Why you don't need a television: The dying art of watching programmes on the box

Television ownership has fallen in Britain for the first time. Kate Wills, who hasn't had a set for 10 years, explains why she has no need to stay glued to the gogglebox

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The Independent Culture

Admitting that you didn't have a TV at home used to be social suicide. I remember with a tinge of horror how I mocked the only girl in my class who couldn't join in with our daily Neighbours debrief because her family didn't have a telly "for religious reasons". But the world has changed a bit since Pogs were a must-have.

No one cool owns a TV any more. The number of UK homes with a television has fallen for the first time, according to Ofcom. At the end of 2012, 26.33 million households were still glued to an actual TV set (with a remote and everything), but by the end of last year, 310,000 of them had either converted to whatever anti-TV religion my classmate was or, and this is far more likely, are now bypassing the box to stream shows straight to their phones, tablets, computers and games consoles.

I haven't owned a TV for almost a decade so I'm glad that the rest of the world is finally catching up. Sure, my student digs had a bulky communal box which we gathered round in our hungover droves (watching endless episodes of Doctors, Murder, She Wrote and Jeremy Kyle is almost all I can remember from university), but when I finally moved into my first "adult" flat, I never got round to buying a telly and, because I was barely ever in, I just never missed it. Occasionally I'd feel a bit embarrassed about my lack of a flatscreen. Like when people waxed lyrical about last night's episode of Peep Show, or when I was made the TV editor of a national magazine. My friends who knew about the television-shaped hole in my life found the latter hilarious, although, in my defence, I watched the shows that I had to review on "screener" DVDs at my desk, so owning a telly at home wouldn't have been much help any way.

Not being a TV-owner may no longer be an anomaly, but people do still seem genuinely suspicious when they find out, as if you must be an intellectual snob, looking down on all the couch potatoes who are addicted to the "glass teat", as Stephen King calls it. I wish I could say that not having a TV at home frees up my time to go jogging or read improving literature, but all it really means is that I get my televisual kicks elsewhere. I watched an entire season of True Detective in one tense but brilliant weekend, glued to my iPad Mini in bed. And I doubt watching McConaughey's intimate, mumbling dialogue blare out on an HDTV home cinema would've improved that experience.

Most suspicious of all, though, are the TV licensing people, who from time to time bombard me with letters threatening to sneakily catch me in the flickering glow of watching Bake Off illegally and cart me away into the night. But if you don't watch or record programmes live, you currently don't need a licence, something that the BBC may well need to review seeing as in July, 47 per cent of requests for iPlayer content came from tablets and mobiles (compared with 25 per cent in October 2012).

A quick straw poll (is there any other kind?) reveals that we are now firmly divided into two camps. You either own at least one telly, probably three, and "couldn't imagine life without one" and, if you were in The X Factor – another programme I only ever watch highlights of on YouTube – then you'd be in the "overs" category. Or, you're under 35 and you can't understand who would want or need an actual TV in this day and age, and the indignity of waiting to watch something live seems as archaic as gathering round the wireless.

Thinking about my dad, who measures out his life in Masterchefs, or my grandmother, who kept a painstakingly colour-coded, highlighted copy of the Radio Times, having the time and the inclination to watch programmes when they're actually on the box is a dying art. So rare in fact, that we have a whole programme dedicated to watching people watch TV – I'd love to know how many people are streaming Gogglebox on their laptops.

Maybe owning a TV set will eventually become a retro, ironic "feature", like those old-fashioned phones, record players or a drinks' globe (all of which I have in my lounge, by the way). But until then, I'll be investing my licence fee in Netflix and scarily fast broadband.

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