Monday, March 13, 2006

Rise of the Machines, Part 7: Technological Ramblings and Watching TV in the Stone Age

It's not my week for technology apparently. The DVR's hard drive has mysteriously kicked the bucket, wiping out our recorded shows and turning the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server into a regular old cable box. I'm trying not to get worked up about it. I'm caught up on all my "important" viewing, so all that was lost were a couple of movies and some new sitcoms I wanted to check out unenthusiastically and a few episodes of The Boondocks, which I like but can certainly miss. Boy lost the season finale if Battlestar Galactica, but Jenn was good enough to put that on tape for him while she watched it over the weekend.

The most annoying thing about it is that I don't know when Boy or I will have time to deal with getting a new box, and I've forgotten how to watch live TV. I'm not one of those people who time-shifts everything just so I can skip the commercials, but I was doing other things during The West Wing last night and wanted to rewind to catch something complicated I'd missed and I couldn't. Boy's phone rang and we couldn't pause to wait for him. It's become such a natural part of how I watch things, it's weirdly disorienting to not have it anymore.

I also no longer have any idea when anything is on anymore, since once the DVR is set I can generally forget about the schedule. Sometimes I'll not be watching TV at all and see the little "record" light is on and bring up the list to see what's "taping." It may take months to rebuild the list of series recordings, since you can't type in a title, you have to find it in the guide. This is frustrating because one of my favourite things about DVRing is setting it to automatically record new episodes of something forever, so I never need to stay on top of when my shows are coming back from hiatus (in the near future, Alias, Everwood and Robot Chicken). Very annoying.

This has all got me thinking about how dependent most of us are on devices that are becoming increasingly fragile. It's amazing how weird it's been for me not having an iPod remote. I've completely taken for granted the ability to change my volume on the fly, such a simple thing. As everything gets increasingly portable, and increasingly part of our normal routines, we treat it far less preciously, and of course some delicate piece of it is eventually going to break (though that doesn't explain the death of the DVR, which sits in one place at all times).

A brief digression here: Why do people get so worked up over the Mac/PC debate? With very few exceptions, in this age of cross-platform everything and PDFs, someone else's choice of computer affects your life not one little bit. I'm not saying I'm completely immune - I've definitely been known to get a little smug when friends with Windows have been crippled by viruses, or met the blue screen of death, or had a hard time doing something that's easy and intuitive on a Mac. But those people also have plenty of good reasons to use that platform. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that their computers cost a hell of a lot less. Whatever the reason, it's a matter of preference and choice. I've never heard anyone get into big arguments over Coke vs. Pepsi, or Nike vs. Adidas or whatever. We're not debating abortion or gay marriage here, just use the computer you want and calm down!

But I have friends who are rabidly pro-Mac to the point where they get upset and can barely function if they have to work in an office with Windows (um, welcome to reality?) which, when it comes to basic tasks isn't really all that different or hard to figure out. And I have friends who are the same way in the Microsoft camp. Robert commented last week about my broken remote, "what? a shitty Apple product??? you don't say! i can't believe it!!! that's just crazy talk!" Well, you know, it does happen occasionally. I'm also writing this in a perfectly lovely Microsoft product. That happens too. The iPod remote might work great for some people, but it's not well-designed for how I use and abuse it. I love the new Zen Vision and the adorable little MobiBlu, but the iPod is for me. Can't we all just get along?

When my iBook crapped out a few months ago, Robert made a similar sarcastic comment about Macs (in person), and I responded, "It's not a brick, it's a laptop." And this is bringing somewhere back towards my original point. I'm completely dependent on these highly sensitive pieces of equipment, and I toss them in my bag and my cargo pants and I squish them onto crowded subway cars and throw them in the back seats of taxis and let the TV schedule fly right out of my head. I could become a Luddite, I suppose, but I'd still be the type-A person I am (maybe A-) and I'd have to write everything down, and what would happen if I lost my DayRunner? Or if I got caught in a rainstorm and it got soaked through? At least now my laptop and my Palm and my cell all talk to each other, and the odds of losing them all at once are VERY slim, so I always have most of the important data somewhere.

Now if only someone could invent a device to help me come up with endings to rambling blog posts.

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