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Living 'outside the box' - one escapee's TV-turn-off year

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I once unplugged the TV for a month. It was summer, the season of long walks, barbecues ... and reruns. But if I really wanted to prove I could break free from evening sessions of tube-induced passivity, I'd have to make it through a New England winter. In the darkest, coldest months, I would no longer be able to escape to the passionate politics of "The West Wing" or the passion-fruit pablum of "reality" dating.

This winter, I had my test.

A year ago I moved into my own place, just a few minutes' drive from my former roommate - and her television. Friends offered me a spare, but I declined. Living alone was an opportunity to choose deliberately how I wanted to live. And I had a hunch that being TV-free would help me leap into all those things I wanted to do but didn't seem to have time for. I offer my story in honor of TV-Turnoff Week. Millions of people in the United States and 10 other countries are celebrating it April 25-May 1, according to the TV-Turnoff Network, which promotes alternatives to excessive screen time.

I wondered if I would feel lonely, but decided it would be better not to try to fill a void with fictional friends. In the first month or so, I weaned myself from my favorite shows by visiting real friends and watching with them.

Eventually, I just lost track of what was on when. I could no longer join in the buzz at my office about the popular shows.

During the Olympics, it became abundantly clear that some spectacles just don't play well on the radio. The world's eyes were fixed on graceful, gravity-defying feats, and I was wearing a blindfold.

I kept telling people it was an experiment: "We'll see how it goes this winter," I'd say. I considered buying a small TV to keep in the closet and bring out on special occasions.

But for all I was missing, I could feel the balance tipping toward gain.

I found myself breezing through book-club books. I had been in the habit of thinking I was too tired to read after a long day at work, but not too tired to watch TV. Now I was well read and well rested. I started doing volunteer work virtually every week instead of every few months. I called friends who usually heard from me only at the holidays. Sometimes I even reveled in that rare commodity called quiet.

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