February 25, 2005
TiVo: the new monkey on your back +
New York may still be the city that never sleeps (thank you Bloomberg for rejecting that bullshit 1 am nightlife closing time proposal) but lately, New Yorkers who stay up all night are alone in their tiny little apartments, watching TV. Yes, TiVo and other DVRs have turned a city of energetic go-getters into drooling sloths. Or rather, they've been turned into guilt-ridden freaks who feel bad about not spending even more of their time watching TV. The Post profiles these once active New Yorkers who lately vacillate between catching up on their shows in 8-hour viewing marathons and stressing over all the TV they're still not able to watch.
There has been a glut of articles written on the phenomenon of Too Much Media these days--there are more books, magazines, movies, TV shows, advertisements, cultural trends, websites, albums, news programs and celebrity scandals than anyone could possibly digest. And despite our best efforts to keep track of it all, say by buying a TiVo to record all those worthwhile shows you miss every week, we end up feeling even more behind when we still can't keep up with the onslaught with technological help.
The Post article says, "People who thought [their DVR] would give them more free time are struggling to watch every show on their lists - so they can delete them and start piling up new ones." One stressed-out guy says of his huge list of recorded shows, "The list is like a set of tasks I have to complete, or I feel like a failure. I spend all day making lists, just to go home to another list!" Considering the TiVo taglines like "You've got a life. TiVo gets it" and "Do More. Miss Nothing", the increased sense of obligation and stress that its customers are experiencing results from a misjudgement of the product; in order to miss nothing, TiVo users have to basically do nothing but watch TV.
In our desire to watch TV more efficiently, we end up watching so much we have time for little else. One sad DVR owner describes how he and his girlfriend spent their nights: "We used to come home from work, and she'd have her shows programmed, and I'd have mine, so we'd take turns watching each others' shows, and eventually one of us would get tired and go to bed." The couple has since split up. "It's crazy, because I don't watch much TV normally," he said.
Since 2/3 of Amy's Robot uses DVRs (and would probably have written better posts about this issue than the 1/3 who doesn't own one,) and because a rep from Time Warner Cable says their DVRs are still "flying out the door," we can expect to see more and more New Yorkers engaging in the TV marathons that some of us have experienced first hand. TV stations' fondness for programming back-to-back reruns of shows like Law & Order, Melrose Place, and, oddly, The Munsters only enables TiVo owners to spend even more time plowing through the hours of shows lovingly recorded for them. We've known people to have over 90 episodes of Law & Order on their TiVo hard drive at once.
Of course, even before the days of the DVR, some of us still engaged in guilt-driven accumulation of media that we knew we would probably never get to. I recently renewed my subscription to Harper's magazine for a foolishly optimistic two more years, even though I have a growing stack of unread issues already, and have yet to read more than one issue from 2004. I think we all collectively, as a culture, have to put some effort into letting some of this stuff go, and easing up on all this obsessive media collecting.
It's OK. You can just delete those Malcolm in the Middle episodes. The new ones aren't as funny, anyway. -Amy
In my experience, the feeling of failure that accompanies not watching all your shows goes away after a while, as does the desire to record stuff just for the sake of recording it. On the other hand, if you really like your shows -- be it Malcolm in the Middle (which is hilarious by the way...who knew?) or The Munsters -- then happiness is a full Tivo (or, nearly full, anyway). Tivo enables me to give shows a try without thinking about it or putting effort (heh) into it, shows that I would have never though to sit down and actually watch at a pre-determined time and so would never have seen without it.
These "I feel like a failure b/c I can't keep up with Tivo" stories have been coming out for a while now, and there's always a fresh set of despair-filled consumers who are a couple of months into their new DVR-driven life, always with a ready-made quote. Eventually, though, these people will enter the second stage of their relationship with Tivo, the guilt-free one, and will forget the stresses of the early days. -ADM
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