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March 08, 2004

Glued to the Tube -- So Why Am I Not Complaining?

Dear Friedrich --

Still be-flu'd, and still dependent on the TV for distraction and education. Viewed today:

  • An A&E Biography about the comic-book great Stan Lee.
  • A Howard Goodall documentary (on Ovation) about the history of the piano.
  • A French-made documentary (also on Ovation) about the super-subtle jazzman Bill Evans.

Entertaining yourself while sick at home isn't like it was in the old days, when you had to make do with re-runs of "I Love Lucy." These days, a sick guy can pick from a lot of classy options. I may have a bad case of cabin fever, but I'm feeling anything but culture-deprived.

The cliche is that TV's a wasteland, and yeah, OK, I guess. But there are so many gems to be found amidst the rubble ... and there's this groovy new Digital-Video-Recorder way to find and collect the goodies ....

And, well, I wind up wondering something. TV was the beginning of the end, granted; the tube vaporized what civilization we had. But perhaps the combo of TV-plus-DVR will prove to be a way by which civilization will glue itself back together again.

Am I being too optimistic?



posted by Michael at March 8, 2004


I agree, TV is getting better. That's how it seems from here in the UK too, to me.

I got a digital box about a year ago, and about six months ago I got it working properly. The result is that the number of TV shows I don't want to see has massively increased, and the number I do has significantly increased. Result: improvement.

Yet people still talk as if watching all TV was compulsory, and as if the pleasure you get from it goes down when three more channels come along that you don't want to watch, because the new channels lower the average quality. Nobody experiences the average, they pick the best, i.e. what they think is the best.

I mean, what would we all think of the printing press if we all had to endure the average of what that churns out every day?

Posted by: Brian Micklethwait on March 8, 2004 9:03 PM

And that's without me having a decent way to record everything I want to a hard disc instead of to great clunky bits of tape. With that installed, it will get even better.

Posted by: Brian Micklethwait on March 8, 2004 9:06 PM

Brian -- If you're like me, your TV experience will get a lot better once you've got a hard-drive in your cable box. I put about 15 minutes once every three or four days into programming the thing (simple matter), and then every night The Wife and I have a menu of recorded shows ready and waiting for us. I used to videotape a lot of shows, and we'd do our TV watching from videotape. But the hard-drive makes recording and watching so very much easier that it's a whole different ballgame.

Are DVRs showing up in England yet? What I'd love is the chance to buy TV programming not as a great big package, but in a your-choice way. Why not pay only for the channels that interest you, rather than have to contend with masses of channels that don't? I mean, I know why it is the way it is today -- the cable companies sell in blocks to advertisers. But wouldn't it be great to be able to order (and pay) a la carte? I wonder if that'll ever become possible.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 8, 2004 10:58 PM

I'm still chewing over your phrase:

T.V. vaporized what civilization we had.

Was this by chopping 'movie-style' or novelistic entertainment into shorter hunks, and by interposing tons of disconnected ads? (If this is true, I think you might say that T.V. and radio vaporized what civilization we had, as radio shared the T.V. structure) Actually, the endless flow of T.V. does tend to break down continually into little glittering sub-units divorced from a larger context: think of instant replays focusing on one isolated segment of a sporting event.

And am I right in thinking that you see a digital video recorder (a la Tivo) as allowing viewers to re-assemble the disparate, atomized pieces into some kind of whole (i.e., a sort of personal T.V. channel linked by it's appeal to one person's set of interests, with the disruptive ads suppressed)?

This seems, intriguingly, to have common intellectual roots with your posting on magazine tables of contents.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2004 2:03 AM

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