English teacher Elaine Kramer has never owned a cell phone. She is still learning how to create files and folders on a computer. She opens her garage door using the manual pulley system and occasionally writes assignments on a typewriter. To her, it’s more normal than not.
Since August, Kramer has been living without a working television in her house. Unlike her established technological eccentricities, TV-less life is an experiment that is entirely new.
“It’s really hard to do,” Kramer said. “It’s like being torn away from your birth mother.”
Kramer grew up a member of the first true “TV generation,” watching events like the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the 1969 Moon Landing, America’s exit from Vietnam and the fall of the Berlin Wall on television. She grew up an only child of the North Leawood area, her neighborhood consisting mostly of boys. They played capture the flag, hide and seek and built forts. When she was worn out, she would go indoors and enjoy “Uncle Ed’s Story Hour,” “Hopalong Cassidy” or “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” on a small black and white screen with adults who were unfamiliar to this new form of entertainment.
Kramer has no working television because last August her power surged, frying it. She couldn’t locate her government coupon for a surge protector, and Sears no longer carried the protector.
After a few days without a television, an idea dawned on her. Kramer teaches junior English, which contains a unit on the Transcendentalist philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. These men believed in living simple lives, making their homes in nature without technology altogether. If Emerson and Thoreau could survive alone in the New England woods in a self-built wood shelter, then she could push herself to live without television.
“[Emerson and Thoreau] always seemed to be idealistic, up in the clouds,” Kramer said. “I just couldn’t be that way. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I could be that way. I ought to try it.’ I admire what they say, but can I do what they say?”
Thus far, the self-administered test has challenged long-standing habits.
“What are my boundaries?” Kramer said. “Can I tolerate this? Maybe it will make me into a better person.”
Her old routine included coming home after a long day of teaching and plopping down on the couch to eat dinner. She would channel surf until she ran across “CSI,” “Masterpiece Theater” or “The Big Bang Theory.”
Now, when she gets home and sits down at the dinner table to read “The Wall Street Journal” and eat dinner, her five-year-old German Shepherd named Hasso confusedly looks at her. Before Kramer’s experiment began, Hasso would sit at the foot of the couch to beg for food. Hasso now sits under the table, a more difficult place to beg and get Kramer’s attention.
Sometimes she left the television on to have another voice in the house, since she lives alone. These days she talks to Hasso, which is a “one way conversation.” None of this is easy, and Kramer cannot stress that enough.
“I was displaced,” Kramer said. “My universe was changed.”
Junior Marissa Horwitz, who is in Kramer’s first hour English class, said that as a result of Kramer’s new lifestyle, she occasionally shows outdated news clips in class and is not caught up in student gossip surrounding shows such as MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” Based on Kramer’s zany personality, Horwitz understands how the radical experiment developed.
“She doesn’t judge anything until she tries it,” Horwitz said. “I can totally see her trying out different kinds of Thoreau-esque styles.”
An upside to her current TV-less life is that she has been more productive. She walks Hasso twice per day, at 5 a.m. and after school, gets more papers graded at home and reads more. She also anticipates having more time for yard work once the weather turns warmer.
Despite the adjustment to living outside established habits, Kramer feels like she has gained more than she has lost from the experiment. Originally, she thought she would learn something, but she did not know what.
“I’ve learned that I was passive a lot of the time when I should have been active,” Kramer said. “I enjoyed vegging in front of the TV and not doing anything. I misinterpreted that as being restful, but it’s really just being lazy.”
As far as an end to the experiment goes, Kramer has no time frame for how long it may last. However, Horwitz thinks Kramer will not continue much longer.
“Once she experiences it for a while, she’ll say ‘Okay, got that down. Let’s move on to something else.’”
But right now Kramer is enjoying the challenge, so there is no end in sight.
“I’m willing to do this,” Kramer said. “I’m wanting to do this to see what happens.”