If you’ve ever gotten used to having a DVR (digital video recorder) for your TV, you’ll know what I mean about living in real time. The HTPC (home theater PC) I built to record TV shows stopped working the other night. I went out to the living room to watch the news and my computer was dead. No news. No electronic TV guide. I had to watch TV in real time by clicking around the channels to see what was on. I ordered a new power supply, but that apparently wasn’t the problem. I took everything apart and put it back together and it started working again. Then it stopped again. Maybe the memory is flaky – I don’t know.
Every now and then, the electricity goes out and I’ll have to live without power for a few hours, and on some occasions a few days. Sometimes I’ve had to live without internet. Time seems to flow at a different rate when you live without electricity, the internet, cable TV, or TV without a DVR. Some people go crazy when they don’t have their smartphones.
All our gadgets alter our sense of time.
I recently read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and I was struck by how little technology they had in their lives, and how slow information flowed. The Russians were having a war with the Turks and the news came by telegram to newspapers. Each day people waited for new news of the war, and discussed the latest telegram. People in the 1870s Russian traveled by train, horse, cart and carriage. If they wanted to know what a friend was doing they had to wait days for a letter. It took weeks and even months to travel from one place on Earth to another.
Time works different when I have to be in my den chair at a specific time to watch a TV show. Normally I like to watch TV starting after 10pm, until about 11:30pm. I watch recorded shows, Netflix or a DVD/BD disc. I rarely watch TV live. Watching TV in real time is a total pain.
Now there is Netflix/DVD/BD time, DVR time and real time. Netflix and discs are old stuff just waiting to be watch whenever I feel like it. DVR is recent stuff, waiting to be watched when I feel like it. And real time is always now. DVR time lets me time shift and actual watch more TV. I seldom feel like watching TV in real time, but PBS has several amazing documentaries every week I want to watch. I’m over 100 documentaries behind in my DVR watching because they produce them faster than I can watch. Those shows just wait for me on my 1.5 terabyte hard drive. My HTPC watches TV for me. Watching TV on my time schedule seems to make time go faster. I never have enough.
I’m wondering what my life would be like if I don’t fix my HTPC. Will I confirm to TV time, or will I just abandon the TV and only watch Netflix and discs? When I was young this would have been an impossible situation. Young people have to see movies opening night. They have to watch new TV shows when they air. There’s an impatience to see things first. Years ago I had to be home Sunday nights to watch shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood live on HBO. Then I gave up HBO and waited about a year for them to come to DVDs. I think I could do that because I had gotten older and had the patience to wait. I no longer had to live in TV time, in real time.
Are DVDs real time, or slower than real time? The illusion is all this technology is speeding up time and real time is slow. That’s how it feels, but is it really? Is watching 2 hours of TV really any different if you’re watching it live, DVR, DVD or Netflix? It’s still two hours of TV? Somehow watching TV with commercials in real time seems very slow.
I remember when I got my first punch-the-clock job when I was 16, and had to work after school and didn’t get home until around 10pm. This was back in the second year of the original Star Trek and I hated missing that show. But work broke me of the TV habit for many years. The DVR allows us to maintain the TV habit without having to show up on time. Maybe I just need to kick the habit completely and live in real time.
JWH – 4/26/12