As a member of the first generation to grow up with television, I’ve seen its impact on our lives continue to increase as the technology has changed.
During my 60 years of TV watching, as Jack Paar morphed into Johnny Carson, and then into Jay Leno, I’ve watched the screen explode in size, grainy black and white change to high-definition color, rabbit ears become extinct, and the number of channels expand from three to 300.
But it was the invention of the digital video recorder that has had the greatest influence on my TV watching, to the point where I now wish I had the power of a DVR over other aspects of my life.
It was the (now almost extinct) VCR that first gave us the ability to record a program and watch it at our convenience, and to fast-forward through commercials, but the DVR has taken this to a higher level. The ability to skip over commercials has been enhanced by the DVR because now we can do it even as it’s recording, and at warp speed. Being able to avoid commercials makes television so much more enjoyable that it’s hard to remember what it was like before the DVR.
Of course, effective commercial skipping requires special skills, like the ability to predict when a break is ending so that you hit the stop/play buttons fast enough to avoid missing part of the program. Unfortunately, TV producers have caught on to this practice and are now throwing tiny bits of program content into the middle of commercial breaks, making it more difficult.
And once your timing is thrown off, you will find yourself repeatedly fast forwarding and rewinding, producing a visual seesaw effect for viewers that can quickly empty the room, and result in the loss of your remote control privileges.
I’ve noticed that this ability to skip over commercials has reduced my patience for advertisements of any sort. Now, when a magazine arrives in the mail I immediately rip out all of the cardboard reply cards, special advertising sections and any pages that have ads on both sides. By “DVRing” the magazine, I can reduce its size by as much as a third, enabling me to find articles of interest while avoiding ads for things I don’t want or can’t afford anyway.
Another useful power the DVR provides is the ability to pause a live television program and restart it. Have you noticed how many times nature (or your crazy brother-in-law) calls at the exact moment the winning field goal is heading toward the goal posts? No problem, you simply hit the pause button, go about your business and hit resume whenever you’re ready.
The DVR has given us so much influence over how we watch television that I wish I could use more of these powers in my everyday life. For example, when I call my utility company and get lost in its endless voicemail decision tree, I want to fast forward to the human being I pray is waiting at the other end.
Or, when driving my car, if I hear one of the many talk radio pundits who plague the AM dial say something outrageous, I want to grab the remote and hit rewind to confirm what my ears can’t believe they just heard.
Perhaps we didn’t need another device that results in our watching more television – a completely passive and thus unhealthy activity – but I would love to have the power of a DVR over other phases of reality.