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Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Slippery Slope of Television

... in which I document the history of my love-hate relationship with Television.

My mother always said that when I was a child, the only time I would actually sit still was when I was watching television. That was always true until I got a computer.

The punishment in our house for misbehaving always included loss of TV privileges. At dinner, we would watch TV, and if you were punished, you were forced to look away from the TV, and you were even called out for watching through the TV reflection in the window.

When I moved out of my parents' house, I took a TV with me. It had rabbit ears, a 13" screen, and dials for UHF and VHF. No remote control. No cable. It was all mechanical knobs and dials. I was actually very happy with seven channels plus VHF, but because I had no remote control, one night when I had the stomach flu I watched the same channel for 12 hours. It was channel 4, NBC. You are less than 35 years old if this shocks you.

I was 25 when I broke down and bought a 26" TV and a VCR, and got a subscription to cable. I still didn't watch tons of TV, but I was happy to have it. I bought my first stereo when I was 27. I didn't get it because I realized my life was missing a stereo, I got it because a friend worked for a stereo manufacturer and offered me a really great discount.

In 2000 I bought a DVD player, and only because my favorite movie was not available in VHS format.

In 2005, when my wife and I moved into our new house, we agreed to live without cable. I really enjoyed it. It was $60 per month we weren't spending, and while reception could occasionally be a problem (we often lived without CBS) we were pretty happy with it. Or at least, I was. My wife was not very happy with this. She missed cable. She kept threatening to get cable. I never said no, and I never got it for her. I figured, if she wanted cable, she could pick up the phone and do it, and that would be fine. But she never did it. I don't know why. Maybe because it just wasn't that bad, or maybe because she wanted to make me happy.

For her last birthday, I broke down and called the cable company. That's right: My wife's birthday present was a cable television subscription. I scored many, many points. This was not a thoughtless present.

Two months after getting cable, I bought a Tivo. Like the stereo, I purchased a refurbished unit for $100, which was a perfectly satisfactory price. Unsurprisingly, Tivo has changed the way I watch TV. For the last 45 days, I have watched approximately six hours of television a night. 9 of the last 14 nights I fell asleep on the couch while watching TV. This has been shocking, and a little scary.

Here's my observation about Tivo: the promise of Tivo is that you'll always have 'your favorite shows'. Truth be told, I don't think that's what Tivo does for us: pausing live TV is really awesome, and recording programs is also great, but the truth is there's still not that much I want to watch. At its essence, all Tivo really is is an insurance policy against commercials and channel surfing, and the monthly fee is the premium you pay to ensure against those two things.

Yesterday, we got a large screen TV: a Sharp Aquos 42" LCD TV. Again, I didn't get it because I felt this overwhelming need for a large screen TV, but rather, because I could get it for a good price. It's very nice, and I like it, but I don't have access to any HD channels. This started to scare me: do I now upgrade my cable box to be HD compatible? My Tivo is also not HD compatible. Do I also have to upgrade that?

Fortunately, no. I called my cable company, and they want $9 a month to upgrade my service to HD, and this would include, and I'm getting this from memory: CBS, NBC, ABC, KTLA (FOX), KCAL (CBS Local), KTTV (CW), TNT, BET, Discovery. 9 HD channels that I don't really watch to begin with. The channels we regularly watch are Bravo, Food Network, Sci Fi, Comedy Central, and a large number of movie channels (Encore, Flix, IFC, Sundance.) I'm sure HD is coming into this house, but not now. For now we seem to have finished adjusting our relationship with television.

Buying the new TV has sort of put me over the edge. I've been spending too much time in front of it. Sleeping through The South Park Movie last night was my sure sign, so for a short while, the TV stays off.

I love my TV. I hate my TV. I love my TV.

I'll proofread this later. Right now I'm taking my dog for a walk.

A final observation: The two times I bought a television occurred just after losing someone in my life. The first TV (and VCR) came about when I broke up with a girlfriend of 2 years. The second TV (and Tivo) were bought less than 3 months after my mother died. This is not a coincidence. I confess to having a sense of superior pride when I am not up-to-date with technology. Granted, both losses were very different, but I think they show that it takes some energy to not give in to consumerism, and when I suffer a loss, I either use consumerism to feel better, or I just don't have the energy to fight it.

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