Speed-roll the TV credits while split-screening a promo for things I'd rather do instead

Did you see the latest Daily Show, or Idol, or Lost? No (but love it), no (never), and no (huh?). The entire country could probably be divided into camps of unequal size: those who watch TV most nights and those who don't. Those who TV is a much larger and more heterogenous group, while those who don't are small and probably pretty similar to one another.

One of the odd things that's happened to me is that I've left the big camp for the small one. This is typically typical behavior for a contrarian like me, but in this case it's just odd. I'm a big fan of entertainment, especially books, movies and until recently, TV. I was raised in a home and community where TV watching was a big deal - it drove most of the cultural common knowledge. I was an outcast for not having cable by the mid 1980s. Guaranteed that 2-3 hours a night, we were TVing. And I've always thought of the nonTVers as snobby cold joykills who pushed things like Turn It Off Week.

Now, I have to disclose that I have satellite TV. Occasionally I'll watch one of the news stations, or football or catch a movie or something truly educational (remember when you could actually learn something on TechTV and TLC and Discovery and History?). And I am Netflixing TV shows that seem worthy like Angel, Firefly, Batman: the Animated Series and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But all of these DVDs are treated like movies rather than as TV. If something truly monumental comes off of network TV, I'll catch it on Netflix.

For one thing, I found less and less TV grabbing my attention. The quality of network TV has dropped like a rock, driven by budget constraints, studio monopolies and rabidness about ratings. Shows like Homicide, Seinfeld, Firefly, Quantum Leap, the Lazarus Man, and Star Trek just won't ever be made again. The really good ones like Freaks and Geeks and Sports Night all died pretty quick deaths. All the good stuff has moved to pay channels or to the movies. TV has become so formulaic, by design, that I've felt I've seen several of these shows before. You can almost do a flowchart of sitcoms: 26 minutes of: stupid man/smart woman, two stupid men, two smart/one dumb woman - then insert smartass joke #1284 or #5916 at time index 2:35. And police procedurals and lawyers waving briefcases at each other? Snooze.

What about reality TV shows? They are not new: they are 1950s prime time quiz shows combined with Jerry Springer tension and with all the genuine drama of pro wrestling. They will eventually devolve into actual voyeur video, mark my words. Jenna Jameson's American Porn Idol, brought to you by Coors and Fidelity Investments. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Is this because I'm older? There's probably some truth to that, although age doesn't seem to affect the TV fiends I grew up with. I have relatives a generation older than me who live in their TVs. Am I becoming a cultural snob? Not a chance. But with networks incapable of showing a program on a consistent schedule - there's the sweeps, the awards shows, the specials, the mini-series, the sports, etc. I have kids to schedule my life around, thanks.

Perhaps the biggest reason of all that I've gutted the TV watching is that I feel I should be more productive with enjoying my free time. Has anyone felt really good after watching 2-3 hours of the Tube? I've got activities that put me in a flow state, provide that natural high of optimal experience and are much more fulfilling. Primarily I'm talking about the 'Secret Project' which is constructive, productive and most of all, fun. Maybe I'll talk more about that in the future, or maybe not.

Do I look down my nose disapprovingly of people who watch lots of TV? Not at all. Maybe they enjoy it as much as I enjoy the things mentioned above, and I never want to come between a person and what puts them in flow. Nor do I think TV is ruining the country or causing cancer in lab mice. Hell, I want to get a nice big 50" TV at some point to see movies and games as they were meant to be. Just not my thing anymore.

Drinking games

I don't drink. Never have, probably never will. There's enough alcoholism in my family tree that several generations of temperance will be needed to get the leaves on that tree to a BAC under 0.10. Plus, I like the food and drink consumption too much and if I restrict those to relatively healthy, nonalcoholic items, I'm that much better off. So there's a measure of innocence and ignorance I bring to the whole subject of drinking.

Maybe it's that ignorance, but can someone explain to me how drinking comes within a mile of its hype? Those who make the biggest deal about going out drinking, and here I mean the ones who seem to like it better than sex, seem to enjoy the talking about it more than the doing. On several occasions, after hearing a drink-hyper spew lots of verbiage about how great drinking is, it doesn't match up when I accompany them to go drinking (Sprite, please). They are not nearly as excited or boisterous or enjoying it 1/25th as much as they jawed on and on about it. Am I somehow ruining the fun? Or is it so much fun that it has to be taken very seriously, like taste-testing wine? I doubt it's me, since this always happens with a large group of people. And I doubt it's a need to savor the beer experience.

It smacks of one of those social conventions where the more conformist amongst us feel they need to go overboard in praising what they see as a popular activity to gain the acceptance of others. This leads to others inflating their feelings towards a particular activity until the conventional wisdom is that it's better than sex, better than living through a near death experience, better than anything.

My first week of college, I went to a frat party with some other freshman (no, we weren't wearing beanies). They drank, I didn't. We stood in a darkened frat house in downtown Binghamton, music thumping, them sipping from plastic cups. We were all bored and left, feeling that this particular college experience was pretty lame and way overrated. Other than getting a cup of beer, there was nothing else to do or see. I went to a couple of funneling and keg parties in the party dorm I lived in first semester. It was like an alcohol-worshipping cult.

And what's the deal with getting drunk? Before I realized that drunk people are pretty much indistinguishable from sober folks, I thought that there was some cartoonish symptoms of inebriation: the slurring, the stumbling, the little tic marks dancing above the person's head. Turns out, there's not.

Having never been drunk, but having had numerous reality-altering chemical episodes (anesthesia, sudafed-induced hazes, etc.) I think I've come close to knowing what a hangover is like. Now, I've been at social events where I'm having such a good time that my inhibitions were lowered and my tongue was loosened, all with nothing stronger than A&W. Is that like a natural drunkeness, or am I way off? Either way, if the price I had to pay for those 'natural' highs was the after effects of some lousy allergy medicine I've had, it would not have been worth it. Add headaches and vomiting and it sounds like a crazy proposition.

Perhaps the ultimate point of confusion for me is that for all the camaraderie and bonding, etc. that is supposed to go with drinking, the alcohol-based relationships seem to dry up soon after the drinking is removed. How many times have you heard about someone having all these drinking buddies and then when they stop going out, they find there's really nothing else to the relationship. When people get through the alcohol-fogged times of their lives, and go out with friends, it seems like they are real friends. Makes me wonder if the whole drinking deal is just a hollow, socially imposed farce.