Skip to main content

BLOG The Emotional Cost Of Time Shift

SFX Blogger Laura McConnell looks at what the convenience of recording television has cost us

When I was a child, I used to get home from school just in time to watch Voltron … and I mean just in time. As in, in order to watch Voltron – which I considered the coolest cartoon on the planet at the time – I literally had to run home. I lived close enough to my school that I walked there every morning, but I ran home. Not because I disliked school (quite the contrary, in fact) but if I messed around after school at all, I’d miss half of Voltron .

And so I ran.

I remember heading home as fast as my legs could carry me. Other kids loaded busses or strolled calmly down the sidewalks, but I would book it down the street (avoiding the crossing guard if I could, because she always made me stop for a moment) to my house super fast, just to watch a cartoon.

Recently, I’ve seen some old episodes of Voltron online, and while I’m not sure it withstands the test of time; the quality of Voltron is not my interest here.

My point is that I would fly home to see it. I’d rush through my front door, slide onto the living room floor, and flick on the TV. I was only allowed to watch one show after school – then it was chores and homework – but I did have that one. I’d sit there in anticipation waiting for Optimus Prime’s voice* to tell me about a “super force of space explorers.” It was 1984, I loved that cartoon, and I didn’t want to miss it for the world, so I busted my butt to get home on time to watch it.

Now, let’s fast forward to 2011, when DVRs have permeated nearly every living room; when we watch television on our schedule, not that of the networks.

I love this. I love that I went snowboarding on Saturday nights all winter and didn’t miss Being Human once (it airs on Saturdays, not Sundays, here in Canada). DVRs are wonderful inventions for us TV fans. I love being able to be the boss of what I watch and when.

But…

Something is missing from viewing recorded shows. That something is running home from school to watch Voltron and knowing that if I didn’t get home on time, I’d just plain miss my favourite show. That something is the anticipation of sitting in front of the TV and vibrating with excitement because, “Oh my God, a new episode of The X-Files is about to start and I’m right here waiting on it because I can’t miss a second of it!”

I miss that. That was fun.

And that doesn’t happen with recorded TV. If you miss something these days, you just catch it later. That’s great, but let’s face it: a DVR is a safety net, and like all safety nets, it removes a risk from our lives, which inherently makes things a bit less exciting. In my childhood Voltron example, it also means that I would not have had to make a choice. Back then, I had to choose between chatting with my friends or seeing my favourite show. Now, I could just do both. I could have my cake and eat it too. That’s great, but it also means there is no consequence to my actions. This doesn’t seem like the best thing to me.

Now, I’m not waxing all poetical about days gone by. I love my tech. I really do. I like that I can watch two shows that air at the same time by recording one, if not both, for later. I’m just aware that that hasn’t come without a price. Convenience has cost us some excitement, and it’s quite possibly teaching us some not-so-wonderful traits. Whether that’s a fair trade or not, I can’t say. I’m honestly unsure. As much as I love skipping commercials, I often prefer to watch my television “live,” because I frankly find it more fun that way. When you add in the fact that having a full DVR feels like a chores checklist of shows to watch (work, not fun), “live” viewing becomes even more appealing, and I’m curious if any other readers out there feel the same way.

Honestly, what do you think?

Was it worth it?

(* The voice over was performed by Peter Cullen, also the voice of Optimus Prime, just in case you thought we were confusing our shows .)