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Life without cable

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It still seems a bit dreamlike--falling asleep with my gal on the couch on election night 2000 with the whole mess in Florida unfolding. Gore had conceded then not conceded, and when I fell asleep I was hopeful. That ended Wednesday morning, and the dread of what Mr. Don't Mess with Texas would do to the country grew as we watched the slow-motion train wreck unfold over the next few weeks on 36 channels of crystal clear cable television.

I'll admit to being glued to the clicker throughout campaign 2000, but this year is different--thanks to the inability three years ago of Time Warner to arrive at our new house to transfer service. After being shunned by the media giant three times (a total of 12 hours taken off work to meet the no-show cable guy), I gave up and decided to see what life without cable was like.

Bliss--that's what it's like. Our household television consumption has dropped off dramatically.

We're down to the occasional cooking show and late night BBC news broadcast on PBS. This summer, the tube was silent for three solid weeks. Without the time-sink that is television, our lifestyles are much different. We watch basketball with friends and actually read magazines and books rather than just pile them up. We talk more. More importantly, my news stream--and I need a steady supply of it--isn't cluttered up with the grand thoughts of Tucker Carlson, Bob Novak and the two dozen or so other blowhards that inhabit the idiot box. Fewer people are shouting at me. (Shouting, I now see, is television's universal theme. You find it everywhere from dramas to sitcoms to political analysis.) And fewer major corporations are trying to sell me something. In the time it takes to sit through six or seven pharmaceutical commercials, you can scan The Times or The South China Morning Post for a good read.

We're not deprived, though. Most must-see moments on television are available on the 'net. If we absolutely must see a clip of some fool weatherhead on a hurricane-battered beach, we can download it.

But nothing has drilled home the bliss of a cable-free life than this year's election. The experience is 99 percent less show biz than the one I witnessed in 2000. Yep, I've missed The Daily Show, but I'm sure it's still funny--everyone I know tells me so in gripping detail. But I haven't seen a bit of Crossfire or the arching eyebrow of Bill O'Reilly in mid-"M'naha!" So far, this election (save for some broadcast debate coverage) has been nearly TV-pundit free, and I'm pretty certain I'm a better person for it. If something really big or clever or insightful (so far nothing on those fronts) is said, I can always read the transcripts--which, by the way, do not shout at you.

With the election drawing close, we are cautiously starting to watch more. Even though we don't have 200 channels of crystal clear cable at our fingertips, there's a lot to see. Analysts and campaign commercials ("taxes! taxes!! TAXES!!! lies! lies!! LIES!!!") are starting to filter back into our lives. We'll ride it out to the first Tuesday in November and the morning after. Then we're pulling the plug again. Because after that, there'll be nothing left but the shouting.

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