Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TIVO To-Do List

Every TIVO owner remembers when we first gazed out the window and thought: "You know, taping TV onto videotape is just not who I am anymore. I'm tired of rewinding and forwarding to find my shows in this huge pile of tapes. That's so analog, and I live in a digital world. I want a menu on the screen of my recorded shows, so I can just click and play." And we thought, let us convert to the new way. And we saw that it was good. So good that we thought our entertainment-on-demand needs were finally met. We even graduated TIVO to a verb, as in "I TIVO'd 'Dateline'," just like "I googled her name," or "I spammed an entire hemisphere with offers from Nigerian bankers."

What we did not realize was, more than with videotapes, a troubling side effect would surface. My husband Jim put it well.

"The problem with TIVO," he said, "is that it feels like a to-do list."

In the name of all that is sponsored by advertising and laugh-tracked, I knew he was right. We're constantly overwhelmed by our surplus of unwatched TIVO'd shows. Not only do we feel compelled to watch every one, but we feel we have to watch and delete shows at a pace that leaves enough space to record more shows. It's like that old commercial about drug abuse, where the guy runs endless circles inside a prison cell saying he takes drugs so he can work harder, so he can make more money, so he can buy more drugs. With TIVO, we watch more shows so we won't have as many shows to watch, so we can make more room for the upcoming shows, so we'll have more shows to watch. And so forth into a black hole deeper than any pile of videotapes ever created.

With tapes, it never got that bad. You taped fewer shows, because you had to tape "Mondays from 8 pm to 8:30 pm on channel 10," instead of just "all Seinfeld episodes any time, any channel." Videotapes were much more cumbersome and stored fewer shows. You'd run out of blank tapes and either tape over stuff or give up. But TIVO's too easy. It's addictive. It's the epitome of the digital world sapping productivity.

Even our cheapest-version TIVO has its space limits, so Jim and I have our TV wars. When we program it to tape many hours of both figure skating (me) and football games (him), something's gotta give. Personally I'm surprised that TIVO itself doesn't just delete the football programs given the incomprehensible boredom, but of course Jim thinks the same of skating. (His grave error I'll be sure to explain in another blog.)

And so we sit, trying to get the TIVO "to watch" list down to just one screen. This has made me realize that entertainment of all kinds, not just TV, frequently feels like a "to-do" list. I'm not a theater person, yet I sometimes go to certain plays because I think I "should" – and my favorite part is always the curtain call. Then there's that movie on our "must-see" list. When the movie's running for the last night, I almost always feel like staying home instead, yet I feel obligated to go see it. If I don't put on any music while I'm cleaning the bathroom, I wonder what's wrong with me. And when I'm waiting at the doctor's office reading his interesting issue of "People" and I only get halfway through before it's my turn, I feel crestfallen and wish I could get away with stealing the magazine to read the rest of it. Go ahead and add the angst I feel when I look at my "to-read" pile of books.

For me, the pressure to enjoy my leisure time with just the right choices, and not miss anything "good," is harder to deal with than any job pressure I've ever had. I have to make my entertainment count, so I'll be recharged to work more efficiently, so I'll have more time to enjoy entertainment. However eventually I'll fall behind in work, which will cause me to drown my sorrows in even more entertainment, until that becomes so boring that I become a workaholic who has no time at all for entertainment, and then the cycle will begin again.

Would love to write more, but TIVO is waiting.