the half dozen programmes a year I actually feel like watching. The convenience of being able to watch programmes online, when I feel like it and without needing to be available at the scheduled broadcast time or needing to set up a recording, greatly outweighs the disadvantage of the smaller screen size.

Hypothetically I would like a screen for playing console games and watching DVDs, but I don't want to watch terrestrial TV and I don't want to pay for a licence if I'm only going to use the screen as a screen, not a TV receiver. I agree with you that I'm missing out on some cultural references, but I don't get enough fun out of TV for it to be a worthwhile use of my time (money not being the main obstacle).
tinyjo From: tinyjo Date: March 26th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I found that Orient Express adaptation really disappointing - definitely not what I would have recommended as almost the only thing to see all year :)

When your young lady starts saying "Mum, why can't we have a TV!" do you think you will get her one? I'm curious because it sounds like your current TV non-ownership stems from disinterest, so will things change if a more interested person enters your household?
j4 From: j4 Date: March 26th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I found the Poirot disappointing too.

When your young lady starts saying "Mum, why can't we have a TV!" do you think you will get her one?

My reaction is "Only if she's happy to pay for the set and the licence and can find somewhere in the house to put it", but addedentry says of course we'll get her one as soon as she asks for it!! So, er, I think he & I need to talk about this. :-} I don't see why she can't just watch things on iPlayer like we do, though...
damiancugley From: damiancugley Date: March 26th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have TV because it is a form of media I can absorb while my hands are occupied with eating my supper. Then I watch some programmes because I have finished my supper and can’t be bothered getting up.

Except this all fell apart tonight because despite BBC licence fee, and cable company monthly fee, and Tivo lifetime service purchase, there was nothing worth watching on. Virgin Media are upping the ante by forcing me to increase my monthly payments if I want to enjoy a Tivo service in future (the existing one being discontinued).

Which forces me to consider alternative ways to get my BBC annual harvest, which comprises Doctor Who and Being Human. I just had a look on the Apple Money Suck System and Being Human Series 3 in HD would have cost me £20, Doctor Who £25. This is £45 more than outright theft, but still leaves me with £100 to spend on other content, plus however much of my cable contract represents TV content. Hmm. Without an interest in soaps or other week-in, week-out programmes the financial case for a TV licence and cable sub begins to look very flimsy.
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