Archived Story

New technology aids in cutting TV time

Published 9:14am Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

There is this show I really like. It’s a reality show. In fact, it is reality. And it’s not on television. It’s a never-ending series about the encounters I experience every, single day. And I am the only one watching. I like to call it “Life.”

There are so many people who spend so much of their time on couches and cozy chairs watching television, movies and streaming content. They watch scripted shows and movies. They watch reality shows about unreal situations that are heavily influenced by off-camera producers. They watch sports. They watch news.

But what’s funny to me is that the characters in these forms of entertainment never are just sitting on the couch doing nothing. Well, except for Brad Pitt’s small part as Floyd in “True Romance.” No, except for Floyd, these characters live lives.

They date. They dine. They talk. They walk. They defeat the Russians in the Olympics. They have shootouts at the OK Corral. They discover that the bad guy in the black helmet is their father. They make jokes and perform wartime surgery at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. They make out with 30 different members of the opposite sex, then through a process of elimination that involves traveling the globe offer a wedding ring to one of them.

There is never a plot about people sitting on the couch watching television.

I like to watch sports. Did you see the footage of Louisville’s Kevin Ware breaking his leg during the Duke game Sunday? Ouch. But I missed the Michigan-Florida game because I took my 5-year-son to a park to fly a kite the Easter Bunny brought him. Priorities.

And I watch news. It’s good to know what’s going on in the area, especially since I work in the news business. But do I need to know what the latest Hollywood celebrity gossip is? OK, maybe a little.

My point here is that, sure, it is fine to watch what you like, but moderation is important. There is life out there in the real world. More people need to leave the couch and live life. Find a project. My mother loves to quilt, and over the years she has become excellent at it. Sure, she has access to a umpteen hundred cable channels, but she would rather do something constructive than be a couch potato.

New technology is really allowing people to be more moderate in their TV consumption.

My son and I like to watch “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a half-hour cartoon on The Cartoon Network, but I have just the basic cable, with pretty much the networks, public TV and WGN. So when it becomes available on iTunes, I buy a season and watch it on our iPad. Forrest and I watch it at our convenience. We only watch it together, though, so it stays about us sharing a fun activity.

That, an occasional sports show and the TV news are the only content I watch nowadays, except for a movie from Netflix now and then. We have streaming Netflix, too, and my wife, Lisa, has enjoyed “Breaking Bad,” which is a TV series about a chemistry teacher who becomes a meth dealer after he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Forrest watches some children’s shows on Netflix, too.

But we hardly ever spend excessive amounts of time on these entertainment outlets. We do things like play with the kids, run, walk the dog, play disc golf, visit friends and relatives, play board games, bake and cook, clean the house and on and on. I doubt I could fill a day with just watching the TV set all day long.

What’s crazy is that experts were always so concerned with how much TV that Americans consumed. But now, TV has other outlets with which to compete. Streaming video and content purchased from the Internet is changing the game. Americans now can consume what they want, when they want, rather than having to be in front of a TV screen at a set time and day. I watch the content I want to see, then eschew the rest.

In the old days — yes, I did consume a lot of TV when I was younger — TV seemed to be just about channel surfing. Because the shows you liked were on at times that weren’t convenient, it forced people to make time for the TV set.

Now things are flexible. For instance, if there is a half hour before Forrest and I are headed to bed, we can squeeze in an episode of “Clone Wars” on the iPad — commercial-free. If we want to watch it the old way, we would have had to clear time on Friday nights and sit through lousy commercials.

Ah, less time front of the idiot box. I like that.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

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