TV Before Technology

I kind of miss the old days, when a TV network launched a new program and people either watched it or not. If you weren't in your seat with a bowl of homemade popcorn at the appointed hour, you were SOL until the summer reruns, or until one of your neighbors or co-workers caught you up on what you’d missed last night. Since there was generally only one screen in the house (and no videotaping devices) and shows competing for different audiences (say, you and your wife) ran at the same hour, marriages could end over who got dibs on watching "their" show.

Now watching TV is kind of like enlisting in the Army, with lots of obligations the recruiter "failed" to mention in advance. You have to check in and get stickers, interrupt viewing to tweet your reactions to what just happened, join a Facebook group that "likes" the show, figure out if you’d rather record the show and take a chance that one of your moron friends will spill the beans about some crucial plot twist -- and further, decide if you'd rather access the show via subscription VOD services and/or numerous other digital platforms like Netflix or Amazon and get to watch it on a device not hanging on your bedroom wall. 



To make matters worse, instead of just settling for "I Love Lucy" or "The Honeymooners" or "Gunsmoke" like the rest of the nation, you have five or six hundred programming options coming at you from every direction. I need a DVR that can tape more than two shows at a time and also lets me watch a regular broadcast on another station. 

In fact, on some nights I could tape four or five shows at the same hour. But then if I am away for a week or so, the backlogged library of recorded shows can take six months to watch.  I get the same guilty feeling deleting an unwatched show as I do tossing a magazine I subscribe to but whose cover I’ve never cracked. And there is related content online -- like three new webisodes focused on character back stories, as well as six new behind-the-scenes segments -- that I never seem to get to.

Time-shifting (and multiple showings of the same episode on subsequent nights) should make life easier, I suppose, but it really just enhances the notion of having "no excuse" for missing something (hence my taping of the nightly news -- "Good evening to YOU, Brian!" –- which I generally get to around 9 or 10 p.m.).

The whole thing makes me feel overwhelmed, like I am on some sort of gerbil flywheel. If I have not gotten to "Downton Abbey" by Wednesday or so, my friends who have been dying to talk about it since Sunday think I am a laggard who prefers Internet porn to English period pieces. Not that they are mutually exclusive.

And then there is the stunned disbelief when I fail to become a fan of some show that everyone is watching, i.e., "American Idol." Frankly, I am not sure who Simon Cowell is (or was).

But I must say it seemed a simpler time when everyone you ran into the next day could talk about what a dork Ed Sullivan was, or how funny Carson was. No social media, no check-ins, no multitasking -- just the communal experience of a nation watching TV together.

Which, by the way, was free.



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