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September 26, 2006

“TiVo Tyranny” [7:23 am]

The unexpected roles of new technologies in our cultural life: TiVo Tyranny — The Latest in Self-Loathing - pdf

In other words, if you already feel guilty about your piles of unread Sunday newspapers and New Yorker magazines, there’s a new form of self-loathing: TiVo tyranny. Ever since I got a DVR system, my television has become a source of dread. No longer a symbol of slothful refuge wherein I can while away a few hours watching whatever dreck happens to be on, it is now a taskmaster. My life is not only cluttered with unanswered e-mails, unreturned phone calls and unfinished novels but entire seasons of television shows I feel I should watch but haven’t and probably never will.

[...] Studies — including some conducted, oddly enough, by TiVo — have shown that DVRs do increase the number of hours people spend watching television. But according to Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research, the real news is that DVRs get affluent people to watch more television.

[...] I must not be as affluent as I thought. Caught in the shackles of my own personal TiVo tyranny, my DVR has reduced my viewing hours practically to zero. And it’s not just because the remote control somehow ended up in my car. It’s because turning on the TV is now less about escape than about being confronted with an electronic to-do list. There are the shows I want to watch, the shows I feel I should watch and shows the DVR thinks I should watch based on my prior selections. Faced with this monstrous inventory, the only logical thing to do is turn off the TV.

That’s because with choice comes paralysis and, in turn, convenience usually finds apathy nipping at its heels. In the pre-TiVo era, television was challenging. We had to hunt for something worth watching and, if we found it, we sat still and paid attention. In the same strange way that it’s infinitely more satisfying to hear a favorite song come up unexpectedly on the radio than to play it on a CD, there was a certain beauty to the old-fashioned TV experience. Even if we watched alone, we knew millions of others were watching the same exact thing, at the same exact moment. Even if there was nothing on that we particularly wanted to watch, there was something nice about settling on the best thing we could find and shutting off our brains for a while.

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