Don’t Do Anything: Life Gets Easier Thanks To DVR

Don-Knotts-Pleasantville-tobey-maguire (Flashback Friday: The danger in writing about something “cutting edge” is that you will soon sound ridiculous. So I’ve learned upon reexamining my old columns, such as this one about the dawning of DVR and how it changed our television viewing processes forever. Of course, this was well before streaming changed the game even further; at this point, it was still rather mesmerizing just to choose when you watched any given program. This piece was first published in INsite Boston in March 2007.)

Architects and screenwriters know equally well: structure is important. Without it, stories come crumbling down.

The same is true in life. Without a schedule, we’re bound to idle away hours chatting online, playing Guitar Hero, contributing nothing to the world at large. To remedy this, many have looked to work or school to dictate how they spend their time.

Me? I looked to television.

See, when you’re a writer, Tuesday might as well be Saturday. Days of the week aren’t that differentiated. But when you’re also a TV viewer, you can recognize Tuesday as the time of week that saucy Olivia Benson solves yet another delectably perplexing sex crime. No matter how I spent the carefree days of my youth, I always knew that on certain choice evenings, I had to be on the couch at a certain time, tuned in to a certain channel.

Alas… that was before I became a grownup.svu-olivia-benson-mariska-hargitay

Then, a couple months ago, I finally caved and took a full-time job in the film industry. (Though at 60 hours a week, I’d say it’s full and a half.) Suddenly confronted with a real world schedule, I could no longer stick to my trusty routine of yesteryear, jumping onto the couch at 8 and sticking around until 11. Sometimes I’m working until 8, and sometimes I need to get to bed before 11. So I decided it was high time to join the so-called “TiVolution,” a switch that would forever cease my mad dashes home at the cusp of primetime, frantically fighting traffic so as not to miss a single frame of televised goodness. Now, I’m no couch potato, but I do have a select few favorites, and therefore am lucky to live in an era when even the busiest bee need not miss his broadcast honey. Viva la TiVolution!

I recall my first run-in with DVR a couple years ago, back when mentioning “TiVo” got you a furrowed brow and head tilt rather than a nod of satisfied recognition. I found it bizarrely humorous that one of the menu options was “Don’t do anything,” as if pushing that button could suck you  into some black hole of nonexistence. Even stranger was the ubercute mascot — which resembles a retarded beetle — and the insanely cheerful chirping that, with every push of a button, makes it sound as if you personally brought joy to a baby chickadee, merely by watching television. I held off on TiVo for so long because I don’t trust the adorable; I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up one morning and discover that our seemingly innocuous TiVos have taken over the world while they were supposed to be recording late-night reruns of Mary Tyler Moore. Don’t do anything, my ass. Don’t do anything except kill us in our sleep!!

tivo-logoI suppose they make the TiVo so endearing so you don’t take an axe to it during the unexpectedly grueling set-up process. As the third hour commenced, I cursed my decision to get in league with that chirpy black devil and bemoaned my maturation, all the complications and unnecessary strife that simply don’t exist in our formative years. Adult life is comprised of wires that are supposed to connect but don’t connect, the DVR to the TV and the TV to the cable and the cable to the hip bone and the backbone to the DVR. It’s such a process. However, when the TeVil finally appeared on my screen and started dancing his congratulatory jig, so did I. A new era had dawned. Viva!

Now my favorite shows are right where I want them when I want them, like cheap floozies. It gives me a sense of godlike power having it all at my fingertips — yet it’s made watching TV a little too easy. I rather liked having a set date and time to sit down with my favorite shows; it was nice having a schedule. Now, as with so many things in the grown up world, I’m left to wonder… is that all there is?

I spend my days in an office, dealing with incessantly ringing phones and mischievous copy machines. It’s time-consuming, even annoying, but not difficult. I clock in, my personality clocks out; the days go by quickly and there are a tolerable number of headaches. I can’t complain, really, because being overworked and underpaid is a hallmark of your twenties. My problems are the same as everyone else’s… but my real problem is that I never expected them to be. milton-office-space-movie

In college I was surrounded by uniquely gifted people and wondered, if so many young people have such a surplus of potential, how do most adults come out so ordinary? Now I know. We, the children of the TiVolution, are savvier and more capable than any generation before us, but the world is still operating on the ol’ standby schedule, complete with glass ceiling. Competent, creative individuals are presented with a rather slim menu of options, most of which consist of biding time until we’re allowed to realize our potential. It’s frustrating when we know we’re capable of so much more.

So leave it to TiVo to sum it up in three simple words. Whereas previous technological advancements provided such euphemistic options as “Back to Menu,” “Cancel,” or “Home,” TiVo was innovative enough to tell it like it is: when everything’s downloadable, digital, and portable, our greatest challenge is the lack thereof. When I get home after another mundane, mindless day at work, I have just enough time for one selection from my “Now Playing” list. When it’s over, TiVo tweedles and asks me what I’d like to do with the program next. Typically, I select “Don’t do anything.”

It’s starting to feel like I never will.

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