RealTime IT News

My Time is My Time...Right?

Catherine PickavetReporter's Notebook: Time shifting? I had no idea I was playing along with the TV-viewing concept until last Wednesday.

It was the big premiere night. A colleague of mine and I had been eagerly awaiting the season premiere of Lost. But my favorite Dr. House was on, too. And then there was Criminal Minds, the CBS hit about the FBI unit that hunts for killers.

Add Project Runway to the list for later and it was shaping up to be quite a night of television goodness.

Then, as the 9 p.m. hour approached, it hit me. My cable company-issued DVR only lets me record two shows at once! Worse, if you happen to be recording two shows simultaneously, you can't watch a third. I'd have to sacrifice a show. What kind of glitch was this?

I sat on the couch in a sort of stunned calm, not wanting to move as I wrapped my brain around this problem. I didn't want to actually watch any of them at 9:00. I had things to do.

After all, I'm a time-shifter now just like everyone else in TiVo and DVR Land. I get to control when advertisers pitch their wares to me and when I watch my shows.

I engaged my problem-solving mode. Watch one and let it record the other two? No. I can't do that, but my stress made me forget that minor, yet significant, detail.

I could, say, Bit torrent it (if it were legal).

Have it record two of the shows and watch them later? Sure, but there was a problem with this option. I had to watch Lost that night. My plan was to watch it after "Project Runway," as both are next-day, water-cooler fodder. And I couldn't risk seeing any spoilers.

Yes I could have just gone to ABC.com and watched it, but that kind of reasoning was not mine in the moment.

I was running out of time and something had to give. Criminal Minds is a can't-miss show that's great to work out to. And Lost is a no-brainer.

I chose to sacrifice House this time. Plus, it was about to go on hiatus because of the baseball playoffs, and I figured I could just start my own hiatus a week early.

So there I sat, force-watching Lost in some kind of primitive 1985 real-time state. I realized all perceived semblance of control I had was, in fact, lost. I was watching television and looking at ads when the networks wanted me to.

DVR technology lulled me into a false sense of comfort, allowing me to watch what I want when I want to. But it's not only about the DVR.

I can buy music videos, television shows and movies and watch them on the train. But then that would defeat the purpose of having cable. Sure I can't buy everything online, but if I can watch the things on television that I can buy online then what's the point of buying them online?

And then there are the on-demand offers from cable companies and networks; the hours upon hours of video available on various video sites; and iTunes.

I could also find the stuff on sites and watch it for free. Big news story? I can just catch up by watching the videos on MSNBC.com and not worry about waking up for the Today show. Missed Lauren Graham of the Gilmore Girls on Ellen? I can simply find such copyrighted material for free, thanks to YouTube's brazenness.

But that's beside the point. This is all good to know when I want to know it. And I didn't want to know it last week. I had a plan. And it was thwarted.

Of course the best solution would probably be to simply tune out altogether. Reject the media influences and advertising promises transmitted over the airwaves and all the other waves, no matter how much I can serve up for myself on demand now. But where's the fun in that?

I've been tuned in since the days of Charlie's Angels, Dukes of Hazzard, The Bob Newhart Show, Chips, Facts of Life, Land of the Lost and Hee Haw. I'm not stopping now.

Catherine Pickavet is copy chief of internetnews.com and really does manage to read, write and socialize all on her own time.