I remember life before we owned a VCR when I was a kid. If you wanted to watch TV you had to know exactly when your show was on and on which channel — or you had to scour the TV section (which your mom had carefully removed from the Sunday paper) to find it. Then you had to be ready to watch the minute it started. TV was REAL TIME. It didn’t pause to wait for you to grab a snack or go to the bathroom. You had to wait for commercial break if you wanted to do any of that. And those commercial breaks had to be carefully coordinated: “I’ll get the drinks, you refill the popcorn bowl.” Or if it was a really long show, “I call downstairs bathroom!” as you’d sprint off. “Hurry up! You only have 30 more seconds…Wait! It’s coming on now!!! QUICK!” your mom would yell at you as you’d come stumbling out of the bathroom still pulling up your pants.
Then when I was in 8th grade, we finally got a VCR. It was awesome! I no longer had to restrict my school and social calendar based on my TV watching requirements. “I’m sorry, I can’t be a girl scout because they meet on Tuesday nights and that’s when “Facts of Life” is on. Or if someone else wanted to watch a show at the same time my show was on, I no longer got stuck with the old crappy black and white TV with the duct taped antenna that you had to hold in place just so with your foot while you watched so it stayed tuned in just right. Now with a VCR, who cared if you had to tinker around for 20 minutes programming it to record and then try to fast forward efficiently (but not too efficiently so you had to keep rewinding) through commercials and the extra five minutes at the beginning of the show you had to record so you didn’t miss anything.
Then fast forward to the invention of TiVo. I was dating my now husband at the time. He’s always been more of an early adopter than I am, and when he went out and bought one, I was pissed! “What the hell! Why are you spending all that money on something you don’t need — instead of putting that money towards, I don’t know…an engagement ring???? That was an interesting fight. But I quickly fell in love with that thing and wondered how society ever survived without it.
After we got married and I had some control over the DVR, I used to get drunk with power. If my husband wasn’t responding to my text messages in a timely manner, I would text all four of his phones to bug him. If that didn’t piss him off enough to reply, I pulled out the big cannon: “If I don’t hear back from you within 5 minutes, I’m cleaning house on the DVR. Battle Star Galactica Season 2 is getting it first.” Usually it actually worked! Little did I know I was honing my idle threat making skills way back then. No wonder I’m so good at them now.
Then along came “On Demand” — again how did we ever survive without being able to access countless episodes of our favorite shows at the click of a button?? It was the beginning of the binge watching trend. Now the inmates could watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or their beloved show of the moment ad nauseum with ease!
But a few months ago, we cut the cord to cable TV and are strictly Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and so on. For the most part, it actually hasn’t changed my TV watching habits…but it has for the inmates. Now instead watching Disney and Nick Jr. etc. which at least had some element of being educational, they have become obsessed with watching YouTube videos instead. God help me. YouTube is going to be the death of polite society as we know it. If it is on for more than ten minutes, I swear my IQ level drops…and that’s serious, because my kids have sucked most of my IQ points off me and I’m only left with a few to jingle around in my pocket anymore.
Young Son is the most obsessed. If I let him, he could watch endless hours of people playing “Plants vs. Zombies” or “Minecraft” — and there are never any good “LEEEEROYYYY JENNNNKINS” moments to at least keep it entertaining. The ones that make my blood run coldest are the YouTube channels where kids do the “Real vs. Gummy Food” challenges or “what random shit can we waste to make into slime with as much mess as possible” challenges. Good. God. Do NOT encourage my children to want to do this!! I always wonder just how much parents shell out to get all the foods in gummy form, and how many vats of glue and pounds of glitter are gone through to get the best shot. What I really want to know is how much Ritalin and Valium are given to the kids to stay calm, focused and not killing each other to make these nightmare vignettes. No. Really. I do…I’m taking notes.
Then there are the ones where parents have written weird mysteries for their kids to solve, including intricate escape rooms with complex cardboard box tunnels and intriguing clues that lead to nothing interesting. Some of these channels make hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in advertising and sponsorship revenue! Seriously. If you want me to click “like” though, you’d better plant a dead body in there or something. I mean even on “Murder She Wrote” you were guaranteed a good crime scene. But at least these parents are putting their kids in front of the screen instead of behind it all the time.
Okay. Next time the inmates declare they are bored, I’m pulling out my old VCR and video tapes of random 80s TV shows. Then I’m going to give them the remote with old batteries and make them watch those gems for awhile until they realize how freaking glorious their lives really are.
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