Do you TiVo?

I don’t own TiVo. I think I might be the last person in the country who doesn’t. We had it in the house once. Someone gave it to us, I think, but I gave it away. I had an actual DVD recorder that we used for a while and, before that, a VCR. But I never made that next step in the evolutionary chain of technological obsolescence.

When I was growing up, my house was full of all the latest “gadgets.” I doubt we actually called them gadgets back then, but somebody must have. Maybe the media. My dad liked to ride the cutting edge of technology. Sure, it was 1972 technology but he was out in front, the most advanced you could get for his time.

We had 8mm and Super 8 film cameras, sure, who didn’t? But our Super 8 camera could record SOUND! We had reel-to-reel tape recorders, the kind you’d only see in grade school or swanky bachelors’ pads in movies. Everyone had 8-tracks when they came out but my dad made sure we had an 8-track recorder, too— so we could record our LPs and listen to them in the car. We had shortwave and CB radios. Walkie-talkies and a microwave before there was popcorn to make in it so we actually tried to cook food. I had a Quad record player, which was supposed to be the next generation of stereophonic sound, but didn’t last more than about six months.

betamax squareOne day my dad brought home a Betamax. It was the size of a coffee table with a slot on top for a videotape cassette that allowed us to record an hour’s worth of broadcast television. That’s right… Record television. Now, instead of experiencing the fleeting images that moved across our TV screens and keeping them in the warm glow of our collective memories, we could just watch them again. And again. And again. Until we could recite them like the Pledge of Allegiance. As long as we were home to tape them, there were no timers. Or movies to rent for that matter.

But we were the Jetsons, living in the Home of the Future! I’d record Marx Brothers and Beatles movies off late night TV. I’d tape this live comedy show that had just started every Saturday night: Saturday Night Taped!

Some shows I’d watch once or twice. Other shows I’d tape because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Then never look at them. Videotaping TV became like wrapping up leftovers from dinner, “Better save that. We can’t let that go to waste. I may want to consume that at some later date.” But half the time I never did. It got worse with six-hour tapes and timers that set to record in the middle of the night or later on in the week. Like that Tupperware dish of broccoli in the fridge, we’d end up with hours of unwatched tidbits ignored in the back of the tape cabinet, collecting mold.

I knew people in the VCR days that recorded shows like a hobby. Some people collect Hummels. Bob and Ginny collected episodes of X-Files that they never watched. “Don’t tell us how it ends. We haven’t seen them all yet.”

Catch Up TV viewing is too much like homework. It becomes another thing that you’ll never get around to doing, a responsibility, like cleaning the gutters or cutting down on drinking. Or that book you bought that sits on your bedside table, unread, taunting you by its very presence, reminding you how much you don’t read anymore.

And it’s not like there aren’t twenty different ways to catch up on a show if you really, really wanted to. Oh no! I missed Colbert last night! When will I ever be able to watch that episode again! Except for the replay two hours later. Or at 9:30 the next morning. Six in the evening. Or anytime I feel like it at On Demand or Colbert’s website. Plus there’s Netflix and Hulu and Red Box and YouTube and iTunes and DVD box sets at Amazon or the public library for any other catching up I need to do.

So I’m an “appointment TV” kind of guy. It’s how I watched television as a kid— Gilligan’s Island at seven o’clock on Thursday or, tough, you missed it. It’s how I watch TV now. People say it has something to do with my age. In fact, marketers say that very thing, according to a recent NY Times article. Yeah, okay. Fine. But I’m not the one with a hard drive full of unwatched American Idol.

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