Our ways of viewing television programs have changed considerably over the last few decades. With the popularity of satellite television and expanded traditional cable options there’s virtually no limit to the content that we have access to. Have a passion for sports, British programs or even telenovelas? They’re just a click away on your multi-buttoned remote. We’re no longer tied to the traditional television networks, and recording shows have never been quite the same. I find that I spend a lot more time watching TV, more than I probably should.
During my childhood while living in Jamaica I remember there being only one channel, JBC. Each night’s broadcast ended with the playing of the national anthem followed by the nothingness of the SMPTE color bars. It was finite. You always knew when children programming and the news were coming on, and with one channel, it was easy to know what others were watching. In these days of early commercial satellite TV my grandparents were among the few who subscribed to American television via a very large satellite dish (which remained up from the ‘80s into this decade). Certain channels that they didn’t subscribe to came through with squiggly lines and other distortions which were meant to serve as an early deterrent to non-subscribers of premium channels.
When I returned to the states my parents always subscribed to basic cable. This of course meant having access only to a handful of channels. At that time it was great to have access to the main networks as well as a few others. Maybe it’s my age showing but times were much more simple. To have HBO or any movie channel put you in the top echelon of coolness, and as kids we giggled at the stories about what some saw on the Playboy channel. Even then the number of available channels was fewer.
That’s not the case today. With hundreds of movie and music channels one can get as immersed and as lost in television as one would be on the Internet or even Facebook. A luxury item of yesterday, the DVR, is now a necessity of today. I remember when I purchased my first DVR several years ago. My mother gawked at the frivolous expense and couldn’t understand why there would be a need for it. She’s since changed her tune as she depends on hers to satisfy her “Real Housewives” guilty pleasure viewing. She swears that she’s still not married to her television but I beg to differ. Without her “Real Housewives” fix she’s unhappy. Plus, she’s not to be disturbed when viewing them.
At this point I generally don’t remember when, what time, or on what network my shows come on. And with one DVR my husband and I fight for control of programs watched and recorded. Who would’ve thought that 50 show slots wouldn’t be enough for us both?! It becomes a big thing when we want to watch another series and have to decide to drop another in order for it to take its place. Now that good programming is available on cable broadcasting and not just on the primary networks, there is a lot more to watch. My best friend commented that if it wasn’t for sports and a few TV show hits network television would be pummeled by cable. I’m on the fence on that one.
I spend a lot of time watching television. I spend more time than I’d like to admit. To put it in perspective, just last week I watched all 53 episodes of “Arrested Development” and all six episodes of “Sherlock” as well as two episodes of “Freaks and Geeks,” about 31 hours of television. And that doesn’t include the other shows I watched in between. With access from my television to Netflix and Amazon I don’t have to wonder if there’s something good on television. I’ve found that I now love the opportunity to watch shows that I couldn’t before whether it was because we didn’t subscribe to the channel or that I couldn’t be bothered to record on the VCR during its first run. Like others’ addiction to the Internet, I’m fully addicted to television. So much so that I finished watching all seven seasons of “The West Wing” in about a month.
Technology is great. But then you realize just how absorbed you get into it. Soon you lose track of time, responsibilities, etc. In this automated world it’s hard to not be on the computer, in front of the computer or using your smartphone in excess. It’s great but then there’s the inevitable burnout and stress from it all. I’ve resorted to limiting the types of alerts that I get on my phone and have curtailed how much time I waste on social networking sites. But, just like trying to lose weight, there are many times I fall off the wagon. I’m in awe of how much life and habits change over the span of a lifetime and wonder if we’ll all be able to know when certain behaviors and new addictions get out of hand.
LaToya M. Davidson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter, @LaToyaonUR.