Our lives changed dramatically in 2000. A new addition to our family made cute sounds and radically altered our schedules. We were exposed to new ideas and invited to reflect on some old ones. People came into our home to ooh and ahh, asking to hold it and press its buttons. The more it learned about us, the stronger our relationship became. This is the year our love affair with TiVo began.
Oh, and we had our first child.
The boy—born 11 months before our TiVo arrived—was the motivation for the purchase. My wife was skeptical when I presented the DVR to her as a Christmas gift at the end of Y2K. It didn’t take much to turn her around, however.
Our new electronic friend got up at 4 a.m. to record Northern Exposure on A&E, years before we could rent entire seasons through Netflix (which ironically, is now integrated with TiVo). It discovered Bob Schneider on Austin City Limits the same way and allowed us to green-dot Bob Newhart’s hilarious stint on MadTV for repeated viewing, long before YouTube gave us the same option.
The real power of TiVo, though, was for childcare.
Earlier in 2000, our newborn demanded that his inexperienced parents hold him and comfort him. This often clashed with network television schedules that preordained The Simpsons or Buffy the Vampire Slayer to start at a specific time. The contemporary technology—a VHS recorder—also had demands (find a blank tape) and constraints (start taping when the show starts, view after it ends). Even the days our son tried to cooperate by falling asleep quickly, just a few minutes past 8 p.m. meant waiting for an hour before we could get our Joss Whedon fix.
TiVo changed that cycle by giving us power over network programmers. We could respond to our son without remorse, knowing that the big touchdown catch I would have missed would be ready for me the moment I could get back to my paused Chicago Bears football game. TiVo didn’t change diapers (maybe Series 5 will), but it did lower the stress levels in the house.
The kids have been impacted by TiVo, too. Most of our recorded shows are kids shows. Each kid has an evolving playlist of shows, dominated at different times by Teletubbies, the Wiggles, a pre-sexy Dora, and Kim Possible. It took a long time before they discovered commercials. When we travel, there is great puzzlement why hotel televisions don’t have Time Warp Trio queued up and ready to watch. There is no TV in their lives, only TiVo.
Television gets a bad rap most of the time. The medium has been blamed for inciting violence, inflicting obesity, and creating a generation of short-attention-span slackers. Certainly, there are limits. For example, TV isn’t good for toddlers under two years old. However, much of the criticism is over-hyped. A popular study tying ADD with television consumption was discounted a couple years ago. Science also disentangled the association between health risks due to TV and physical activity.
Stephen Johnson’s great 2005 book, Everything Bad is Good For You, argued that television is part of the “Sleeper Curve,” the kind of complex education we get outside of classrooms or museums. I remember amazing my chemistry teacher in high school by correctly identifying the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner as Bishop Desmond Tutu in an Academic Bowl question. My source of this wisdom? Saturday Night Live.
We have always been a family in love with technology, especially television. Even the crappiest of shows is an opportunity for shared communal experience. It’s a relational good that will serve my kids well at future water coolers and Chamber mixers. The adults I meet today may not know much about the design of social media, but there is a near universal understanding of Scooby Doo and the Superfriends. These are the ties that bind.
Now nine, our firstborn is immersed in National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, with a heavy dose of Mythbusters. He’s a voracious reader who got his start, in part, manipulating the TiVo remote and navigating the Now Playing list in KidZone. This is where our second son is now, counting the number of words in show titles and looking for letters in titles of favorite shows, bedoop-ing his way to literacy.
The microwave is swell. Cell phones are convenient. The technology most helpful to this parent, however, has a cute smiling TV for an icon. I can’t imagine surviving parenthood without it.