Janet (j4) wrote,

What's in the box?

My dad offered me his spare set-top box today; my parents have bought some kind of new all-in-one thing that does... whatever a set-top box does, and also records TV. So it's like a video-recorder, but more so...

Hi. My name's j4, I'm nearly 30 years old, and I don't know what a set-top box does. I think it's a thing that lets you get lots of channels, like a satellite dish but not as ugly. I thought you had to pay for the lots-of-channels, but apparently you don't any more...

No, enough. It isn't funny, it isn't big, and it isn't clever. I don't feel proud of not knowing; I just don't know, and (I may not be proud, but I'm not ashamed either) I haven't been interested enough to find out. I'm not the Onion's area man about this, you know; I just don't watch TV. I think the last time I deliberately watched TV (rather than being in and out of the room when somebody else was watching TV) was some time in 2004, maybe earlier. It's not that I "don't watch TV" in the way that some people "don't watch the commercial channel" or "don't listen to chart music"; it's more that I "don't watch TV" in the way that some people don't play golf, or don't knit. Nobody assumes any kind of implicit moral judgement on the part of people who don't play golf ... do they?

But I suppose saying "I don't watch TV" is more like saying "I don't read books" or "I don't listen to music": it's the medium rather than the message; a whole genus rather than a narrow genre. But the "don't" isn't a "won't": it's not that I dislike TV, it's just that it doesn't occur to me. I read books; I listen to music; I watch DVDs, occasionally; I watch all kinds of rubbish on YouTube; I use the web (and I do see that as -- at least sometimes -- a distinct medium, rather than a delivery mechanism for other media). But switching the TV on just ... doesn't happen.

It used to happen; I watched loads of TV as a teenager -- so-called 'alternative' comedy, sitcoms, the occasional documentary, and the sort of slushy black-and-white films that would be shown on wet weekend afternoons. Lots of musicals. I've seen The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle twice, which is probably two times more than most of you. Then I went to university, and didn't have a TV (there was one in the JCR, if you wanted to try to watch "University Challenge" or football while seemingly hundreds of rugby players and boaties shouted at the tiny screen), and just didn't miss it. It wandered out of my life and never quite wandered back in. I'd watch things occasionally while I was at home -- Countdown over dinner, TOTP2 at Christmas, the odd bit here and there -- but it just didn't seem to stick any more. Not a formal closedown, just a slow fade to a glowing dot in the middle of a screen in an empty room.

People talk about television as a passive medium; and I suppose in a way it is, though no more so than listening to a CD. But to me the process of finding programmes to watch seems incredibly active; it seems to require deliberate effort in a way that finding books, music, and (especially!) stuff on the web just doesn't seem to. I know it's partly to do with the muscles one's used to exercising -- cycling seems like minimum effort to me, because I do it every day, whereas I'd find running or swimming far more labour-intensive simply because they use different muscles -- but I just can't imagine going to the effort of reading through a TV guide, selecting the programmes I might want to watch, arranging my life around being in the house when those programmes are on (or finding a blank video, programming the video recorder to record those programmes, and then finding the time to watch them at a later date).

I suppose I must go through a similar process with books, somewhere along the line (though nearly all the books I've read recently have been prompted by trying to keep up with my boss's recommendations, on some obscure point of principle which has become more like a game, or perhaps a kind of quasi-cerebral arm-wrestling or antler-locking ... ah yes, the many reasons why people lend each other books, that's a post for another day). But I feel as though there are already so many books I am actively interested in reading that I am no longer convinced I have enough life left in which to read them, even if I stopped working tomorrow and did nothing but read, eat and sleep. It's not a question of choosing a book to read; it's more a question of wondering which of the many millions of books I want to read happens to fall into my path in some physical instantiation during the couple of minutes when I'm between books (and these days I'm usually in the middle of two or three books at once). Working at Oxfam helps, here; it's a rare week when I don't see a cheap copy of something I've been meaning to read, or heard mentioned, or read a review of. I do hear people recommending TV programmes, of course; but it just doesn't seem to impact on my mind in the same way. I don't know why.

Every argument I try to construct as an explanation can be counter-argued. Easier to read while doing other things? My mum watches TV while doing the ironing; my grandma has a TV in the kitchen which she watches while she's cooking. Requires blocking out a chunk of time? Video; pause button. Easier to take a book with you on a train? I could probably watch TV on my iPod if I wanted to. Easier to read in the bath? Okay, a TV in the bathroom might be tricky, but it's certainly not impossible...

But the question, I suppose, is whether I "should" seek out television programmes to watch. Whether I should embark on a process of cultural (re-)education. I don't feel culturally detached as a result of not watching TV (perhaps because there's so much TV that other people's attention is spread thinner: it's less frequent that there's a single programme that everybody watches) but in general I'm all for trying new things (or re-trying old things when I start to worry that I'm avoiding them for spurious reasons). I'm not sure when I'd fit it in, in between the other things that fill my time; but I could try, in the same way that I'm forever trying to slide other things into every scrap of interstitial time, trying to fit an hour into the gap between two minutes. I'm just not sure why I'd single out TV rather than something else. It's not a question of "why should I watch TV, given the nature of TV" but "why should I watch TV, when there are so many other things on my list of things to do/see/try/taste". I could say the same of, well, golf.

(I have tried playing golf, once, very briefly. It wasn't much fun, but then I have all the aptitude for ball-games that a dolphin has for cycling. At least TV-watching generally takes place indoors.)
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