The 2000 Onion article “Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own a Television” captures a familiar trope from that era, complete with the perfect protagonist: a goateed Chapel Hill resident who works at a frame shop and wears all black. The joke feels anachronistic now: The rapidly-maturing internet and its democratization of information would soon leave the classic ‘90s snob behind, along with whatever cred one might have gained from not having a TV. Today, owning a television or not simply doesn’t matter that much, as the medium has been fully unbundled and absorbed by other devices and apps. The concept of “watching TV,” meanwhile, has been decoupled from the physical object we still call a television. What’s so special about having one fewer screen in your house than everyone else? I don’t own a TV yet I waste more time on the internet than I ever could have wasted on cable channel surfing (although the intervening moments of productivity help to disguise that). Not owning a smartphone, on the other hand—that would actually be a statement.
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